“As soon as I put on the black shirt, something happens. Or the simple act of checking my whistle. Putting it gently to my lips. Slipping those oh-so-powerful red and yellow cards in my pocket…the excitement! It just…look, you’ll have to excuse me a minute.”
Terse but frank words from Mike Astley, ten years a top flight referee. But, he confesses, nine of those years were ruined by Saturday self-abuse. Now more and more referees are coming forward to confess that poor judgement, bad eyesight and general lack of stamina can be linked to the problem.
“Half time is when the temptation is strongest” explains a now more relaxed Mike Astley, who preferred not to be named, returning from his time out from the interview. “ You‘re in your own comfortable little changing area, with fifteen precious minutes alone. So it’s only natural to deal with the tensions brought on by memories of a husky defender sprawled and helpless by the touchline. Or the provocatively defensive pose of players joined together in a “wall” preparing for a free kick …could you excuse me for a moment? I think I left my keys somewhere...”
“It’s a headache” agreed Roger Grey of the Association of Professional Referees. “But our therapists are devising strategies for dealing with the problem. Gray would neither confirm nor deny officials were experimenting with discreet pitch-side pictures of a naked Harry Redknapp to be used as an emergency aversion technique.
Asked whether women referees might be an answer, Grey, himself a qualified official said. “Hmmm. Never thought of that. But now you mention it, it is worth thinking about, and there are a few really pretty well qualified women who could put on the black and probably resist the temptation. I’d imagine they’d have to be fit and experienced and above all discplined. Er could you excuse me for a minute? I have to take a call. Won’t be a tick. Interesting idea. Women in black.... I wonder… Back in a jiff!”