There is a daring breed of men whose exploits never make the front pages of newspapers, whose heroics forever remain unsung, whose visages will never be seen on our television screens and about whom no songs are made.
Be that as it may, what matters is that this breed of men is common to every generation and no matter what abuses or tortures the breed suffered in a previous generation, it will always bob to the surface in this present one. It will show itself to be unsullied and untainted by previous wrongs and it will carry on with the job regardless.
I refer, of course, as if you didn't know, to that dauntless band of gentlemen, none other than those heroes who referee junior football matches.
Now don't get me wrong.There are few of us who loved the game who did not at one time or another find ourselves with a whistle in the hand when the appointed referee failed to turn up. This is all very well but, while we may have acted the part once, nothing on this earth could induce us to do so again. We did it and we wrote it down to experience. We were grateful to escape without injury and those who suffered physically were even more resolved never to be caught again with a whistle in the hand.
The hero to whom I refer is he who comes out Sunday after Sunday to do the needful in the matter of refereeing. Often his task is easy and pleasant but only when one team is so much better than another that a referee is not needed at all.
His life is in danger however when there is nothing between the teams. Then, in the eyes of the partisans, his every decision is riddled with prejudice and no matter what way he points the finger he is greeted with a storm of catcalls and booing. To these he is impervious and he takes them for granted.
It is when he makes the genuine mistake that he is in serious trouble. Nothing will convince the injured party but that it was deliberate. First the ball is flung at the referee. Then he is abused with a wide range of choice epithets.
At this stage experienced referees go to where the ball is, sit on it and wait till the whole thing blows over. The worst he is likely to suffer if he chooses this course is a belt of a cadhraw or a scraw. However, if he attempts to hand the whistle to one of his tormentors it is felt by one and all that he is stepping outside the part and is no longer, as it were, in sanctuary.
Acts like this are regarded as impertinence. Once he ignores his enemies he is more or less ignored himself but once he takes them seriously he is asking for trouble.
After the game is over is the worst time. There is no police protection and it is quite true to add that the game may have been contested in a village where there never were police. His best bet here is to pick out the biggest man in the vicinity and to open a conversation with him. Those who are out for his blood can never be sure but 'tis his brother or maybe his uncle he is talking to.
A referee who togs out in white is taken far more seriously than a referee who does not tog out at all. Like a singer who appears on stage wearing a dress suit, he has a head start over those who treat the occasion lightly. The referee who merely stuffs his trousers inside his socks and hands his coat to his girlfriend is asking for trouble.
Whatever way one looks at it, it is a hazardous occupation. Referees for the most part are even-tempered men who do not court trouble. This, however, is no protection and the good referee must know a few tricks if he is to survive. Before I close I would like to recall one of those tricks as I saw it.
The match was a junior semi-final. All went well and our friend staggered around without falling. What saved him was the fact that he did not blow the whistle. Then following a long bout of booing he blew, and having blown he could not remember why. The pitch was invaded but, completely in command, our friend raised his hand and announced that he had blown the whistle in order that two minutes silence might be observed. Nobody asked who was dead. It wouldn't do to exhibit such ignorance