Managing “friendly” teams


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Level 4W Referee
I don’t drive and live in a rural county. This means I currently do a lot of games for the same team, mostly an U16 girls and a ladies team, both from the place I live in.

I’m not biased, even if I hadn’t just moved here I’m not really fussed. However it does mean I know the players and staff well, they’re very friendly which is nice but I worry it damages their (and the oppositions) perceptions of my impartiality.

In a ladies game, I used a first name with a couple of players when telling them to behave and the opposition captain picked up on it and implied it meant more than just having reffed the a few times.

In particular I’ve done nearly 15 games with the U16s and in their cup final I reffed today they chanted my name as I got my medal after (they lost but I can’t imagine this would’ve gone down well if they hadn’t!)

I’m not worried much because they’re kids and I know the respect comes because I’m fair, not because I rig their games for them. Just want to check I’m not missing a way to manage it that I should be applying.
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I had a county cup semi-final with a local team I frequently have and told the manager “Albert, get off the pitch!” An away player said “he knows their names!” to which I replied “yes, because I’ve written it down a lot!” It got a laugh from everyone (except Albert) and showed I wasn’t a “Homer”
I had a county cup semi-final with a local team I frequently have and told the manager “Albert, get off the pitch!” An away player said “he knows their names!” to which I replied “yes, because I’ve written it down a lot!” It got a laugh from everyone (except Albert) and showed I wasn’t a “Homer”
Deploying this one too!
If you’re going to use names of players, you need to make sure to pick up on names of players of both sides. You may not get teamsheets, but you’ll be able to pick them up throughout the game. For this, you’ll obviously overhear players saying other players names. Another trick is to ask the captain the name of the person taking the throw in (normally the full back)

But if you can’t, I wouldn’t suggest calling one team by their names and the other by their number, as this can imply you being too friendly. Which of course can lead to all sorts of problems
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There was one captain of a contrib team that was brilliant and worked really well with referees. In one game I spoke to him by his name and one of the opposition shouted something like "no wonder they are getting all the decisions, he's friends with their players". The captain had the same hairstyle as me, i.e. none, so I responded with "we go to the same hairdressers". Got a laugh, including from the player shouting it, and the irony is I would have also called the other captain by name apart from he was an idiot that didn't want to engage with me.

You do have to be careful of being over familiar with players from a team that you frequently referee. That's one of the main reasons for complaints I got as a RefsSec, the away team moaning that the referee was on first name terms and friendly with the home players and as a result favouring them in decisions. I write the captains' names on the inside of my hand, and when on the line I do the same for each left back, although that was a lot easier on the Contrib / Conference / National Leagues as they always wore 3. At grass roots the 3 could be playing anywhere.
On the other hand, I’ve had an instances with players that I know will lose their cool and recognise when it’s about to happen. On more than 1 occasion, by using their name to say ‘becareful John’ or ‘John, don’t do it’ or ‘John don’t react’ etc has avoided a booking or sending off and potential injury or mass con. It’s good game management, let others worry if they have a perception that you are friends, therefore biased and therefore a cheat. If I get teamsheets pre match, I write all the names in my notebook and will often refer to it to see what the name is of red 8 for example if I need to have a word whilst passing during play. I just think players react better when you talk to them using their names. It’s others that have an issue with it
Not really related, but I do have a story that does show what can happen if a teams think you're too friendly with the other team.

In the US, we often use comms in high school and college matches. I'm working as the center for a high school boys varsity (basically U19) game. We are starting our overtime period (please don't ask - high school soccer in the US has dumb rule changes, and overtime for all games is one of them), and I'm counting players and making sure my ARs are ready to go.

"(AR1), are you good?"
"(AR2), are you ready to go?"

FIve minutes into overtime, we have an offside that takes the ball out of the net for the vistors and would have ended the game. Not 60 seconds later, the home team scores to win (our OT is golden goal). Obviously, the visitors are not happy. Two of them are around me, and one of them says "Well, you obviously get along with them since you are calling them by name!"

I'm about ready to caution the player, but then I realized: "Oh, he thinks that I was talking to the players. I was talking to my ARs!" I explained to the players that my ARs are named "X" and "Y" (I won't share their names here, but you get my drift). After that, the players apologized and we were all good after that. But it was a good lesson for me to make VERY sure that I'm not getting too friendly with one team. In our area, I see these players a lot for both club and high school. I obviously know a lot of them, and I will call players by first name if I know players on both teams. Most of the time, these games have players who are club teammates and/or opponents, so it's a tight-knit community.