Wednesday, 17 November 2021

When sports coaches go bad

No posts for ages and then and usually long and serious one today! In my last post, almost a couple of months ago now, I wrote about my experiences at a youth rugby tournament where a game went horribly wrong due to the referee probably being pissed. Very recently I went to a youth football game which went wrong because the referee was probably a cheat, I use word referee under caveat as the real referee didn’t actually show up, instead we got a very unsuitable stand in.

So, it's 09.30 on a Saturday morning and I’m stood with a group of other parents in a public park in another part of Surrey waiting for my son’s under-10s match to kick off when we’re informed the neutral referee (suitable referee to use the official terminology) hasn’t showed up. As it’s an away fixture the opposition are supposed to arrange the referee, and up steps the opposition coach to do the job. Big mistake! The same rule I apply to youth rugby tournaments applies to all other forms of youth sport, if you don’t have a neutral referee there is a much higher risk of irregular officiating.

Now, it might be the opposition coach, let’s call him ‘Mr 0’, thought he had the skills to referee a football match, but in my opinion it quickly became clear he couldn't act as a neutral referee in a match where he was de facto not neutral, besides as the sole coach of the opposition under 10s team, he had an entirely different, important and highly partisan job to be doing at the same time.

The game starts and every few minutes he makes what I’d describe as ‘coaching interventions’, basically he’s decided he doesn’t like the way something is being done, so he stops the game to offer guidance. It is true that ‘suitable referees' do give instructions to players, they may ask them to retake a throw in, or halt a play or some other thing, but this was persistent, frequent and erratic disruption and it was mainly to the detriment of my son’s team. Referees usually facilitate games, this was the complete opposite, he refused to allow the game to flow, especially when my son’s team were in possession, finding a succession of reasons to break momentum. We often have teenage referees at youth matches and I find they are a million times more competent than what I witnessed on this particular morning.

Mr 0’s actions obviously started to cause a bit of disgruntlement amongst visiting parents on the sides, I imagine the home parents didn’t find it a bundle of laughs, but at least they were getting what upside there was from the shitshow. It didn’t take him too long to realise his erratic behaviour had been noticed, so during one interruption he loudly enunciated ‘both teams are doing it’, more for the benefit of spectators than players. Unfortunately, he didn’t go on to explain why one side in particular was bearing the brunt.

I think referees, and coaches for that matter, do a difficult job. I’ve never openly challenged a referee or coach doing their work and I’ve certainly never been abusive. I’m certainly not above criticising or discussing mistakes though, I believe in fair comment. Constructive criticism is a valuable part of my day job and there are times I’ve been subject to harsh criticism, during my days in local politics there were times when it went well beyond that. However, the level of what I’d politely call ‘gamesmanship’ from Mr 0 certainly irked me and there was an incident in the first half which, for me personally, tipped into brazen cheating.

A player from my son’s team committed a foul on an opposition player just inside his own half, close in to the touchline. It was pretty much in front of where I was standing, so I have no complaints about it. It wasn’t a serious foul and the opposition player retained possession and was actually in a position to make a break, Mr 0 made a reasonable decision and called ‘play on’ and ‘advantage’. The opposition players worked the ball down to my son’s goal (he was in goal), putting together a decent attacking move that had the defenders on the back foot. It was a good example of the advantage law in action. As it happened my son’s team did eventually deal with the attack, regained possession via a goal kick and began working their way out from their own area.

At this point Mr 0 blew up again, to the seeming surprise of both sides, and whilst I don’t recollect the precise words, he said something acknowledging that advantage had been played but he’d now changed his mind and wanted to give the freekick too. I could see the confusion from both sets of players, they had all done what he said, and I'm not sure they understood he was reversing his earlier decision given the time he'd allowed for the advantage to play out and more crucially he had allowed play to restart. He took the ball off my son’s team and he marched back to the spot of the foul, close to the intersection of the halfway and touch line. The freekick itself was a nothing event, it was too far away to threaten the goal and the team dealt with it comfortably, the advantage played was the genuinely advantageous outcome for the opposition. The freekick was just cheating for the sake of it; a filthy trick to play on ten-year old kids.   

This was too much for one of the other parents, I will call him ‘D’. D complained loudly to Mr 0 about why we couldn’t have a real referee (I don’t remember the exact words, but D just wanted an improvement in what was a shocking performance). As I’ve already made clear, I personally wouldn’t have done this, but it wasn’t abusive and for me the benefit of the doubt for Mr 0 had gone out the window with that last sleazy trick. I think it was highly improper to reverse an advantage after it had been played out, but it was actually against the laws of the game to do so after play had restarted. 

Mr 0 marched over to the respect line, the rope set back from the touchline behind which spectators stand. He got right up into D’s face; snarling, aggressive and threatening, and accusing him of setting a bad example. There was no hint of irony about who was actually setting the bad example. I was worried it might escalate so I walked over to the D and encouraged him to move away further behind the respect line.

The shithouse behaviour seemed to taper off a little in the second half, unfortunately a lot of the damage had already been done. My son’s team ended up losing 3-0. I have no complaints about the goals, they were all fair, and the players on the other team behaved impeccably. How much Mr 0’s gamesmanship contributed to the loss is debatable. I don't believe it was a fair game, my son’s team never really got into the match, the erratic and disruptive officiating absolutely played a part in that. Being kids they’ve no real frame of reference for dealing with this kind of thing, how do you coach for a cheating pseudo-referee who shouldn’t be there in the first place? Perhaps there is a life lesson for them about some of the dubious characters you meet in the real world?

At the end of the match I noticed D and Mr 0 had further words, but I was too far away to hear them. D was following some of the kids off the pitch in the direction of a neighbouring play area they’d made a dash for. His route took him within about 20 metres of where Mr 0 was packing up. I was at the other end of the pitch taking a more circuitous route, but I could see they were well apart from each other and by the time I made it round to the play area D was already there and seemed unperturbed about whatever had been said.

As we walking back to the car my son said to me ‘that referee was an idiot’, and all I could say back to him without using stronger language I might use in front of an adult was ‘yes he was an idiot, but he wasn’t really the referee’. I had to explain to my son that you still need to be respectful even if the referee isn’t a real referee, but just some idiot who got themselves into a situation they couldn’t cope with because they were trying to be helpful.

After much thought about it over the subsequent weekend I raised an official complaint via the club about Mr 0’s behaviour. I am immensely grateful for the hard work coaches and referees do, but there are serious safeguarding responsibilities involved. Mr 0 may have had good intentions; he may have felt he was doing the right thing but the way he behaved was totally wrong. I’ve made it clear to my son’s coach on the day that I don’t hold him responsible, he acted in good faith and couldn’t have foreseen Mr 0’s behaviour. Some people might think I should just let it slide, but one thing I’ve learned is when everybody lets poor behaviour slide it only ever gets worse.

The FA have the ‘Respect’ agenda, which I think is a good thing, but I’m not entirely sure how deep and consistent it is in practice. If my days in local politics taught me anything it is that authorities are much better at signalling their virtues than owning them. I genuinely believe in the concept of safeguarding; I entrust the safety of my children to certain people like sports coaches and referees, drama club teachers, guide/scout leaders, school teachers etc. Maybe I am overreacting? Maybe this is just some bloke being a bit of dick, someone overwhelmed by what they’ve taken on, or maybe someone for whom the desire to win overrode the need for personal integrity? But my honest opinion is there’s a little red flag in there i.e. the narcissistic need to constantly disrupt a children’s football match and the explosive response to people criticising cheating, and organisations can be very good at ignoring such red flags if allowed to.

It's only been a few days, so I haven’t heard anything yet. I know I have more to write about this, but as always it is finding the time.

Monday, 27 September 2021

The strange case of the drunken rugby ref

I experienced some rather interesting events on Friday evening. I went to watch my son play in an under-10s rugby tournament in neighbouring South London. His club sent a squad of two teams to compete, and although we've been to many such events, this was the first I'd been to on a Friday evening, also the first since the pandemic. Last season was fractured, so there weren't any tournaments, and the players are now a little bit behind in their progression along the contact pathway. As a result, the first games were a little scratchy as they got used to playing against other clubs again. It's also fair to say some the refereeing was a little patchy as coaches who hadn't controlled matches for some time adjusted to the new age groups rules. But it got better as everyone got back into the swing.

Where things got interesting was at the end of the evening after my son had finished; we went over to watch the other team from the club play their last match. They were playing a team from the host club, being refereed by a coach also from the host club. I've seen many games of youth rugby union over the years, going back before my son was even born, but this was the most ridiculous spectacle I've ever seen. It's true I'm not entirely neutral here, this was my son's club playing, but the referee completely lost control of the game. By the second half he was no longer bothering to call the tackles when his team were in possession, causing the contact area to become a melee. Instead of the tackled player presenting the ball properly and the defensive team resetting in an onside position the contact started to resemble a kind of rolling maul with players joining from all directions. Crucially he was also failing to deal with foul play, which meant the kids were starting to take matters into their own hands, a pivotal moment coming when a player from my son's club decided to punch an opposition player who had just pole axed him with a reckless high tackle ignored by the increasingly indifferent referee.

I don't wish to justify the indiscipline from the players, but they are kids, and there is a serious responsibility on the referee to stay in control. The coaches from my son's team, some of whom are highly experienced referees, were trying their best to encourage the referee to pay attention to the rules, to start calling the tackles again and take control. They weren't abusive, but they were trying to remind him of the rules, and to keep everyone safe. Instead he appeared increasingly perplexed and distanced from the unfolding chaos, he repeatedly glanced in the direction of his coaching colleagues, shrugging his shoulders as if he wasn't sure what to do whenever he was challenged to follow the game. It was also clear some of his coaching colleagues were aware he was struggling, but they appeared conflicted over whether to intervene.

Generally, I'm not one for undermining referees, but this was a safeguarding risk, the referee was no longer performing his function. If my son had been playing, I would have removed him from the game for his own safety. There could be many reasons for the loss of control; tiredness may have caused him to lose interest, he may have been inexperienced or poorly briefed on the age group match rules, there may have been some subconscious bias towards foul play by kids he knows, or maybe he simply struggled to delineate the role of coach from referee. However, I have a strong suspicion that he was under the influence of alcohol, and that contributed to his loss of concentration. Why? Well, as the game ended one of the opposition coaches overheard me saying the referee should have been replaced, and came over to remonstrate, loud and lairy as he was, he made no sense as he was completely pissed. He swayed around in front of me with an empty pint glass in his hand, till another parent suggested he might want to go away and calm down. It would be untrue to suggest all the host coaches were pissed, that was definitely not the case, but I'm not the only person who was present with suspicions about the flailing referee's sobriety.

I know my son's club is taking action in regards ill-discipline, and I understand there will be a letter sent to the host club about the incident, but I suspect the popular speculation about the referee's sobriety may be passed over in the interests of inter-club relations. By coincidence we met the same club at a different event yesterday, fortunately the incompetent was not required to referee, and the coach who had swayed drunkenly in front of me appeared sober, though our paths never really crossed (I doubt he'd remember me anyway). What the whole thing has impressed on me is that these tournaments (or festivals as they are sometimes called) work best when neutral referees are in place and everyone understands the rules. It may also be the case that holding them on a Friday evening rather than the more typical Sunday morning is a bad incentive for some coaches. 

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Going Backwards

So, summer has been and gone and as autumn rolls in I find myself with some work to do.

Firstly, on the podcasting/writing stuff I do have a plan to get things going again. I know I keep saying this, but with things settling down into a routine I can see some opportunity to fit this in over the next couple of months. 

Diet wise things have gone pear shaped, or rather I've gone a bit pear shaped. Although I managed to keep a lid on things over my holidays, since mid-August my weight has crept up from 108kg to nearly 110kg. This is very disappointing, especially as it's not down to bingeing, it's just a general relaxation in habits; a couple of beers too many times a week and a chocolate bar on too many days. What it has taught me is that I really cannot slack off, ever! My metabolism simply does not allow for any complacency. I have started a new diet, a week in and it hasn't made any difference yet, but I need to give it till the end of September before I hit panic. The goal now is to end the year at 107kg.

Fitness wise I have been managing a 5k run most weeks, with some shorter runs if time allows. I do walk the dog at least once day, often two of three times a day, so I'm getting cardio in. However, my right knee is seriously fucked now, running is genuinely painful, if I can't get it suitably warmed up then it's incredibly difficult and I've found myself abandoning runs half a kilometre in due to the pain. Walking up and down stairs is painful, at certain times walking anywhere is painful, I can wake up with an ache simply having slept in a certain position. I have contacted my GP surgery for a non-emergency consultation and I'm waiting for a response but given the horror stories in the news I'm not hopeful. 

I'm still resistance training three to four times a week with bands and free weights, so my core strength is pretty stable, I could do with more intensity in my training, but it's hard as I'm usually fitting it in later in the day, when I've already done work and family stuff, and my energy is waning. With a bit of rejigging I might be able to do it earlier in the day sometimes. I probably also need to start using the exercise bike to replace the running I'm no longer able to do.

Work has been pretty busy, but the return to the office has been slower that I initially imagined, I have been in once, and I will probably start going in once a week from later this month, but it's likely to be November before I'm in a stable pattern of twice weekly office attendance. This is assuming we don't have another lockdown in late autumn/early winter.

CKD wise I have my next telephone appointment on 28th September, I am a little worried about this, given the last telephone appointment never happened as the doctor was unable to reach me on either telephone number despite no calls being logged that morning on either number. I did check at the time they have correct numbers, so assuming it goes ahead this will be my first direct contact with a specialist since November 2019!

Monday, 24 May 2021

Another Belated Update

 It’s self-evident I’ve been pretty shit lately at updating this blog; as always I’ve simply been too busy with day to day life. It really is s a good job I decided not to set formal goals this year as tracking them wouldn’t have been disheartening. Having said all that, I haven’t drifted that far off course.

My writing/podcasting ambitions are pretty much permanently parked for now, I said in January this year could be make or break, and it’s increasingly looking like the latter. Although, perhaps I shouldn’t box myself in to a corner?

On the fitness side things aren’t too bad; I recently managed to upgrade my weight plates (having been out of stock for over a year), so I’m taking steps to increase progressive overload in my training sessions. I’m still running fairly regularly, aiming for two 5k runs per week, although some weeks it ‘s only one. I used to have a target of three 5k runs per week but time constraints and my dodgy knee mean that’s simply unsustainable. My 5k timings can be a bit erratic, and it’s been over six months since I managed to go longer than 5k, but the average is fairly stable and earlier this month I came in under 35 minutes for the first time. Also, having acquired a Labrador puppy in the autumn I’ve been spending at least an hour every day being taken for a walk by him.

My weight has fluctuated recently, topping out at 109kg, although mostly in the 107kg - 108kg range (last Wednesday’s weigh in it was 107kg exactly). I know that the way to get it under control is to tighten up on the time restricted eating/intermittent fasting. At the moment I’ve been fairly relaxed on this, I’ve been eating breakfast most days whilst swapping a proper evening meal for a light snack like toast or soup two or three times a week. From July I’ll probably be back to the office a couple of times a week, in which case it will be easier to revert to a more severe calorie restriction on those days (working from home makes snacking/grazing easier, in the office I can avoid food more easily).

Also on the bright side, I’ve now had both my Covid vaccinations, and the second jab went fine, so no waking in the night shaking like a rag doll. With lockdown easing I’m also looking forward to a few short away breaks we have booked in June; it’s nice to have stuff to look forward and I could do with recharging my batteries.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

More Medical Moaning

As I predicted back in January, Covid-19 has once again disrupted my treatment, albeit this time it appears it was the hospital communication processes that were been struck down. In late February I received a letter cancelling the March in-patient appointment, which had already been pushed back from early February. The day I received the cancellation letter I received another one dated the same day scheduling a telephone consultation at the precise date and time of the cancelled in-patient appointment. Presumably the appointment system couldn’t cope with simply sending one letter converting an appointment from in-patient to a telephone consultation?

When consultation day arrived I made sure to clear my work diary around the scheduled time, and sat patiently with both landline and mobile at hand, I didn’t even dare pop to the loo for fear of missing it. I waited and waited, but alas, no phone call ever came, nor were there any missed calls or voicemails.  The next day I called the appointments line and was eventually able to leave a message with the Nephrology department. The day after that I received a call back to inform me that the doctor had attempted to call me, but had been unable to get through. They confirmed both my mobile and landline number were correct on the system, and I know for a fact that both were in working order on the day itself, yet for some reason neither were reachable at the time of the consultation.

Of course, it is possible that by some strange coincidence, both my landline and mobile were disconnected from their respective networks at just as the doctor called, only to be reconnected shortly after. I think it’s more likely that the doctor simply tried a wrong number and then moved on when it didn’t work, which is why there were no missed calls and no messages. Occam’s Razor and all that!

Instead, I got a copy of the letter to my GP advising my condition is stable, that the Alfacalcidol medication should be doubled and that as my platelet count has been chronically low since 2013 it will be referred to Haematology for assessment. A low platelet count does explain a few things, but none of them are particularly worrisome, which I suspect is why it’s taken eight years for it to be picked up. Of slightly more concern is that the target range for blood pressure is lower than what I’m typically achieving on my home readings.     

It will be interesting to see if anything at all comes off the back of this letter, I’m inclined to think not.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Got My First Covid Jab

There aren't too many benefits of having CKD; but I found one last Thursday when I was invited to book my Covid-19 vaccination. Falling into the clinically vulnerable category meant my wife and I (she was diagnosed with diabetes a couple of years ago, but has largely reversed it) were bumped up the pecking order.

So, midday Friday we went to a local community centre and got the AstraZeneca jab together. Aside from being told to wait fifteen minutes before driving home it was a pretty quick and painless affair. We were clearly warned about the possible side effects, my wife did take some paracetamol as a precautionary measure, but since my CKD diagnosis I've generally avoided painkillers whenever possible. Not that I felt the need to take any, as I was perfectly fine from the moment I had the jab to the moment I went to bed shortly before 11 o'clock.

That lasted until just after midnight when I woke up with a stiff neck, a raging headache and a rapidly descending fever. Placing my hand on my arm I could feel the heat coming off my skin, and my pyjamas were damp with sweat, yet at the same time I was shivering constantly as my brain insisted I was cold. Going to the toilet was a major effort, searching the medical cabinet the dark for paracetamol was completely out of the question. I lay there for a couple of hours, convulsed by violent shakes, like a hideously oversized rag doll being pummelled by an unseen force.

Eventually my wife woke for the toilet around 2 o'clock, I don't know whether my exertions disturbed her, but she found me some paracetamol and eventually I got off to sleep. Waking in the night for the toilet has a tendency to disturb the dog downstairs, he listens for stirrings of life from the household and howls for attention if he detects it, but this night there was no way I was going down to soothe him. 

The next morning I felt better, not great, but better. I was stiff, like I'd done some serious exercise, which I suppose was the several hours of being shaken like a rag doll. My plan to run Saturday morning got knocked on the head, and for most of the day I felt a little out of sorts, becoming increasingly run down as the day went one. But with a half decent night's sleep I was well enough to put in a reasonable 5k on Sunday morning. Since then, I've had a little bit of the sniffles, which might be residual ‘flu like’ symptoms, but overall, it's a small price to pay for a path out of the plague. 


Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Parking Rage

Three years ago, I wrote about problem parking in the area I live, and the general shiteness of the parking enforcement. Fortunately, since then I haven’t had too many serious issues, there’s been plenty of anti-social twats who’ve left their vehicles overhanging the dropped kerb, and a handful of times I’ve had to ask people to move, but until last week I’d never had to get a car towed away.

Reigate & Banstead Council, which previously had the contract for (not) enforcing parking restrictions were replaced by Sevenoaks Council some time back, my contacts tell me they are making a better fist of things (working off a very low baseline). It’s just a shame Tandridge District Council still don’t want to manage it in-house, as I’m pretty sure a properly managed service would pay for itself. But then TDC and properly managed services aren’t the bedfellows they once were, but the reasons for that are too complex to discuss here.

The demand for parking in local streets appeared to slacken during the initial lockdown last year, probably due to less people visiting shops and work places a short walk away, however, it’s picked up slightly during this latest lockdown. It doesn’t help that some of the local motoring businesses use these streets as storage space for unwanted vehicles (and the authorities make little attempt to stop them). But generally speaking, it’s still quieter during evenings and weekends when demand for parking peaks.

It started one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, a small white car parked across the driveway at the rear of my house, completely blocking my car in. Being a weekday afternoon, when many locals are at work, there was no shortage of parking spaces. Yet this clown ignored the no parking sign on the driveway gate, ignored the empty spaces, and parked their car directly over the access protection line. I called the Police non-emergency number, but the Police couldn’t trace the driver and had no units available. The best they could offer was a promise to attend in the morning if I was still blocked in. I also reported it to Sevenoaks Council, but I’d left it too late for daytime enforcement and it appears out of hours cover is still a shortcoming. Fortunately, the twat removed the vehicle a few hours later, but not before I had to rejig personal commitments.

A day or two later the same car was parked a little further up the road, and I spotted the driver getting in and pulling away, it appeared to be woman of Indian heritage. This time she’d had the decency to use one of the many free spaces. But the following week, on a Wednesday morning, the car was back and again blocking my car in. As it was a week day, during the day, there was again plenty of empty spaces, but the twat has once again ignored them all and parked straight across the access protection markings. I was livid, this was clearly someone taking the piss, it was a genuine inconvenience as I had stuff to do, and there was just no fucking need for it.

I call the Police non-emergency number again; I made it clear this was starting to look like deliberate anti-social behaviour. This time the Police agreed to send a unit when one became available. I also called Sevenoaks where the lady I spoke to expressed surprise that someone would actually park over access protection markings (a dog bone as she called it) rather than use an empty space. In the end I didn’t need Sevenoaks, the Police turned up within an hour or so and a tow truck duly removed the car (I don’t think it helped when the Police realised it had no MOT).

One of the officers suggested I should put a larger no parking sign on the gate, which I’ve since done, and get the access protection markings refreshed as they are a bit worn, which I’m looking into. But he accepted there was really no excuse for blocking me in, when even the most cursory glance around showed there was no justification. Which made me wonder if the twat driving the car was fully compos mentis?  

Typically, the people who cause problems are driving commercial vehicles such as tradesman who are inclined to dump their vans wherever they can be arsed. Although, most of the time they will move without a fuss if you ask. One such character lives down the road, a deviant hybrid of Captain Jack Sparrow and a cheap Post Malone impersonator, he stinks of weed and once told me it was okay to overhang my drive because he knows the person who owns the house behind mine. It was a complete non-sequitur, but stoners aren’t noted for coherent thoughts.

I once had an argument with a neighbour who owns a garage opposite. Bizarrely, her justification for blocking my driveway was that she didn’t get to choose who parked outside the front of her house, as if in some strange tangential way this was relevant to the entirely unrelated traffic offence she was committing. I helpfully suggested she could park on her own driveway, in front of her own garage, but apparently this inconvenienced her husband’s easy access to the garage. It was simply easier to block my driveway than her own. I couldn’t fault this logic, even if it was missing the point. Since then, I’ve learned she’s somewhat unhinged, and her behavioural issues cause problems for other neighbours and even her husband; but on the positive side she does now park on her own driveway. 

The little white car was back the next day; and ever since it’s stuck to using empty spaces, albeit it often displays slightly haphazard positioning, as if the driver really struggles with basic parking, particularly on kerb. The Police told me it was registered in neighbouring Croydon, where parking on the kerb is generally banned (a London wide policy); so perhaps the driver picked my driveway precisely because the kerb was dropped making it convenient for someone with poor parking skills? I thought she may work in a nearby shop, which made me feel a little sad the car was impounded, but my wife has seen her since and doesn’t believe this. However, it’s clear the driver is smart enough to avoid the parking restrictions around the nearby shops and offices, which means she’s smart enough not block me in for no reason.