In the first of a two-week Q&A with three leading Maccabi referees, Jewish News Sports Editor Andrew Sherwood discusses all things Jewish football, with League Referee Secretary Martin Fox, Martin Lavender, who’s refereed in Jewish football for 33 years, and Alex Smith, a relative newcomer who’s officiating in his second season of MSFL football.
Jewish News (JN): Do you enjoy refereeing football on a Sunday morning:
Martin Fox (MF): Of course I do. I was brought up with it and in refereeing terms, it’s all I’ve pretty much done, but it wouldn’t stop me refereeing in non-Jewish football. But as referee’s secretary, I’m committed to us and I feel a big allegiance to the League. People come up to me and say “I can’t believe you do that every Sunday” – but somebody’s got to do it.
Martin Lavender (ML): Yes, I like Jewish football, I like being involved in it and being able to bring something back into the community. I like getting to grounds, knowing the boys. You know you may get difficult games, but you know you’ll never have a real, real nasty situation. There are some unpleasant situations you can be in [in non-Jewish football] and I don’t want to be involved in that.
Alex Smith (AS): It’s something I enjoy doing, it’s good for fitness and it’s rewarding when you get players say ‘well done, you did a good job today.’
MF: As Martin says, it’s much nicer to do the Jewish football as you know what you’re getting, you might get the mouth, but you don’t get the fisticuffs – and that’s much more pleasant. You don’t want to get into a situation where you’re thinking ‘oh my god’. I’ve heard stories where referees have had knives pulled out on them, you don’t want that and you won’t get that in Jewish football.
JN: How does the standard of Jewish football compare to non-Jewish Leagues?
ML: Standard wise it’s certainly not the best, I believe the standard in non-Jewish Leagues without doubt, is much better. I don’t think there are as many good players and don’t think Jewish clubs have the level of training a lot of non-Jewish clubs have. They have proper training in the week with proper qualified trainers and a lot of Jewish kids can’t be bothered to train during the week, they want to turn out on the Sunday and that’s it. It’s a problem with commitment – they just can’t be bothered to do it
MF: I don’t think the standard’s that bad, it’s quite good. We have a lot of decent boys, but there are a lot more non-Jewish boys who are better. There are some very good players, but as Martin says, it’s about commitment.
JN: What’s your relationship like with the players?
ML: I‘ve been refereeing some of these boys for 20-30 years, I know them, they know me. I know what they’re like and they know what I’m like, and it helps when I’m on the pitch, they know how I referee, what I stand for and don’t stand for. Some of them I’ve known since they’ve been kids.
MF: I don’t know them as well as Martin, bulook to try and use man management which I think is the most important thing – and that’s what I tell my referees. It’s about man management and how to deal with players, you have to be firm with them, you’ve got your cards if you need them, but you’ve got to try and deal with situations. You want respect from them, so give them respect straight away. Talk to them, not like they’re kids, just how you’d like to be spoken to. I tell them that before a match and you get much more out of them.
AS: Being younger than a lot of the players I ref, it’s not so much dissent that I get from players, it’s more comments, I don’t really care but I do hear them. For instance, I’ve been told to go back to school. It’s things like that, I don’t really mind it – or listen to it, it doesn’t really bother me but you do hear it and it is stupid, a bit childish for them to say it.
JN: Is dissent an issue in Jewish football?
MF: I don’t get much dissent, I don’t know if that’s because I’m the referee’s secretary. But dissent’s an issue in all standards of football, I don’t think we get that much more than you’ll get in any other League. Since the Respect Programme has come in, I think most of the managers are telling their players about behaving correctly towards the referee. I want all my referees to be treated with respect, no one deserves to be vilified, it’s just not on. We’re all doing something we enjoy doing, when you stop enjoy doing it, that’s when you stop being a referee. We’re all making an honest decision, we’re the same as the players, we’re not professionals. We’re all making an honest decision for every incident, we’re not biased in any way, shape or form and that’s the worst thing, when you hear sometimes “this referee won’t give us anything today” – before the game has even started. That’s almost calling you a cheat. It’s rare but it does happen and it’s very upsetting.
AS: I get along with quite a few of the players, but I’m not sure if it’s fair to say that non-Jewish football has more dissent, because even though I haven’t reffed in it, I heard that they do show more respect than a lot of the Jewish players do. There are situations where players do surround you. You have to really take a step back, tell the players that aren’t involved to go away, tell them what they’ve done, how it isn’t the way to behave and then caution them. It’s something you can’t stop, but is also about man management. Sometimes you can sense it’s about to come up, and it will erupt at some point. And then it’s how you deal with it.
ML: I think it’s got worse over the years. In the first few years you get to know the players and the players get to know you, the players in that time would know where the dividing line is – how far they can push you. I think the problem now is twofold. Firstly, there are a lot of young kids coming into the League who have absolutely no respect whatsoever, they won’t keep their mouth shut – have to have the last word, and think they know it all. The other thing, and I don’t wish to sound blasé, I tend to do a lot of the higher leagues, so if Martin sends me to a lower league match or the new teams, a lot of the kids don’t know who I am and to a lot of them I’m fresh meat, they’ll try to test me but learn very quickly. But over the last ten years dissent to a certain extent has got worse, certainly with the younger kids. The other thing you get from the younger players, I’m sorry to say, is the lying and that’s worse than ever.
JN: What else – in terms of players’ and managers’ conduct – upsets you?
ML: The worst thing of all is when I get to the ground, you get out of the dressing room and there’s no one there. The teams are already out on the pitch – that’s the height of disrespect, the height of bad manners and rudeness. We want a welcome when we get there, to be told where the dressing room is, the pitch, do we need anything etc. It’s disrespectful. The other thing is at the end of the game when you blow the whistle, you can guarantee that nine out of ten losing teams will walk straight past you, never thank you for the game. That’s no excuse, whatever you’ve done, the whistle’s gone, the game’s finished, you shake the ref’s hand and the manager should tell his players that.
MF: I’ve had a couple of referees complain about that. It’s so disrespectful. In the professional game, all players shake the referee’s hand, they may tell them what they think about a bad decision, but will always shake his hand, that hasn’t filtered through as much in our football.
ML: We’ve gone out there to be honest, not to ruin anyone’s game and at the end of the day they will shake each other’s hand but not ours. There’s no excuse, if they want to moan and slag us off, wait till we’ve gone, at least show the respect.
JN: Are far as you’re concerned, do you think some of the players don’t know the laws?
ML: 100 percent. The laws are very simple. We don’t make them up but there some very naïve and very inexperienced managers. The top managers in the League throughout the Divisions know how it’s meant to be, some say to me before a game ‘can I give you a cheque?’ – no you can’t give me a cheque.
MF: 100 percent. We had an incident last season over a penalty where the referee wrote in his report he couldn’t believe players didn’t know the rule about encroaching the penalty box when a penalty was being taken. They thought they could – it’s beyond belief.