Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fourth Officials

I realise that I am not alone. Thousands of people out there have a terrible affliction, for which the only known cure is time. Yes, I am cursed with a teenage son.

Two years ago, he was gregarious, talkative, happy, smiling, willing to help and friendly. Now he is surly and uncommunicative, reverting to a Neanderthal series of scowls and grunts and lazy as shit. His non-school life revolves around telly and the play-station and he will only lift a finger in the house if promised money. Naturally, being a wonderful parent, I often wonder how he will fare in later life, what profession he will go in to. Unfortunately, most of them require a certain amount of work [sad, but true]. However, at Tolka the other week, my eyes were suddenly opened to one job, where the amount of work is at an absolute minimum – the fourth official.

As usual, the match at Tolka was fast and entertaining, but I kept one eye firmly on the official in question [sadly, I didn’t catch his name] to see just exactly what his job entails. I even managed to jot down his significant contributions to the night’s entertainment: -

Pre-match – Walked onto the field carrying a bag of footballs in each hand.
Removes tracksuit bottoms in home team dugout.

Game commences – Acknowledges signal from referee Hugh Byrne. Folds arms and leans against side of dugout.

18th Minute – Folds hands behind back. Continues leaning against dugout.

26th Minute – Reverts to folding arms. Obviously a lot more comfortable.

29th Minute – Scratches arse. [I think this is what he did – I just caught the end of the movement out of the corner of my eye]

40th Minute – Puts tracksuit bottoms back on.

45th Minute – Is told by Hugh Byrne that there is to be one minute of injury time [Funny, I always thought it was the fourth official who determined the amount of injury time] Adjusts board. Holds up board with a “1” on it for approximately seven seconds.

Half Time – Walks off the pitch carrying one back of balls.

Probably by now, you’d think the fourth official had been taking things easy. However, he was in for an arduous second-half, with barely time to draw breath between incidents.

Second half – Returns after half time, carrying one bag of balls. Obviously anticipates a hectic second half, as he does not bother removing his tracksuit bottoms. Acknowledges signal from Hugh Byrne at the start of the second half. Folds arms and leans against dugout.

52nd Minute – Player booked. Reaches behind him for notepad and pen. Writes something down. Replaces notepad and pen.

55th Minute – Ball kicked out of ground. Removes ball from bag. Kicks it ten yards to nearest player. Rearranges ball in bag. Checks the next ball for correct inflation.

60th Minute – Player booked. As 52nd minute, except he’s obviously uncertain who has been booked. Asks away team manager.

62nd Minute – Squeezes pimple on his forehead.

69th Minute – Goal! Reaches for pen and pad. Writes something down. Replaces notebook and pen.

74th Minute – Substitution. Walks to halfway line with the player. Holds up board. Takes down board. Holds up board again with a different number on it. Returns to dugout.

80th Minute – Ball kicked out of ground. As 55th Minute.

84th Minute – Player booked. As 52nd minute.

88th Minute – Substitution. As 74th Minute.

90th Minute – Responds to Hugh Byrne holding up four fingers, by holding up four fingers of his own and nodding vigorously. Fiddles with board. Holds up board with a “4” on it for approximately five seconds.

91st Minute – Substitution. As 74th Minute.

93rd Minute – Ball kicked out of ground. As 55th minute, except that seeing it’s so close to the end of the game, he doesn’t bother checking the next ball for inflationary accuracy. Wipes sweat from brow.

Full time – Walks off carrying two bags of balls.

And that, dear friends, is the sum total of the night’s work. In fairness, though, I must point out that a] it was entirely possible that I might have missed some significant arm-folding somewhere down the line, as I was concentrating on the game, and b] I am obviously not privy to all the hard work that the fourth official does out of the public eye [checking the battery in his electronic board, putting the footballs into the bags etc etc] I am also unaware as to how much a fourth official gets paid for his nights work, though even if he only achieves the statutory minimum wage, its money for old rope. I mean, even my young lad would soon get the hang of it, apart, perhaps, from the bit about changing his tracksuit bottoms.

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