By Eoin O’Callaghan
Alan Kelly is pretty relaxed.
It’s a balmy, beautiful evening in late June and we meet in the referees’ room in Toronto’s BMO Field, where the city’s Major League Soccer side, TFC, play their home games. He’s here to take charge of a spicy-looking fixture – a Canadian derby between the local team and fellow east-coast outfit Montreal Impact. But despite the high-profile nature of the game, the Corkman is very calm as we shoot the breeze and briefly catch-up.
It’s my first time ever in a referees’ room and it’s a small, narrow space. It’s sleek and modern and all four guys have their individual lockers. On a nearby table, there’s a variety of drinks and snacks but other than that, there’s a distinct lack of luxury. No massage tables. No warm-up space. No ice baths. And as I cramp in a corner and observe them chatting casually and exchanging jokes, the environment says much. In contrast to the players, the officials so easily slink into the background. Minor characters in the drama.
Except, of course, when they make mistakes. Referees are defined by the errors, crucified for the wrong decisions. Praise is rare, abuse expected, inevitable and usually unrelenting.
But I’m here to learn more, to gain a better understanding of the life of a football referee…