This column was originally intended to profile and celebrate the 2nd annual Adult 6 v 6 soccer Summer tournament held at Oak Park and River Forest High School on the weekend of July 9th. Organized by Jeff Verver, the goal was to promote soccer across the U.S. through a grass roots effort. The pace of these smaller sided games is quick and exciting. In general, the tournament lived up to its billing with teams competing in Coed, College, and Over-35 flights. However, the overall atmosphere was tainted by boorish and punk-like behavior among several of the College-age teams. Instead of celebrating soccer, many games in the College flight became yet another metaphor for bad sportsmanship and referee abuse.
During this tournament, there were at least four red cards (automatic ejection from the match) and numerous yellow cards (caution) issued by the referee crew. The causes of ejection ranged from dangerous fouling, to fighting, to dissent towards referees. This was supposed to be a fun tournament, but someone forgot to tell that to several of the college teams.
Is there any wonder why it is increasingly difficult to recruit young men and women into the referee ranks? The referee crew assigned to the tournament was a veteran one, with six local adult referees (including yours truly) who probably should have their sanity checked. Based on empirical evidence, they must have been nuts to give up a weekend with their families to preside over matches replete with cynical fouling, bad language (men and women), immature behavior and dissent towards referee decisions.
Many of these players were former OPRF and Fenwick players. Their parents, if they saw the matches, could not have been proud. But what can you expect when one college-age team registers under the name "TAG" (whose initials I cannot translate in a family newspaper). This team played in last year's inaugural tournament, and their conduct was bad enough then to cause the tournament director to think twice before allowing them to compete this year.
This is not to say that all players on these college-age teams were poor sports. But the actions of a few of their punkish teammates had a corrosive effect on the matches, and reflected poorly on their teams. The adult teams in general behaved with exemplary maturity, especially one Aussie-rostered side who decided to let their game and not their mouths do the talking. View the tournament at www.soccer6v6.com.
If referees didn't keep the game clean, soccer wouldn't exist as the world's most popular sport today. If you want to catch a glimpse of what the dark side would look like, look no further than the NHL, pre-work stoppage. Whenever a fight broke out on the ice, the referees would stand idly by for a few minutes humming a tune while the combatants duke it out. Then, after enough effusion of blood to sate the fans, the referee would blow his whistle, the goon(s) were sent to the box, and the game resumed.
Is it any wonder that the NHL doesn't have a television contract? In soccer, when a player commits a red card foul (or is issued a second Yellow card in the same match), he isn't merely sent to the penalty box for a few minutes; he or she is ejected from the game, the penalized team plays with one less player, and that player has to sit out the following game. The game becomes the main attraction, not the fighting.