The ref needs specs

A short story about the beautiful game of ball foot.

“Bloody hell!”

Derek Foster was on all fours in the changing room desperately scouring the floor for the contact lenses he had dropped. It couldn’t have happened at a worse moment. Here he was, about to take charge of the kind of game referees dream about: Chelsea versus West Ham in the FA Cup Final. This would be the biggest game of Derek’s career, but what use would he be with one contact lens?

His heart thumped in his chest. Beads of sweat stood out on his brow. “Crap!”

With only ten minutes to kick-off, he had to think quickly. He had no spare contact lenses, he simply refused to wear his glasses, and he couldn’t tell his colleagues what had happened because they wouldn’t let him referee the game. Derek needed a plan. The best he could come up with was to slip in an earpiece and listen to the match on BBC Radio 5 Live and hope he could make his decisions based on the commentators’ observations.

Five minutes into the game and it wasn’t going well. He was trying his best, but the entire pitch was a blur. He kept realising to his horror that he had been staring in completely the wrong direction; the ball had moved on but he hadn’t realised. He face prickled with embarrassment, but – bizarrely – the men on the radio seemed to think he was having a good game!

“Nice to see a referee just let the game flow.”

“Definitely. Especially on a big occasion like this.”

Ten minutes in, Derek heard one of them say “Ouch! Surely, that’s got to be a booking?”

Without hesitation, Derek ran up to where a West Ham player was standing pleading his innocence while a Chelsea man lay prostate on the deck. Derek pulled his yellow card out with a flourish and booked the West Ham man.

“Great decision,’ said Radio 5 Live’s John Murray. “It’s so refreshing to be able to commend a referee for a change.”

Apart from this booking, the first half passed uneventfully, ending 0-0, so no-one was too unhappy. But Derek knew he needed a different plan for the second half.

Sitting alone at half-time, Derek remembered how as a young boy his father took him to his first football match. He remembered how upset he was when he heard the crowd shouting at the referee. But, to his shame, Derek quickly got used to it and, before long, he was joining in. At first, he didn’t understand what the grown-ups were saying, and he remembered shouting out, “The referee’s a whacker!”, which made his dad laugh. But worse, he could remember joining in the hideous chant: “The referee needs specs!” And now, 27 years later, here he was: a referee that needed specs – literally.

The players and the linesmen were already out on the pitch. Everyone was waiting for Derek. And then he appeared. As he jogged onto the pitch, the entire stadium seemed to emit a huge collective gasp: Derek was wearing specs! Everyone was too shocked to say anything, so the game commenced in near silence.

Fortunately, Derek quickly forgot his self-consciousness about wearing glasses. Instead, he focused all his attention on the game. His brain was like a mega-computer making precise mathematical calculations about every pass, tackle and off-the-ball incident. It was as if, to make up for his poor performance in the first half, Derek was putting in the best refereeing performance of his career. Indeed, to this day, many people consider that Derek Foster’s refereeing that day was possible the greatest refereeing ever in the history of football. Every decision was made quickly and clearly with a ruthless fairness that won instant respect from the players. Derek allowed the game to flow. Whenever he awarded a free-kick he immediately offered the offending player a sensible and instructive explanation for his decision-making, and did so in such a way that the players actually learned new things about the game. Every toot of Derek’s whistle was musically perfect, one could even say musically catchy – so much so that some of the players started tapping their feet whenever the whistle blew. Derek even had time to crack a few jokes: on one occasion – which was perfectly appropriate in the context of the moment – Derek put the ball down the back of his trousers and pretended he had a big bottom, which made everyone in the stadium roar with laughter.

Derek’s performance was so good that everyone in the stadium forgot he was wearing glasses.

The game finished 1-0 to West Ham but, amazingly, West Ham’s manager asked Derek if he’d like to lift the FA Cup instead of the West Ham captain because he felt that, in a sense, Derek had ‘won’ the game with his superb refereeing. And in a similar vein, the headlines in the newspapers the next day gave the match result second billing and instead focused on the refereeing. One paper’s back page read: “Refereeing has never been this good.” But what made Derek laugh was an article that began: “Referees should be encouraged to wear specs!”

Later, Derek was pleased to be offered a lucrative contract to endorse Specsavers.

The End.