Players fell into two categories as I saw it when it came to making your professional life difficult… the ones who would seek their retribution right in front of you and the ones who would get up to as much as possible behind your back.
The former variety were honest enough to take a yellow or whatever was coming because they saw themselves as taking the law into their own hands. With the other lot it would simply take as much help as you could get to go with the eyes in the back of your head!
This is where your prep comes in, as well as the man-management skills that so many of our manufactured refs currently struggle with and which they could so obviously use some training in.
I would expect captains to play their part in warning their taeam-mates off the majority of offences. Again, some skippers hardly needed telling and would assume it was their duty to act as a go-between or save you having a word if the occasion demanded, anyway.
Whether they are that type or not, you will find most captains will respond well if you say “you sort him out before I do”, although there were players I would actually tell the manager to have a word with too, especially when it came to issues such as simulation.
Whatever I did, it was almost always done in private, as there is no need to escalate a situation by letting a player feel he has been singled out in the glare of a match with thousands or even millions watching.
I had been caught out having given a penalty on one occasion, and I made sure the player who had dived knew in the tunnel before our next encounter that he would not be getting anything out of me this time.
You should have seen his protests: “I had to go down ref, I didn’t mean to dive…” and fortunately he followed this up by getting straight back up when challenged in the area during the game.
I refereed one European tie and was fortunate to find a player in the home team who was from the same city as myself and he helped get my point across to his team mates.
Despite the influx of foreign talent I never found a similar measure to be required in the Premier League, however, as players soon learned that they needed their English to be fit for purpose.
It should all be about enjoyment, of course it should, but you can still make everyone’s life easier by talking the players’ language and thereby gaining their trust and respect. That meant being comfortable with shop floor, or what is sometimes referred to as industrial language.
We are not talking about any deficit in politeness here, in honesty or always being ready with a smile, all of which you can turn to your advantage. Only once in over three decades of officiating did I have a single player tell me not to talk to him when I offered him help. “Alright then, you won’t get anything back from me if that’s the way it’s going to be,” I replied. You can agree to disagree.
Refereeing is an art, not a science and you can tell the manufactured versions I mentioned a mile off from those with natural ability. By the time you get that team-sheet you will already have done most of your homework, but, just like a manager, that does not stop you from scanning who has been selected while marking your own card and that of your assistants.
The good thing is, when you have invested sufficient effort in minimising the potential for flashpoints and giving as good as you get with the men you are about to run around with for 90 minutes, they will know exactly what they will be getting from you, too.