“You’re a sh*t ref and you should f*@k off back to England!”

For almost six years, writer and referee Ian Plenderleith has been chronicling his adventures at the lowest end of the amateur and youth football leagues in and around Frankfurt am Main. Through parental mass brawls, on-field fistfights, choleric coaches, foul-mouthed threats, abandoned games and drunken groundsmen, he endures a never-ending lack of respect and sportsmanship, plus the odd moment of reward, humour and half-decent behaviour.

Yet every game, no matter how poor the players and how down-at-heel the league they’re playing in, tells a story. Every encounter with a single round ball as its focal sphere reflects some facet of the human condition. Raw human emotion comes to the fore over 90 fraught minutes in the form of rage, deceit, scorn, bile and naked aggression. And the stupid referee, that lonely faceless neutral, is of course almost always to blame.

Find out what’s really going on inside a referee’s head during a game. Is he scared? Sometimes. Is he biased? Of course not. Does he feel a warm and almost overwhelming glow of Schadenfreude when the striker who screamed in his face two minutes ago about an offside decision then misses an open goal from two yards out? In short, yes he certainly does, and it’s often enough to sustain his motivation to keep on refereeing.

Meet regulars such as Danny, the youth team coach who is polite and charming before the game, but who can control neither his mouth nor his temper come kick-off. Horst the unsteady groundsman, whose wobbly touchlines reflect what he’s already imbibed before noon on a Sunday. Harry, the vocal centre back who can most kindly be described as “a monster of mentality”. And the writer’s wife, offering solace, counsel and tentative suggestions that he might want to spend more weekends with his family rather than ending up in hospital.

One short step from the action, the writer describes his afternoons in charge of “the men who only play for fun, but never seem to be having any. The average, the bad and the hopeless. The unsightly, the unfit and the sporadically unhinged.” And to conclude that sport does indeed bring people together. Even though it’s mostly to yell at each other and – for his outrageous application of the Laws of the Game – at the terrible referee too.

(Publisher: Halcyon Publishing. August 2022. Paperback: 306 pages)