Monday, May 5, 2008

The Curse of the Iron Bowl

Well, that was a wild one! Back from Birmingham and wanted to give a post-match hello. Whoever did that sun dance, a thousand thank you’s! The weather couldn’t have been more perfect at kickoff, which was great because we (the referee crew) had a bit of an adventure making it onto the pitch.

Legion Field is known as “The Iron Bowl”, a nod to Birmingham’s past of iron and steel manufacturing. What is less known is that there seems to be a reverse magnetic field that surrounds the officials’ locker room. Legend has it that a coach lost a major game at the stadium many years ago and put a curse on this locker room, pledging to inflict petty tortures on all officials who approached it. We weren’t able to find the correct room on our arrival (it’s a big labyrinth down there), so we just deposited our bags in a room we’ve used in the past and inspected the field. Everything looked good and we ran into U.S. Soccer’s Amy Hopfinger – she’s the best, always taking care of us lost souls and directing us to the right place. We did the tour of the stadium’s iron guts and eventually found our way through a secret passage to the locker room. At least our warm-up was halfway done.

Right. On to the business. Confirm team colors. I let the Aussie ‘keeper go in light blue because black was their only other option and that was almost identical to the U.S. navy blue. U.S. keepers also had blue jerseys, but a brighter kind, so while that was a whole lot of blue running about out there, at least we could tell everyone apart. Laughs all around as my newly tailored red jersey came out. I believe it could have been worn as a tankini by the rest of the crew, it was essentially two big pockets and a couple of sleeves. Worked for me though!

I led us in the pre-game conference, going over what’s in the hearts and minds of the players today, what to expect tactically from each team, who our match-ups would be and making sure everyone is on the same page communication-wise if a variety of unusual situations should arise. OK, on to the warm-up. We do our thing, and come back with about 12 minutes before having to line up in the tunnel. All we have to do is put on our jerseys, grab the game ball, connect on the beeper flag receiver and do a final ref crew ya-ya handshake. This was a TV game, so everything is timed down to the minute. Only problem was that the locker room was…er…actually locked and we couldn’t get in. Hmm. That’s not good. U.S. Soccer staff guru Mike Squire always has lots of keys, so we found him straight away. Hmm, none of his keys work. That’s not good either. He gets on his radio and calls the venue staff. Tick-tock. Like the Incredible Hulk, Mike goes in the next room, drags out a gargantuan file cabinet, and lays it down. He puts a chair on top, and one of the ARs climbs on top to try and go through the ceiling tile to get over the door and onto the other side. Personally, I’m wondering if our police escort can just shoot the lock open with his gun – it works on TV, right? We’re now about two minutes from having to be in the tunnel and the venue staff comes strolling down the hallway – in no rush mind you – looking at us and shaking his head like we’re all nuts. Flip, flip, flip through the keys. Finds it. Opens the door. We run him over and get all our stuff on and run to the tunnel where the FIFA anthem starts playing and we just make it to the front of the line to walk the teams out. Jeesh. OK, everybody act normal and put your smiley faces on!! Breathe!!

Nine goals and 94 minutes later, we come back to the locker room for the final time. It’s open (gee, thanks), do all the paperwork, get cleaned up, and head out for a well-earned refreshing beverage. Until next time, the curse of the Legion Field official’s locker room lives on and a coach somewhere has a smile of sweet revenge. Have a great week, see you next time.



bill said...

Just like the movies - the good guys always try to get in through the air ducts or suspended ceilings. Thanks for the look behind the scenes.

fini said...

No problem. We were waiting for a big thud on the other side, LOL. Not quite as graceful as in the movies! This scene will eventually go into my book, "So ya wanna be a FIFA ref, eh?" The longer you stay in this business, the crazier stuff you see. Thanks for reading.