A Ref’s Role In The Beautiful Game

While covering KIF soccer, I would bring my iPod with me so I could tune out many of the comments directed at the officials from my compatriots in the stands.

I guess that means I’m not as thick-skinned as they are, because the referees seem to handle it much better than I did, without the aid of a pair of earbuds.

“I get great satisfaction from a positive comment from a coach, player or spectator as I leave,” says Michael Dexter-Smith. “‘Good job, ref,’ makes it all seem worth it.”

A full-timer on Kaua’i since 2010, Dexter-Smith began refereeing soccer matches during the late ’80s in Boston.

As an English native, he felt the quality of youth officiating in Boston was lacking, so he decided to step in and help.

“The pool of refs was essentially made up of fathers who had rarely played the game and could not tell a foul from a tackle,” he says.

“They knew the rules but not the game, and it showed.”

Spending more than 20 years with the whistle, Dexter-Smith also initiated a mentor program to aid new refs. He can now be found on the pitch during KIF action.

“I think the players here are very respectful,” he says.

“In Massachusetts, they were beginning to emulate the (televised English) Premiership players with finger wagging and comments to the ref and assistants.

“My line has always been that if it is directed at themselves, then heck, let’s play. But when something is said about one of the reffing crew, then the cards begin to fly.”

Before the start of each match he likes to make a few points clear to the captains and the coaches, the first being: “Like you, we (the refs) will all make mistakes today. Get over it.”

He also emphasizes to them their own responsibility for keeping emotional players in check.

“You know better than I who the players with hot heads are,” he tells them.

“A yellow or red card is a testament to the fact that all of us here refs, coaches and captains have failed in our jobs.

Let’s not fail.”

His final point is a simple yet idealistic one:

“Let’s give the crowd a great exhibition of the ‘beautiful game.'”

While he has a few pet peeves regarding fan interaction, which includes a lack of understanding of offsides or the concept of “advantage,” Dexter-Smith sees the whole atmosphere as something of a production.

He knows that too many whistles will ruin the symphony.

“I am trying to orchestrate an often out-of-tune orchestra,” he says. “To keep stopping and starting, it is even worse.”

Having reffed or played the game his whole life he still suits up for an over-58 team when back in Boston Dexter-Smith finds a sense of camaraderie with anyone and everyone involved.

“It connects me with the real Kaua’i,” he says. “I am a haole, for sure, but at soccer, I can be a ‘local’ for 80 minutes.”