I was an hour early to observe the young ref in his local league game in East Kent. The four football pitches on the local park were still deserted, but 30 or 40 blokes were going through warm-up routines on their rugby pitch, along with the referee. As a former rugby player, I always enjoy watching a game and have always had masses of admiration for rugby refs, who officiate a hugely complex and physically violent sport.
But in fact the rugby referees feel sorry for their round ball counterparts, hemmed in as they are by weakly-enforced laws and an almost complete absence of respect from players.
When I heard one of the players addressing the referee as "Sir" and thanking him for the information, I couldn't help but contrast that behaviour with the average communication between player and ref. "Oy!" is about as friendly as it gets.
On the rugby pitch, the collisions were fearsome, players smashing into each other, tackling at high speed and dragging opponents to the ground. The players got up, shook themselves off and got on with the game.
My duties on the football pitch called me away, but the rugby players' behaviour was a revelation. This is how players behaved 30 years ago and the behaviour was still just as civil. Impressive.
The young ref trying to progress up the ladder was given a hostile reception as soon as he blew the whistle to start the game. Dissent flooded in thick and fast, both from on the pitch and from team officials and spectators on the touchline. The ref did his best, but there was almost no let up in the foul-mouthed language hurled at him for 90 minutes. He did his best, booking various players and calling the captains together to try to get them to enforce some discipline.
But the footballers were too preoccupied with winding each other up with unpleasant insults - just "Banter" honest! It left an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
The rugby match came to an end and both teams performed a corridor of players to applaud their rivals off the field - and the referee of course.