Confessions of A Failed Referee

“Are you all sitty comftybold two-square on your botty? Then I’ll begin.”

Professor Stanley Unwin

The roof could have caved in, but I wouldn’t have noticed.

In fact, the roof DID start leaking a few weeks ago but I only became aware of the catastrophe when my wife relayed the news to me via a megaphone held approximately 0.3mm from my ear.  

Such was my determination to pass my resit of the Golf Croquet Referee’s examination at Bath recently, most national news has passed me by since Christmas. My only reading matter from the autumn of 2023 – till now really – has been the World Croquet Federation’s little red book – ‘Rules Of Golf Croquet’ – a tome I KNOW deep in my soul, that every member of Broadwas Croquet Club knows off by heart.

So, to cut a long story short, but making it longer anyway, sometime in the summer of 2023, Club Captain John Guy sent around an email to all members asking if anyone was interested in studying to be a GC referee. I jumped at the opportunity – my reasoning being that having another qualified ref at the club might take some pressure off our qualified referees Jeff Faulkner and John Guy, who often, on top of refereeing duties, also help organise competitions and tournaments during our busy seasons.

After somehow convincing Ian Shore, a GC Rules Committee member who runs the course, that I was up to the task, bearing in mind I was then treading water in the murky 14-handicap stream, I joined the CA Referee’s Training Course early in October 2023 after being provided with extensive pre-course material written by Ian.

The course was a delight. It was held at Bath Croquet Club, over a weekend during which Bath Rugby Club played Exeter. The Recreation Ground – Bath’s home – is a couple of hundred yards away from the croquet club’s lawns and every time the crowd roared, I pretended they were cheering my answers to the course organisers’ questions.

Ian was joined in teaching duties by GC coach and referee Paul Francis, who recently helped set up croquet at the new club at Bradford-on-Avon as well as being the Chair of the (then) Croquet Association Development Committee.

On the second day of the course, candidates take an on-court test, lasting about 40 minutes, as well as sitting a written examination. Anyway, long-story short, I failed the on-court examination. After realising that I’d thrice forgotten to mark balls when asked to come on court to judge short clearances, I quickly became a gibbering wreck and took way too long in coming to decisions. When I did finally come to a conclusion, it was wrong anyway.  Ian gently took me aside after the written exam and told me that my indecisiveness and lack of assertiveness had also let me down, but that I would be able to re-sit the practical test in 2024.

A couple of days after the exam, while I was playing Brian Humphreys in the blocks, I took a call from Ian on the lawns. Ian told me that I had done pretty well in the written exam and that I would be welcome to retake just the practical test in February. 

So while my roof leaked, I went away to Bath again at the weekend, to re-sit the practical test. I was spared having to retake the written exam or pay a retake fee.  Ian had also kindly arranged for Dr Ron Carter – a GC coach and referee to give me some one-to-one guidance before the exam, which was invaluable.

My first three judgements on whether balls had scored hoops in order were just dandy, but it all began to fall apart when I forgot – AGAIN – to mark a couple of balls and my inveterate Porky Pig stammer made an unwelcome entrance as I dithered around subsequent decisions in much the same way that I procrastinate when I’m trying to decide which of Glenys Croft’s cakes to have at a Rollup Friday.

The death knell clanged loudly when my inveterate dyscalculia (the numerical equivalent of dyslexia) made an equally unwelcome return when, although I knew the answer, I couldn’t work out at what angle a ball had been hit during a forceful front-of-hoop clearance. When I finally came up with an answer, it felt like an hour had passed.  The heavy rain did little to lift my mood.

When the other candidates were taking the written exam, Ian and Paul took me into the adjoining lecture room. Ian diplomatically and gently told me that I hadn’t cut the mustard yet again. He didn’t express it quite this way, but he said that he didn’t want me to darken his doorstep again, for at least two years. Both examiners expressed the opinion that on-court, though I knew the rules, I wasn’t assertive enough with my presentation of decisions. Fair enough.

Although it was a huge disappointment, I really enjoyed the experience of  getting an in-depth grasp of the rules of Golf Croquet. Wrong balls hold no fear for me from now on.

But I WILL issue a warning. If you meet me in the blocks in the future and you have made a crush error, I WILL call it, though it may be whispered and delivered three weeks later.

Paul Felton