Referees should have a presence
By JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press
In Walter Kirchner's perfect game, the referee could be tall.
Or short. Or black, white, brown, yellow, male, female, young or old.
But there's one thing he/she definitely must be. Kirchner's ideal ref is a commanding one.
The veteran Canadian Professional Soccer League referee-in-chief has played the game at an elite level in Romania and officiated it at the top level here. Above all, he values a presence among his officials.
"What I want in an official is man-management," said Kirchner, whose personal pioneering led to the annual Walter Kirchner minor soccer tournament to be contested in two weeks in Woodstock.
"You can be six-feet-seven or five-feet-two, any race or either gender, and if you interact with the players in the right way, you won't have many problems," he added.
Common sense and a calm demeanour help calm the most difficult of situations, he said. He points to such veterans as Gord Arrowsmith and Luigi Molina as the kind of refs capable of placing a quiet sense of control on games right from the opening kickoff.
An example of Kirchner's common-sense approach in an exhibition game led to what London City general manager Harry Gauss termed one of the greatest goals anybody has ever seen scored in Canada.
It was by Argentine legend Diego Maradona, who'd joined his brother's team, Toronto Italia, for a game against the CPSL selects.
From a corner kick, the former World Cup star pounded the ball with enormous backspin and it hopped through the air like a version of baseball's knuckleball. While the Selects goalie waited at the far post, the ball came down and spun into the net just past the near post.
"Maradona came to the officials' room before the game and asked if the game ball could be pumped up to 14 pounds," Kirchner recalled. "Normally, 11 or 12 pounds is enough. I asked the Selects if they had any objections and they didn't.
"It was the way he hit the ball. With his instep in such a way that it had a terrific back-spin and twisted through the air about two feet off the ground. Then it stopped dead and just rolled into the net."
Kirchner got another close-in view of what makes superstars different, one that led him to blow his whistle prematurely.
"Two guys were coming in to sandwich him, one on the left, one on the right and he was expecting it," he explained. "He was baiting them. When they arrived, he bent forward. I blew my whistle but just as I did, he straightened up and continued with the ball. I'd never seen anyone stand from that position."
The chief ref considers his work a noble calling, one that has had difficulties attracting new blood in recent years. He says it's particularly rewarding for people who gain the ability to emboss a sort of calm control on games.
A ref doesn't want to be the centre of attention, the 64-year-old veteran said. His own career showed one red card and a dozen yellow cards every 60 games or so.
There wasn't a lot of soccer around Woodstock when Kirchner helped found the tournament named after him with a single team from a Scout troop in 1976. It has expanded to players between eight and 18 years to last summer's 92-team competition requiring a dozen fields.
Once more, Kirchner will referee games in the tournament named after him.