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OH, GO AHEAD: BOO HIM : Just Because He Was the Sockers' Wolfman Doesn't Mean Geyer Expects to Hear Cheers

January 21, 1986|MARC APPLEMAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Fans at the San Diego Sports Arena used to cheer wildly when former Socker defender Eric Geyer, known hereabouts as "The Wolfman," mixed it up with opposing players against the sideboards.

That was when Geyer was commiting fouls, not calling them. He is now a referee, wearing a whistle instead of dreading the sound of one.

And those cheers have turned to boos.

In San Diego's recent home exhibition game against Schalke 04, Geyer was booed for calling a foul against Socker forward Steve Zungul. Zungul was called for being too aggressive, a description which quite frequently fit Geyer when he played.

"The boos are the applause of the referee," said Geyer, who has become a part-time referee in the Major Indoor Soccer League since completing his playing career last season. "I think the fans had mixed feelings for me. The first boos weren't strong. They were probably thinking, 'We can't do that to Eric.' "

His mustache is still there and so are his powerful legs, but Geyer is no longer the same guy who used to race onto the field waving a white towel. He used to wear No. 8 and bleed Sockers' gold and royal blue. He now wears the referee's black uniform with No. 48 on his back and objectivity in his heart.

After three seasons and part of a fourth with the Sockers, Geyer must approach these games a bit differently.

When he was a player, Geyer was at liberty to race onto the field and pound shots into the stands to get his blood pumping. Since referees are supposed to be models of decorum, Geyer's pregame warmup consists of standing at attention with his hands clasped behind his back.

Yet, he appears to be more comfortable with the transition than some of this former teammates.

As the players gathered on the field for the game against Schalke 04, Socker midfielder Kaz Deyna asked Geyer: "What are you doing here?"

Geyer was actually more surprised by that question than by the booing he received later.

"And the boos will get louder," Geyer said. "But I don't mind."

Maybe this guy really is cut out to be a referee.

"A guy has to be a little crazy and looking for abuse to be an official," said Herbert Silva, MISL director of officials. "Eric fits right in."

Since Geyer had a reputation for being a very physical player who committed his share of fouls, he smiles at the idea of his becoming one of guys who call the infractions.

"But I had clean ways," Geyer said. "My philosophy as a player was to be in the best shape and not to try to kick, hold or scratch an opponent. Even when I got heated up as a player, I had respect for referees."

The respect is mutual.

"He was a tough, hard, aggressive player," said Billy Maxwell, one of three full-time referees in the MISL. "But he had no problems with officials."

Geyer's respect for what referees have to endure has increased considerably since he changed "sides." He has officiated 45 summer league games, attended a four-day MISL referee's seminar in St. Louis last August and worked nine MISL games this year including the Sockers' exhibition.

"The respect from referees to players is there," Geyer said, "but you don't have that respect from players to referees."

Geyer suddenly sees the situation in a different light.

"When you go on IQ, a lot of players would lose out to referees," he said. "Players can be crybabies, but referees have to be calm even when they're exploding inside. Referees have strong personalities and understand psychology."

This has been quite an adjustment for a man who was a player only a year ago, first for the Chicago Sting and later for the Sockers.

"I don't think as a player anymore," Geyer said. "I just see what I have to do to calm the player down. You can explain something to a player arrogantly or fluently."

Talking and dealing with players has always been as natural to Geyer as coming up with a loose ball in the corner. But since he started signaling goals rather than scoring them, Geyer said he tends to have a postgame beer with other referees instead of players.

The main problem facing a player who becomes a referee is the possibility of conflicts of interest. That is the primary reason Silva will not allow Geyer to work San Diego or Chicago games this season and probably throughout the early part of his career. The game against Schalke 04 was an exception because it was an exhibition.

"I don't want to put Eric in a compromising position," Silva said. "I want to reduce the amount of pressure a guy is under."

Regardless of the teams involved, it seems clear that Geyer will not impose himself on the game.

After the Schalke 04 game, Sockers midfielder Brian Quinn said: "He has a good rapport with the players. And I think he has a better feel for the game than other referees. We didn't really see him and that's good. He's clever enough not to fall for tricks and he lets the game flow. That's better for the fans. I'd give him an 8 on a scale of 10."

Geyer will appreciate Quinn's assessment since he bases his philosophy of officiating on letting the players play.

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