Taken for granted. Those in Black, the match officials.
Historically a part of the Beautiful Game at all levels. Love them or hate them, they are extremely important to the future of football.
An opinion of a referee can change in instant. A good or bad decision; something they may have missed; awarding a match changing penalty decision; or indeed making a huge mistake like issuing three yellow cards in one game to the same player! (See England’s finest …. Graham Poll World Cup 1996 – it happens to the best of us Graham).
Whatever the circumstances, match officials are in a position where they will be loved or loathed; every minute of every game; quite simply because they can’t please everyone.
In recent years the FA have launched the RESPECT campaign, various elements from different areas of the game are included, and the Campaign is mostly for everyone to recognise and make a conscious effort to improve the environment, therefore producing a much improved spectacle, and more enjoyable game for everyone. A big inclusion is promoting Respect to match officials across the globe.
Closer to home, and having been in a position where I have personally donned the black kit, the challenge of being a match day official should not be taken lightly, and most certainly the responsibility of the role should not be overlooked by Coaches, players and spectators.
Years ago when I was coaching at St.Pauls FC, due to the shortage of officials on the island, I attended and completed the Referees Course and successfully became a Level 7 qualified referee in the pyramid.
The sole reason I completed this training was that at the time there we no official match day referees available for Under 14’s football. This meant that the home team had to provide a referee (where nine times out of ten it was the coach who also had many other roles to worry about let alone refereeing the game as well).
Refereeing junior games was good fun; I was learning a different perspective of the game from that of being a player, and a coach, and initially I enjoyed it. However, as the days and weeks went by I began to feel the pressure of being put forward to officiate Senior matches. Something that I had no interest in. I got involved to support the Junior Section, not the Senior. However because the quantity of referees was so small, that new referees were being asked to commit to more games, in areas that they did not feel comfortable with.
My experience of refereeing a Senior matches was horrendous. As a new referee who had very limited experience in the trade, the verbal abuse I received from players was a disgrace. So much so, that I refused to referee any more senior games, and after that one season involved in refereeing I did not commit to it anymore. Instead I focused all my footballing energy into coaching.
Looking back, it is a great shame as I actually enjoyed a different involvement in Junior Football, getting to know other referees who I’d previously only known from a players stand point, was well worthwhile.
Recently the discussion on officials came up on a workshop that I attended. Several years ago I knew there was difficulties with encouraging new officials to take up the whistle, but little did I know the current severity of problem we have.
I feel it is important to raise the awareness of just how much trouble our local game could be in.
I see, hear and read many times over of how players, coaches and supporters are over critical of our referees, and when I do, I often ask myself if those condemning these officials would actually have the courage to step up to the plate themselves.
Let me highlight the statistics that were presented a few days ago.
There are over 1,000 games per season played here in Jersey. In Jersey 40 referees are registered; of those 40 only 25 are actively refereeing. That is a staggering amount of games for a small workforce of Referees to cover.
I know one referee in particular who’s commitment is second to none, and over the years he has probably been the ‘man in the middle’ for more or less 100 games per season. Add to this all the other roles he fulfils for the running of our game locally, we are very lucky to have him involved.
Just think, if for whatever reason this person took a step back and hung up his whistle; we may potentially lose a referee for another 10% of local fixtures.
Recently, match day officials have been ‘running the line’ for a first team game in the early afternoon, to then travel to another venue to referee a reserve game straight after. In my opinion, the situation is of great concern.
So what is being done to entice new Officials?
As I understand it, in recent seasons Clubs have had to nominate a club member to be the ‘in house’ Referee and attend the basic training for Match Day officials.
More noticeable is the intake of school aged children joining the Referee workshops and becoming qualified officials. Does this qualification goes towards some of their studies at School? - I am not sure, but what is great is that young officials are getting the opportunity to develop, learn and gain confidence in the junior development fixtures through the year. It’s win-win. Development for all.
Even with these new young officials coming through, local football still needs more. Next time you’re out watching your son, daughter, grandchild play the game, it will be nice to have in mind the bigger picture of the task at hand for our local officials.
I'm sure there will be other initiatives, and if you know what they are, please let me know and spread the word.
I challenge those of you thinking about getting involved in our Football Family to decide on how would you like to benefit the community. All the ex-players; coaches; club officials, parents out there, surely we can drum up some interest to keep growing our game. So please consider becoming a Match Official.
If you do, and would like to know more about being an official and are over 14 years of age please contact Referee Development Officer Robert Timm by email on Robert.firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, during the next game you attend, and an official makes a decision you disagree with, rather than chastise them; barrack them; complain and verbal abuse them; (usual in front of young children too by the way) Take a deep breath, pause for thought, and think about the consequences.
If you’re actions cause referees to feel demoralised and think ‘What is the point?’ then you are having an impact on the game that we do not need. You will be affecting the game in a bigger way then you realise. If we lose more refs, we may well lose the game.