Luke Nerac, a season ticket holder at Tottenham Hotspur who "just helped out" running the line for a friend, talks about his learning journey to becoming one of the most recognised and well respected Men in Black.
A role football simply cannot do without, Refereeing in Jersey is on a upward trend building mutual Respect and positive rapports with players, managers and clubs around the island.
The support, guidance and mentoring of new trainees that is currently on offer and has never been better as the Jersey Referees Football Association Secretary explains.
11 Minute read
AT: Please tell us a little bit about yourself...
LN: Away from football I work in Unit Trust Settlements within the Finance Industry. I’ve been a member of St.John Ambulance since 2000, and have recently been involved in the antibody testing and the vaccination centre.
Within football, I have been qualified as referee since 2009 and I'm also The Secretary of Jersey Football Referee Association, which is a members organisation, mainly concerned with welfare of referees, and development of referees. Away from refereeing I’m a season ticket holder with Tottenham Hotspur, where you’ll find me regularly during non Covid times.
AT: At what stage did you decide wanted to become a referee?
LN: I’m not sure I did if I’m being honest. I used to help out Jamie Bara with first aid when he was managing at St. John's Football Club. He asked for my help to do the linesman role for the final 10 minutes of one game, so I did. The following week I did 20 minutes. Then the week after that a full half on it went.
I ended up running the line every week, and a referee called Neil Giannoni had seen me doing it regularly for the club and suggested I should do the referees course. I told him that there was no chance in hell that I was going to do that. A couple weeks later he saw me again and said that he was putting me down for the course. I went along to the course to learn a bit more but with no actual intention of refereeing.
AT: Once you had made your decision to go on the course, what was the course like and the process for you to become qualified official?
LN: It’s changed since I took it, but back then we did the course once a week over a 10 week period. You had 6 mentored games and then you took a test at the end of it. That course was quite successful because four out of five of us went out and refereed regularly and currently three of us; Gareth Bayley, my brother and I; are still refereeing.
Now, the course is over a weekend. A lot more focused the practicalities of doing the job as well as the laws of the game. Once you're finished you have 5 mentored games as a minimum. In Jersey we try and do a bit more than that if we can, especially for the younger trainees.
On the weekends the course is now based at Springfield. We try to use this opportunity to get the trainees out and referee the games there in the afternoon, so it's all geared around practical learning and doing the job by trying it out first.
AT: Once you've done your coursework and you've completed your mentored games, what does the test or assessment look like?
LN: The test itself is a multiple-choice exam. There's no you need to write paragraph and paragraph. There is also a portion of the exam that is a video clip test where trainees make a decision based on what they've seen on screen.
"Throwing yourself into the middle with little to no
experience can be scary that first time"
AT: Looking back at your first match as the newly qualified man in the middle, how did you feel and what was that first experience like?
LN: My first game was for U14s up at La Hague. It was quite a scary experience as a newly qualified 19 years old who was given a whistle and told to go and do a game. Paul Daniel was there as a Mentor, but throwing yourself into the middle with little to no experience can be scary that first time.
I started with mostly junior games and did a handful of senior games during that first season. However, it all depends on the person, I mean if you have somebody who is under 16 and there's only so much they can do by regulation. If you've got a older person who is a bit timid and needs a bit more support or time to grow in confidence, we would probably give them a few more junior games first. On the flip side of coin, if you have someone who's really confident and happy to go out there and try a senior game, they may move into senior football quite quickly. As an example being Vitor Antunes who has progressed quickly into the senior game and has done well.
AT: For the first time that I can remember in the past 20+ years since I’ve been involved in the game, it feels like during the past 12-18months there has been a real uptake and interest in the role of Referee, can you provide an update on this?
LN: We're up to 41 referees at the moment, which is good, as the number has regularly sat around the18-25 mark. Last season we only had 18.
The guys that come through have progressed quickly. Obviously within that we have a few younger trainees that cannot do senior football yet, but if we help development them over the next few seasons by the time they step into senior football at the age of 17/18 they will have 2-4 years experience behind them already.
AT: Bringing it back to you, since that first game, you have gained vast knowledge and experience. What has been the highlights of your career to date?
LN: One of the biggest highlights was the Island Games held here in Jersey. There was no way I would have ever been involved with the Island Games in any sport, without refereeing. We had referees from the mainland attend and it was a great week with them providing us lots of advice and guidance.
Last year I went to the Football Games held in Ynys Mon, Anglesey. Jersey sent a team, including Andy Norman and I, and we had a great week. Andy and myself were picked for the final as Assistant Referees. The atmosphere was electric, with around 3,000 people watching. It was such an amazing time.
A continued highlight is travelling to Oslo to referee every year. Andy Cox encouraged me to go with him one year. You meet a lot of new people and you get to work with people from all over the world. I've worked with Iranian, Kenya and Brazil referee teams and one year I was on the line for a game between two U16 teams from Brazil and Mexico. Lots of different experiences that you wouldn't get solely refereeing local teams, such as dealing with people who don't speak any English which can sometimes be a challenge.
AT: What has been the most challenging moment you have had whilst officiating?
LN: A couple years ago now, I had to deal with an incident that happened off the ball that I didn't hear or see. The game had actually gone well for the first 65 minutes or so, and then from that point it become quite challenging to manage finishing with 2 reds and
8 yellow cards; a few misconducts to report after the game, and to report the actual incident as well.
Its one of those games you come away from thinking “What if I had just turned around at that moment? What if I had just seen what had happened?”
You reflect and question everything you did during the game. It’s possible that there is nothing you could have done differently; equally though, there’s probably something I could have done differently. It’s one of those games I won’t ever forget, but it goes down as part of the learning process and you have to pick up different skills from it for the future.
AT: You’ve touched on learning skills there in challenging circumstances. There are obviously many skills required to keep control of the game and ensure the team benches and spectators adhere to the Laws of the Game. What do you believe are the key skills or competencies required to be a good official?
LN: Skills wise, there is a lot you can learn, we do not need a perfect person when we recruit. I think that there are three abilities that are quite important:
"We have been presented with a lot more developmental opportunities, next week we have Anthony Taylor who has refereed 2 FA Cup Finals providing us with training via zoom"
AT: The majority of people think the Referees role is solely in the middle of the pitch running the game, however there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes too. Can you summarise some of the work that goes on behind the scenes and the relationship between the Jersey Football Association and the Jersey Referees Football Association?
LN: Years ago we were left to own devices but since Brian Oliver (Jersey Football Development Officer) has come in and is working along side Paul Kemp (Jersey Referee Development Officer) its created a good relationship between the Associations.
We have been presented with a lot more developmental opportunities for example next week we have Anthony Taylor doing training via zoom for the referees on the island. Anthony has refereed the FA Cup Final twice and is the first referee in 100 years to do that.
We have a six week series of workshops coming up for Referees and Observers/Mentors via Zoom with Trevor Massey, who ran the line to Mike Dean in the 2008 FA Cup Final.
The FA have been in touch with league that the Jersey Bulls play in and there is potential at some point for a Jersey referee to work in that league too. I’ve used this opportunity already - working with a different officials team and a different level of football. That’s with the help and support from the JFA.
Members of the JFRA get together monthly. During some of the meeting we use the time to view videos and talk about different incidents. We can discuss what's happened and give advice. There is a range of experience from Level 4 qualified referees to newcomers. We also get zoom calls pencilled in with experts from the UK, and this has been a big thing developmentally for us.
AT: The Referee Development Centre for young people is proving to be a valuable asset to JFA. Can you tell us what is offered in terms of support to a young person wanting to learn how to Referee?
LN: The idea for creating the Referee Development Centre came from Brian Oliver and Paul Daniel. Most weeks will start with some theory, or with a practical session whenever possible. This then it goes on to a game that is watched by mentors and coaches.
We have young referees like Harry Walker who have been through the Referee Development Centre now coming back and helping us mentor the new trainees. It’s a supportive learning environment for young people, where our young recruits are able to make mistakes and it's safe for them to do so.
During development fixtures Mentors have the chance to liaise and interact with the young trainees at the quarter or thirds break; or half time depending on the game format. We give constructive feedback in way that the group feels comfortable to speak up, question and understand various aspects of their decisions and various key moments in the game. Are they in the right position? What was their view on it? Why did they come to a certain decision? All supporting their learning journey.
It’s not just about what they learn on the pitch. So much of it is about their attitude off the pitch as they are held to a high standard, which, to be fair to them, they strive to reach and exceed in doing.
AT: What is the career pathway for officials to go from Grass Roots to full time Premiership should they desire too?
LN: You start as a Level 9 trainee. Once qualified, if you are aged 15 or younger you become a Level 8 referee. If you are aged 16 or older you start at Level 7. You can apply for promotion from Level 7, to 6, to 5 and this will include several observations.
For Level 4 referees the criteria changes to include a fitness test and ensuring you give something back to the community and the game. So for example, for me its being the Secretary for the JFRA. Anything higher than Level 4, obviously the level of competition involvement has to be higher and is not something we can offer in the Channel Islands. If you’re looking at trying to get into the Premiership top 20 referees you’re up against 8,000 referees to do so.
AT: As we are aware there is a course coming up in the next couple of weeks, for anyone thinking about taking that first step, what advice would you give?
LN: Trevor Massey will be coming over to complete the course hopefully on the 5th February but this may change due to Covid, and he will be supported by our FA Tutors. Currently there are 6 people confirmed as registered so far. Hopefully if we can have as many as possible if not all of those 6 refereeing regularly it will be another boost for the local game.
Advice wise, just give it a go and enjoy it! From experience I can definitely say there are so many more good times than there are bad times. There is so much support in the background that people just don't know about, that’s from formal observations, mentoring - most of us are at a game watching and giving guidance, or asking what you think of concerning X,Y,Z? I have both asked for and givenadvice. Most of the referees are happy for you to call them and talk through a decision to assist you to improve and provide their perspective.
It is noticeable that football has moved and gone down the road of being a lot more developmental and supportive which can only benefit everyone.
AT: Finally, how can people get in contact with you or the Jersey Football Referees Association?
Please contact our Referee Development Officer Paul Kemp by calling 01534 730433 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 'Get Involved' series aims to highlight some of the roles and responsibilities members have supporting the running of their clubs or associations with the drive to entice more people to join the local football workforce.