Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Comedy of Errors

A Referee in Notts

9 May 19 illustrations: Alex McDougall

When I first started, ten or twelve years ago, I did it for a bit of cash on the side. Soon, though, I found it gave me another view of the game that I probably didn't get when I was younger. Ten years ago, I never thought I’d be in a position where I’d be still enjoying what I do.

It all began when I was coaching at college and we were struggling for referees. I found myself having to referee more games than I should have been, so I thought why not take the course and do it properly? Nowadays I'm refereeing national futsal games as well as football games, so there’s a lot of early mornings and travelling. For example, this weekend I’m in Bedfordshire to referee a Women's FA cup game on Saturday and in Reading for a Men’s FA cup game on Sunday.

It does take me quite a while to wind down after a game, especially during the car journey home. If I’m travelling with someone else I might not say anything because I’m busy evaluating my own performance. When I get home I try to have something to eat and switch off with a comedy box set.

I come across lots of different people doing this job and it's actually quite nice not to be dealing with the same people all the time. I quite like refereeing the women because they just get on with things and don't moan. It’s also interesting to watch the personality changes in the kids I’ve refereed for years as soon as they hit puberty. It’s hard nowadays with kids as there’s so many dropouts. The biggest dropout age for most sports is around sixteen to nineteen years old. I work for Nottingham College and we have reduced the number of teams. The sport as a whole has changed; there’s a lot of funding issues, volunteers come and go and it’s much harder to keep the sport running now.

I enjoy travelling around the country and getting involved with big clubs on the national stage. Meeting other referees from around the country and seeing how they do things is always beneficial too. I also like the eleven handshakes you get at the end of the game and the recognition from the players if you've done a good job. Even still, there are players who will give you trouble no matter what happens. I don't think they’re good for the game. Everyone is entitled to play sport to be fit and active, but I think there’s still too many that overstep the line.

There’s been a lot in the news about abuse towards referees. I’ve been quite lucky in a sense, having been assaulted twice in the past but by players that would have done it to anybody, not personally just to me.  I was refereeing a five-a-side football game and sent a player off and he punched me in the face. The case went to court and he pleaded not guilty up until the day before, but eventually took a prison sentence. The FA have had a couple of goes at introducing a respect programme. It's easier to do that with kids but, unfortunately with adults who are set in their ways, we either stop them playing altogether or put them in their own league so they can kick each other around and do it on their own.  

For the most part I get told by players that I’m a good referee, but that's taken a lot of work and self-education. Getting to know players works in your favour as well. When you first start out, you do have to be willing to ask questions and watch games at various levels. You have to build relationships with other referees, clubs and players. A lot of people think that once the game is over, referees just get on with their lives, but there’s a lot of training that we have to do. We make mistakes and we do make an effort to try and better ourselves. Certainly, when I was a bit younger, I’d probably have turned a blind eye to certain things which should have been punished.

In terms of short-term future plans, I’d like to be involved in a full game abroad. Going to one of the big footballing countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal or Brazil would be fantastic. There are lots of quite low-level international tournaments nowadays and we have teams from all over the world that come here too. Maybe when my children are a bit older I’ll be able to do a few of those. I've got a five year old; I think she's going to be a girly-girl. Every dad wants their daughters to do lots of sport, but I don’t think she will. She's more of a dancer. I've got one who’s just turned a year old and she can be a nutcase sometimes, so there’s a bit of hope in that one.

We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now