Life behind the whistle – becoming a football referee

by Ben Howlett, FFG Apprentice.

We’ve all been there- “ref needed this Sunday, KO 10am/HELP! we need a referee for our U12s match TODAY!!” finding a referee for your fixtures can be hard! They’re in high demand and don’t always get the easiest ride on a pitch. But what makes a great referee? Are you thinking of becoming a qualified referee? Could this be a career option for you, or something to earn a bit of pocket money? Ben, FFG Apprentice, tells us how he became a qualified ref and his experiences so far…

“When I was 15, I applied through an Essex FA course to start earning some money through becoming a referee. This was in 2018 so it could be slightly different now. After I filled my application, I was invited onto the course where I met a bunch of people in my position all different ages that were also looking to become referees.

I went for one evening session and two Sunday sessions where I spent the day learning how to be a ref and learning the laws of the game. The evening session was a classroom based session consisting of different scenarios and questions that were given to us and how we would handle that in a game. We were watching different clips and deciding what the outcome should be. We were given a laws of the game book which we had to read and learn about different rules and what a referee would do when an incident occurred.

The two Sundays were longer practical days. We went through everything required to become a ref and the different responsibilities that come with it. Some of the topics we went through were what is required pre-match, different signals that referees have to use, communicating with players, parents and coaches. We had to decide whether fouls were careless, reckless or excessive force which means no card, yellow, or red. DOGSO which stands for Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity. The offside law, managing restarts and set-pieces and probably a few more than I’m forgetting.

We finished the day where all the learners played a game and one at a time, one of us would referee a portion of the game. We were assessed on the volume we spoke at, our decisions and signals, the positioning of the referee and our overall performance. I think everybody passed on my course. We were then debriefed and ready to start reffing competing matches.

A couple of weeks after completing the course, my mums work colleague’s son was part of a team and played for Billericay Town U6s (5v5). I got in contact with the manager and it was a good opportunity to go and get some experience and ref my first game. It was an easy game to start off with due to the age of the children.

A coach had spotted me reffing and approached me at half time to see if I could referee his match straight after which I said yes. I then figured out that this would become a bit of a theme as referee’s are really hard to find. My number was passed around the different coaches who were contacting me every week to see if I could referee their games. I tried to stay in my comfort zone for a while as the 5 a side and 7 a side games were easier to ref. This was probably because there was less pressure due to the age groups and the result wasn’t as important and competitive as it would be for an older age group.

I reffed 5 and 7 a side for about two years every Sunday when the coaches had home games. I still regularly referee the same u6 team who are now u11s, and play 9 a side with offsides. I’ve also reffed JPL games which is a higher standard and more competitive games therefore comes with more pressure. But I’ve reffed enough games now to cope with that and feel confident with my decisions.

I’ve made lots of decisions that I have regretted 30 seconds later but it’s important to not let it distract you from the rest of the game. You have to block everyone out from the side-line and focus on the next decision which I have definitely got better at over the years. My main advice for new refs is to start with easier games on paper, build some confidence before testing yourself with older matches which become more competitive.”