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July 2021

What is it like being a Fifa ref? The real inside story.

By Walter Broeckx

Before we get down to the Untold Ref Review of the Year series (which is, I promise, coming very soon) I just want to write a little article about the world of referees as it exists in my part of the world and will give you some inside information about how things work for top referees.

This week I had the pleasure of doing a game as an assistant with one of the top referees in Belgium. And I had the chance of having a long talk with one of the most talented referees in my country. And I had the pleasure of doing a game with him.

The ref is still a very young ref (around 30) but has some 3 years of experience in the highest league. In my country they  have adopted the point of view that they want to bring in the refs as soon as possible in the highest leagues so they can have a long career at that level and also can have a good international career.

And as a result this ref has been handed a Fifa badge this year.  And every year Fifa organises a training camp for the fresh appointed Fifa refs. This time it was a one week training camp in Turkey.  Wow nice you might say a week in a 6* hotel on the expenses of Fifa. Who wouldn’t want to have that. And even the flight to Turkey is paid by Fifa. And to make sure that the refs arrive in good shape they give tickets for business class on the plane.

Now before you start running to the nearest place where they give a referee course you might listen to how the everyday life looks of this Fifa ref. Because unlike England we have no full time professional refs in my country. They do get some fixed money but that is not enough to really make good living. So refs in my country have a day time job.

Most of the established refs have a part time job. But for young refs this is not always possible. They also have to see that they earn enough money to support their family.  And only when you are a Fifa ref and start doing international games you get more money that could allow you to start working less in your day time job.

So our young Fifa ref has a full time job.  That means in my country something around 38-40 hours a week.   Of course we all work around that in a full time job. But being a top class referee in Belgium also means that you have to train.  And this means one training session a week with the other top class referees in the afternoon.  And one training session in the evening with the other top class referees of our county.

For the midday training our ref has to take some time off work and he has to make sure he works these hours later on. Or start earlier in the morning.  So you can straight away see that to be a top ref in my country you need an employer that is willing to give you some freedom in your work.

And apart from that our ref also has to train almost every day on his own. And it is not that you can just pretend to train. No each ref is giving a computerised watch and device that he has to wear when he is training. And at the weekly training his watch is checked and they can see if he has trained enough and with enough intensity. And if they see that you didn’t train enough you are in trouble and you can lose your status as a top class ref.

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The result is that our ref after his full time job is going on a training each day for one hour, one hour and a half. All kind of running is done. Sprints, duration, interval training it all must be done.

And after  his day time job, his training on his own, or his group graining he can finally go home. It usually is around 8 pm that he arrives home.  And then he still  has to eat. This is the everyday life of a ref in a country where there are no professional referees.  So if you still think that flying business class and staying in a top hotel in Turkey is too much for such young refs… consider the hard work that those refs have had to do to get there. And still have. Well those who are not as privileged as the German refs who are professionals. Or the English refs who are also professionals.

Finally to conclude I would like to put a  myth to bed. We all say sometimes : “this ref is blind” when he didn’t see something.

Well I can assure you that  a Fifa ref never is blind. You may think he is blind if he misses an obvious foul but I can assure you he IS NOT BLIND.  I must admit that I never knew this before but the ref told me the story of his eyes.

Because the ref is wearing glasses in his everyday life as he needs them to look in the distance. He is short sighted. Now he wears glasses during the day but when he does a game he uses contact lenses. And when in Turkey and doing the physical tests they also had a medical check. And not just a routine medical check. No they were turned inside out almost.

And also his vision was checked, without glasses, with glasses and with the contact lenses. And those doctors checked this all and found that he still was not seeing things 100% with the contact lenses he used. And so they told him that he had to make sure that he would buy new contact lenses. And so our ref had to see a specialist and they have made special contact lenses just for his eyes only. His match contact lenses that he only uses during a game. Without those lenses he would not be able to keep his Fifa badge in the future.

The contact lenses now make sure that his vision is 100% with both eyes in all circumstances. They have cost him a lot of money to have them made. Money that he had to pay himself. But that is what you do when you want to be a Fifa ref.

Work hard as an employee, train like mad as a ref, pay a big sum for you game contact lenses. You hardly have spare time (and still he does the every week training for the other refs on a voluntary basis in my region), you can hardly have a family life. But it is the love for the refereeing and the chance to become an international ref that forces the best out of him.

So for a non-professional ref it is a hard road to become a Fifa ref. So of course I want to wish him all the best in his ref career. But believe me I never would like to see him even come close to Arsenal in his future European career that should start next month in the Europa League.   Nothing personal but it would be better for him, for us, for me and for Arsenal.



Arsenal’s defenders.  Who do we buy?

Van Persie and Podolski at the Euros

It looks like we’ve bought Olivier Giroud

Harry Redknapp’s gone: but what really happened?

Leslie Knighton: Arsenal’s least successful manager – the story.

Untold Ref Review: Sunderland 0 Man U 1 (sorry link previously faulty, now corrected)

Why should English clubs bother with what’s happening at Rangers?

Untold Ref Review: Chelsea 0 Newcastle 2

13 comments to What is it like being a Fifa ref? The real inside story.

  • Notoverthehill

    Thanks, Walter!

    A very good article to point us in the right direction. It does take dedication and love of the game, to put in the hours and training to achieve the goal of being the “best one can be”.

    It is not a career path for the traditional trade unionist or self-proclaimed socialist.

    Walter, I trust each referee reviewer studies the career path of each match official before a game?

  • I must confess that before I met Walter I never ever thought of the ref as a person with a life outside the game. Now I know different – and every new insight is welcome.

  • Domhuaille MacMathghamhna

    Walter…..having been a former national and NASL referee, I can attest to the stringent and demanding lifestyle required to be ready for the top level. The pace of the game is so much faster and the quality of play is so much higher than the best amateur level.
    There is another aspect, a bit less savoury, in becoming and surviving as a top class referee and that is POLITICS. I cannot speak for Europe but in North America, where the game is less well established and the vastness of the distances, the paucity of high level games, lack of oversight and experienced organizers/administration and the ease with which less than salubrious character(s) can ¨take charge¨ of referees affairs, often leads to very nasty and self-serving individuals and groups preventing fair and equitable opportunities for new referees to break into the top rungs while promoting their fellow travelers based on ethnic and sycophantic loyalties. I speak from bitter personal experience.
    The PGMOL is perhaps a classic example of a clique ¨steering¨ the futures of aspiring officials based on their own self-interest and personal/Club agendas. Of necessity, there is a supposed solid divide between the officials, the League and the Clubs. Neither is supposed to influence the other when it comes to the outcome of games….but that barrier seems to have in some instances, been breached, so to speak.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Domhuaille MacMathghamhna,

    Politics in the ref world….. one of the things that makes me sick when I think of the referee world. And one of the reasons that some really good refs don’t make it and some not that good refs make it to the top.

    Don’t worry… it is as bad over here as it seems to be over there. Well actually… DO worry…

    Making the right moves at the right time outside the field is more important at times than making the correct decisions on the field.

    (stops typing to throw up his lunch – OK not really but it makes my blood boil at times…)

  • Walter / Domhuaille / it seems to me that although politics and refs is annoying, it is something that we should be bringing to everyone’s attention.

    Domhuaille would you fancy writing a piece about this aspect of the game in North America – or indeed other issues that N America faces.

    I think many of us in Europe appreciate that USA is now a force in world football as a national side, but we are still not that sure about the standard, style, approach or anything else in football in the States. And we ought to be. After all, Mr Henry is there!

    If you would like to do something please do email me:

  • Goona Gal

    @ Walter, this is a very interesting read.

  • Goona Gal

    Here is another (if you haven’t had your fillup of Engerrland!) I particularly like this statement ‘The usual stench of a John Terry is being overpowered by the beaming smile of an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’.

  • Domhuaille MacMathghamhna

    Tony and Walter….I have written for UA before and would be glad to do a piece about the trials and tribulations of officiating in North America….it will be on its way shortly.
    By the way nice piece Walter and I love your English, it is so disarming!

  • Ugandan Goon

    A bit of topic, but it looks like we have a UA reader at the Beeb, during the Holland Germany match at about min 48.30, the commentary team fall to discussing the ref, it transpires he is a multimillionaire reffing for the love of the game rather than the money, you clearly hear someone in the studio piss themselves at the suggestion.
    cruel and unnecessary, but see and hear for yourselves here
    The incident i refer to can be found at about 1hr 53rd min.

  • WalterBroeckx

    As I am being outside the UK I cannot listen to it Ugandan Goon 🙁

  • @Ugandan Goon – lol, yes I heard that too – I could hardly believe what I was hearing!

  • Ugandan Goon

    @ DogFace,
    there is a sufficient gap between the comment and the guffaw, which suggests to me someone off mike might have inserted their own little joke, like “last of a dying breed…. etc to set off our dear reader.

  • Ugandan Goon

    I am a little glad you cannot hear it, as it would be like telling a racist joke to a member of the offended race!