by Don McMahon
Inspired by an article that Tony recently penned and as a follow-on to my recent articles dealing with the ins and outs of refereeing, I felt it was apropos to present a brief overview of more of the tricky and difficult path an aspiring referee has to travel to get to the top.
The first external challenge an aspiring official has is mastering the Laws. The Bundesliga did a study a few years ago, to determine what % of the Laws the general public, club supporters and players (professionals) knew in sufficient detail and depth of understanding to be considered Football literate. The results showed on average,that less than 20% of the above groups knew the basics of the Laws and a surprising 8% didn’t know how many Laws there were.
This is somewhat frightening because if only 20% of professional players have a basic mastery of the Laws, then how in heaven’s name can an official expect players to understand his or her decisions?
Experienced referees have told me repeatedly and consistently that it takes about 3-4 years before any neophyte officials begin to truly understand the Laws (both the spirit and the letter) well enough to apply them firmly and fairly. As a panacea to this problem I helped introduce courses to interested Clubs on the Laws of the Game in a simplified version of what referees were required to attend.
The second external challenge most beginning officials face is getting and staying fit. Most of us have to train alone and have to watch our diet, our lifestyle and our health to remain in top shape for officiating. On average we run 10-12 miles in a game, without any real breaks and get 15 minutes to recuperate between halves. Players actually on average run less than we do as we HAVE to cover the entire diagonal surface of the 100 metre pitch AND move in 4 different directions at once. Medical research has shown that referees have to do 60% more backwards and sideways movement than your average Footballer. Add the mental stress, the cognitive and intellectual demands of rapid-fire decision- making and the visual issues many of us have and you can see what the challenges entail.
The third, and in my humble opinion, the tallest hurdle to becoming a top class official is the politics and ass-kissing required to reach the top. I have known a lot of foreign and domestic FIFA referees in my time and discussed this issue with them repeatedly. Almost universally they told me that alienating a powerful or influential director of officials OR conversely ¨chumming up¨ these people could often determine if you got on the promotional list and stayed there. I made it to the National level for my country by fell at this last hurdle because I had made an enemy of my local director of referees. Strangely enough, this career ruining act was what Tony and Walter often demand an honest referee does….and that is to reveal the inherent infighting and chicanery that occurs at almost every level of officiating.
Another big barrier for aspirants is the jealousy of their fellow officials. In my country, where 45% of the general population are either newly immigrated or first generation citizens, there is still a strong ethnic and cultural ghettoism that survives even into future generations. This tribalism, combined with the normal human psychological need to excel (sometimes to the detriment of fellow human beings) can cause officials to turn on one another and forget the fraternity(sorority) we all belong to. I lived through this a few times but the most traumatic event occurred when an assistant working with me in a very high tension, boiling over match between two big rivals, encouraged the players to challenge me whenever they criticized his calls. When I confronted him at the end of the game, he boldly stated that I needed bringing down a peg or two because I was , in his opinion, so arrogant and superior!
Finally, there is the most common difficulty of all, and that is effective communications with players, coaches, managers, League and Referee administrators and the local and national FA. Far too many officials fail to master this rather complex art. For example, I have been on countless amateur League and Cup discipline committees as either a consultant or elected/appointed member and have had to wade through basically illegible or totally incoherent match reports and discipline statements submitted by officials who had few or no skills in writing a coherent and precise review of what happened. These people ALL spoke English or French as their mother tongue or had mastered either as a second language in childhood but were unable to compose a simple 1/2 page report explaining what occurred and what they did in response. Even more embarrassing was having to question them in person about what actually occurred and then having to listen to the exact opposite from the accused parties.
There are many other roadblocks and snares that await a beginning referee but there isn’t enough space on UA to even begin to scratch the surface. Please remember that 99% of officials honestly try to do their jobs in a fair and humane way, imho but it isn’t as simple and obvious as it may at first appear. I am sure Walter will concur that every game is a new challenge and never like the last one and that even those you trust can prove to be unworthy of that trust, under the ¨right¨ circumstances.
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