Being a ref, what it’s like. Some tips and some advice

Being a ref, what’s it really like.  Some tips and some advice.

By Walter Broeckx

As a reader recently mentioned that he was going to become a ref this summer I would like to do a little piece on my own experiences and some of my friends that they have gone trough as a ref. Some things were funny, some things not so funny at the time but it all contributed to what we are as refs.

I hope that the person who wants to become a ref can learn something from it and if it helps him in any way I would feel happy about it. For those who are not thinking of becoming referees it might paint a picture about what it is and what can happen in your career as a referee. And for those who don’t care you can read other and more interesting articles on this site.  (There’s a link to a constantly updated index of articles at the end of each piece).

So to start; becoming a ref is something you have to think about in advance. You just don’t wake up in the morning and say: Oh, I think I will become a ref today. With me it started when my oldest sons began to play in our local community team. As a former player of the game I knew the rules and of course I was also one of those dads that stood there and knew better than the refs.

(Oh my God, when I think back of those days I really confess I feel a bit embarrassed about my behaviour at times. I think I never insulted the refs but I did make myself heard when they had it wrong.)

And then suddenly when we went to a game and there was no ref to be seen, (and who would blame the appointed ref for not wanting to get bullied yet again by the crowd of parents), they came to ask for volunteers to do that game. And no one dared to show how good or bad they would be on the field instead of doing it from the side lines.

Well, one person was foolish enough to take on the challenge: me. And right from the first game I had some incidents with the coach of the other team who was shouting abuse at me.   Welcome to the real world, Mr. Referee. And at half time I was thinking, hell, this is difficult.

And then I did what I have done a few times in my career: I told myself to concentrate and do it better. And in the second half it felt right, the coaches stopped shouting at me, the crowd didn’t shout, the players accepted my decisions. Well not really all the players as I gave 2 penalties against my son’s team and they lost that game.  It was the only game they lost in that season.

After the game a grandfather of one of the players came to me in the dressing room and told me he was a former ref that have reached what you would call in England the first division and he encouraged me take on the course to become a ref because he could see I had it in me. It still took some time after that, even more than one season in fact, to really become an official ref but if you would have asked me to do it again when I walked to the dressing room at half time of my first attempt I would have said : never again.

So one of my biggest advice to a new ref is : Don’t give up that easily. If you face troubles every week you could be doing something wrong but if you only face trouble every now and then: don’t give up.

A second piece of good advice I would give is : be deaf. And I mean to the shouting from the spectators. I generally don’t listen to the people in the stands and what they shout. I hear it but I laugh it away. Never shout back at the crowd, because it will cost you.  But sometimes when they shout something which even I can find funny I’m not afraid to acknowledge it with a signal.

But this is something you can only do when you feel 100 %  in control of the game. When I was wearing a yellow shirt someone shouted at me that I was just a gray canary-bird (gray = my hair) and it was rather funny and everyone laughed in the stand so I gave him a thumbs up for his shouting and turned to him with a big smile. So everyone laughed even more because I saw the funny side of it and it took the heat out of the moment, and the atmosphere relaxed.

But be careful with this as it can turn against you easily. If the bench is shouting abuse to you, don’t let them. Send them away from the neutral zone and make up a report so they get punished. Did they install a neutral zone round the field in English youth football yet? I know a few years ago this was not the case but I hope since then the rules have changed.

One of the most important things as a ref is concentration. No it should be CONCENTRATION!!!!. Now I know this might sound silly but take it from me you would be surprised how many times the ref gives the wrong direction by loss of concentration. Before you start the game be sure that you know which team is attacking which goal. I remember from the beginning that there was a free kick and the line of players was standing some 10 meters away from the middle of the field. The ball was given and I saw a lot of players standing offside and blew my whistle. It turned out that they were the defenders. So if you make such a mistake this is a concentration problem. I was just before that distracted because there was a player injured and I was not concentrating enough when I let the game start again.

Another thing was that in my second game, a youth game, there was an attacker that was running some 15 meters offside. So I blew my whistle and then discovered that there was a defender slowly coming back from his own goal line who had got a knock that I hadn’t seen and who was just getting back to take his position. I must say those are the moments that you would like to see a big whole opening up in the ground where you could jump in and disappear. In that case I admitted my mistake and restarted the game with a dropped ball.

It was my concentration that let me down on this and from that moment on I always have a quick look to see if no one is coming back from his own goal. So you must be aware that those things can happen to you. It can happen to all of us and the most important thing is to learn from it. And don’t give up that easily, unless it happens every week.

To round this article up, because I will leave a bit for another article in a few days, I will tell you the story that an assistant-ref told me from his first game in the highest division in Belgium. It was a game which involved the MU or Real Madrid of Belgium, Anderlecht away from home and those are always  top games.

He was doing rather well at the start of the game but he had the supporters of Anderlecht on his back, both metaphorically and literally (just five meters behind him).

After the first nerves settled down he became more sure of himself and the ref had already given him a thumbs up signal for a few decisions and he started to relax a bit. And then there was a throw in and a player was standing in an offside position. As we all know, and so did he, you cannot be in an offside position when they take a throw in but as the ball flew in the air he lost his concentration for one split second and  forgot the rules and the rule book and gave an offside decision. The ref saw him raise his flag, blew his whistle because he first thought he would give a foul for a push and then realised my friend had raised his flag for an offside.

My friend realised almost immediately that he made a terrible mistake but as it was his first game in the highest division did not really know how to react and the ref gave the offside decision. He told me that when he stood there in front of some 12000 people his first thought was to run out the stadium to hide somewhere. Well he didn’t, he learned from it and later in his career he was appointed as an assistant in the cup final in Belgium to round off his nice career as an assistant. He didn’t give up and he learned from his mistake.

Next article: a punch in the face but still don’t give up.


Commentary notes: If you have not commented before on Untold please have a quick read of this, to make sure you comment is published.

1: Please comment on the subject matter of the article, not something else.  The only exception is if something amazing is just happening (Arsenal have signed Messi).  Rumours don’t count.

2: If you wish to post an anti-Wenger piece there are special rules.  Please see this article first.

3: If you disagree with someone, do so with courtesy, otherwise your post might be removed.

4: Don’t post from different email addresses, or your post will be removed and you will be banned.


“Arsenal?  Don’t talk to me about Arsenal”Oh well, all right.

“All that Woolwich Arsenal stuff. That’s just boring.”  Maybe not.

“God I need a book for the beach this summer

3 Replies to “Being a ref, what it’s like. Some tips and some advice”

  1. Walter,

    Your commentary is invaluable! It is also encouraging. I hope you will constantly encourage readers to become referees. Because this game is in desperate need of great referees. This is the one place where the game could improve upon, Keep up the good work because I love it!!

  2. Even the worst of refs has my admiration. It’s a job that I wouldn’t/maybe couldn’t do. Many many years ago when the fact that pro football was not going to make my living, I thought about taking the exams. Then, like Dorothy Parker on taking exercise, I sat down until the thought went away.
    All credit to the thousands who do become qualified refs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *