SDFL Football – A Referee’s View

So the trophies have been given out at the Adver Cup, the post-game drinks emptied and we all enter that no-man’s land called ‘off-season’.

A time for chilling out, discovering Saturday afternoon shopping, DIY and wondering what so many people see in cricket…unless you’re one of the leagues Men-In-Black that is.

The first thing that happens for refs is the requests to help out at tournaments.  Like leagues, if they look after refs year-on-year, they do OK, otherwise bad news travels fast and they can struggle to find enough referees.

Me, I now only help out at a charity tournament in Chippenham for excluded groups (and for spice – a police team!) and, with a daughter who plays, I make a point of helping at the Spitfires’ ladies tournament.

IFAB_Ref_LogoNext on the off-season list is trying to get to grips with whatever delights IFAB have for us. IFAB are the international group who write the Laws of the Game for the entire world, and last year, we saw the biggest change for many years, with a massive re-write.

This year we have a few minor changes (like at kick off the taker can stand in the other half), the inevitable tweak to offside that’s happened every year for the last five, and the introduction of ‘Time-Outs’ and VAR (Video Assistant Referee).

Having spoken to many teams and referees, I think most people in the District league are pleased we’re not a ‘Time-Out’ pilot league, but if it goes well elsewhere, it could be the future – although at the moment I can’t see it working where we all are.

As for VAR, both FIFA and IFAB have said it is a work in progress and I’m not sure we’ll have at Sevenfields and Moredon until after they’ve installed the Goal Line Technology systems (LOL)!

Probably the smallest and yet biggest change for the District, is a one-liner about the referee’s decisions must always be respected, whether right or wrong. One line but significant as it Ref_Bookingacknowledges we all make mistakes, but we’re only human and they still have to be respected. The recent FA announcement on much more serious minimum penalties (84 days or something just for touching refs!) shows the FA are getting serious, so please, please, please try to keep the dissent and arguments down.

None of us enjoys costing you money or stopping you playing through bans, but we have to do what we have to do.

It’s hard work keeping up with all the Law changes and trying to explain them on a Saturday, even more so if you’re a promotion candidate.

Referee’s can choose to improve their ‘level’ by going for promotion. For qualified referees over 16, it starts at level 7 and goes right up to level 1. and above that the Select Group (who do the Premier League) and the FIFA list (who do international tournaments and national team tournaments). In fairness, many referees don’t bother going for promotion and are happy, doing valuable work, at the level they are at.

The District typically has referees at levels 5,6 and 7 (it’s probably about a level 6 league) but it is vital to many promotion candidates.  Over 50% of our referees are going for promotion this year and for them, the off-season includes the pleasure of a promotion exam with a minimum pass score of 75%, followed by an FA training session.

For some of the more promising, young referees there are opportunities to join development programmes run by the FA. A few of our younger refs from last year have spent some time at the FA’s national training centre at St George’s Park.

For referees at all levels and ages there is the Referees’ Association Development Weekend at a hotel outside Leicester. This is a two-day, national conference with an awards evening and on-pitch training the following day. I went this year (my first time) and to be fair, I was blown away.

DavidEllerayThe person explaining the changes to the Laws was none other than IFAB’s Technical director, David Ellery. The trainers for the classroom sessions were mostly select group referees – nothing like having a referee taking you through what he was thinking in a Premier League game, whilst watching the incident from a Sky recording.

To my amazement, all the Select group referees and FA trainers from Wembley, stayed and led the small-group training the next day. Listening to three of this year’s FA Cup officials explaining what they were saying over their headsets during the ‘was it offside, Ramsey’ goal was something that will stay with me for a long time (and they did get it right!).

Although I must admit, the Select Group Referees are so fit, I did slightly regret the evening before and maybe couple too many drinks, round a roulette table, with one of the assistants from this year’s Women’s FA Cup.

So that’s the ‘quiet time’ for referees…then pre-season begins…

Many of us get to help out on pre-season Western, Hellenic even Southern League games – always a good reminder that you should have done more fitness training when the games stopped. Then the District friendlies start – I’ve done one so far and have to say, the football I saw was far, far better than that team’s ‘not-that-good’ record last year – so beware and don’t underestimate anyone!

Which brings us to now…A season approaches but with the very first ‘Swindon and District League Referee Training Evening’ being put on with qualified FA trainers, then it will be out on the green stuff, taking part in what we all love – Saturday football.

For the referees and managers, the league are considering using apps for registration, referee reports, referee marking and other admin – watch this space!

For the refs and the players, it’s another season and looking really promising. We have some interesting new teams (and a waiting list!) and the usual target for every Premier team on Tawny Owl – will this be the year they get toppled? How good are the new teams? What on earth is Div 1 gonna be like, (‘cos at the moment it’s anyone’s guess).

The pitches have recovered, we’ve all got our kit waiting and September 2nd draws nearer – let’s make it a great season together.

A District Ref