The Story of a Grassroots Referee: Dylan Grego

Referees often come under criticism and are scrutinised with every decision they make. They seem to only make the media when they make the wrong call. That doesn’t stop them taking to local parks every Saturday and Sunday morning and afternoon and being the professional figure upholding the FA’s values of respect and sportsmanship. We want to tell the other side of the story; we hear from referees on their journey so far.

Essex FA level six referee Dylan Grego is the first to feature in our all-new regular feature featuring referees at grassroots level.

My journey so far has been amazing. I’ve made a lot of friends while refereeing football, mainly when I went on the referees’ course in 2014. I decided to be a referee because I like to dream big and want to climb the ladder all the way to the top.

Abuse and Support

My County FA fully investigated an incident in which players tried to chase and trip me up, also providing a helpline number to help calm me down and just have someone professionally to talk to. Sure, I’ve had people yelling expletives, and in doing so, criticising my performance.

With verbal abuse, I discipline players and coaches accordingly, not letting the words get to me and ask myself, “what does that solve?!”

Tips for a newly qualified referee

If you’re reading this and you are a new ref, my advice would be to ensure that players and coaches understand that you have a level of authority on the field of play, make sure your whistle is heard and be in the correct kit to feel and look the part. I wear my kit with pride; your appearance is vital as you are representing your County FA and displaying the way you feel about your role as a referee. My advice would be to also explain the reasons for your actions, explaining how your decision is justified in accordance to the Laws of the Game, particularly in a penalty scenario.

When arriving for your game, ask beforehand if they have a changing room on-site. If they have changing facilities, then turn up smartly, if not turn up in your full kit but change boots when you get out onto the pitch. On arrival, go to the pitch and greet the home club secretary or coach and explain to them that you are the referee for the game. Then conduct a thorough pitch inspection, checking the pitch and immediate vicinity for any dog mess, sharp objects and correct pitch markings.

My message to newly qualified refs would be that if you’re feeling slightly nervous about your first game, be confident and try to maintain the laws as much as possible. You may make a couple of mistakes, but how else will we learn? Go out there and be brave, think positive and show everyone that you will uphold the laws to the best of your ability.

What boots do I wear?

It would depend on the ground. If the ground is hard, I wear astros, but if its soft and wet then I wear my boots with plastic studs instead of metal; metal studs can pick up sharp edges.


I have enjoyed working as part of a refereeing team, as both a linesman and fourth official. The fourth official checks the boots of substitutes entering the field of play whilst making sure the behaviour of managers and substitutes remains calm in the technical area. When walking off the pitch after your game to collect your match fee, sometimes you get players and coaches congratulate you and say “well done” for your application of law and performance. This makes me feel proud that a manager of a team had said this and that they would openly welcome me back again soon at their club.

Progression and Opportunities

A referee will never make the jump straight to the top leagues, such as the Premier League. You must first progress, over the course of a number of years, through a long process of promotion. This runs from level nine all the way down to level one and a list of Select Group officials, consisting of referees officiating in the top tier of English football and the EFL. Whatever level you are, you must remember that you are always learning.

If you are under the age of 16, you will become a level eight upon successfully passing the basic referees’ course and completion of your first six matches of 11v11 football. You can progress on the refereeing ladder through the different levels by applying for promotion with your County FA at a certain point in the year. At level four, you have three years to choose your pathway as either a referee or assistant.

At the age of just 17, my journey so far has been amazing, having taken up the whistle four years ago. Remember that referees work tirelessly, are always learning and get involved for different reasons.

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