The Story of a Grassroots Referee: James Simpson

Over the coming weeks and months, we will follow the journey of 34-year-old ­James Simpson, who is training to become a referee. This is part of our grassroots football refereeing series of articles featuring officials at different levels of the game – from those just starting out to those aspiring to climb the ladder.

It would seem that former FIFA ref David Elleray is partly responsible for my decision to start refereeing. Whilst recently clearing out some boxes in the attic, I came across the copy of Referee! that I had purchased around 20 years ago. I am not entirely sure why I had decided to read it again, but two weeks later I was enrolled on a refereeing course.

The decision to become a referee was undoubtedly linked to the frustration that I was feeling about no longer being actively involved in football. Having inevitably reached the point where my brain and body were no longer working in harmony, I decided that my playing days had come to an end three seasons ago. Although I have coached in the past, the focus on results as opposed to development was something that never sat comfortably with me. As a player, I was very fortunate to have been officiated by some excellent referees and had experienced the positive impact that this had on the game itself. I also felt that I had a number of the characteristics which had made those referees so effective…famous last words perhaps!

The course itself was a real eye-opener, not least due to all of the other trainee referees being half my age, never have I felt so old at 34. What struck me was the focus on how to apply the laws; something which I feel had prepared me well for my first game. I am sure like most that have played the game, my understanding with aspects of the Laws of the Game was not quite as comprehensive as I believed it to be. Although the course with Northamptonshire FA took place on two days where temperatures were around 30°C, I left feeling prepared to take up my first refereeing appointment and excited to get started.

During the course there was a discussion about why people had decided to become referees and what their aspirations were. My immediate thoughts were that I would be happy to just get through my first match, but on reflection, the opportunities for progression are of real interest. I am realistic about this and know that my age is a hurdle to reaching the very elite end of refereeing. That said, I want to become the best referee that I can and certainly believe that I can climb at least a few steps of the ladder. The opportunity to work with and learn from more experienced officials is an aspect of this journey of progression which I am really looking forward to. To fully qualify as a referee, I have to referee six competitive matches before being called back to complete an exam on the Laws of the Game. I am hoping this will be completed by early November.

Unfortunately, due to a previously booked holiday, I had to delay my first match. That said, I sought to use this brief delay to continue to develop my knowledge of the laws and have also managed to watch some pre-season matches with a focus on the referee rather than the action itself. This has been incredibly useful, with some really valuable lessons learnt and will certainly be something which I will continue to do in the future. I’ve got the necessary kit and equipment. To ensure I was fully prepared for my first game, I tried my kit on and waved a few imaginary yellow/red cards. The importance of making a positive and professional impression is something which I certainly did not underestimate.

As I write this, I have just completed my first game; I survived! I was feeling a real mix of excitement and nerves going into today’s game. I wanted to make a positive impact on the game and for the players to feel a real sense of trust in the job that I was doing even if they don’t agree with some of my decisions. It was really enjoyable, and I don’t think anyone suspected it was my first match as a referee. There is a lot of development points to take from the game from a refereeing perspective. Overall, I felt it went well. Both teams and officials seemed happy so onto the next one! I am still going to make mistakes from this point on…there I said it! This feels an odd thing to say, but I am certain that these mistakes will be the most valuable learning experiences that I will have.

We will catch up with James very soon on his progress and development as a new referee taking to local parks.

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