A football referee is a specially trained and selected individual who officiates games of football, controlling the players and ensuring all the rules are adhered to.
A football referee is an extremely important sporting position. In fact, it is fair to say that, without referees, the world’s most popular game could not go ahead at all! The “Man in the Middle” has the responsibility of ensuring the safety of players (and, to some extent, the spectators) and making sure the rules of the game are enforced.
Up until very recently, being a referee was an adjunct to a normal job, or something done as a hobby. For example, Oxford graduate, David Elleray, a career geography teacher, was a well known referee who took charge of many Premier League games and was even on the FIFA list too.
Then refereeing became fully professional, with stricter rules regarding fitness and capabilities being brought in. Referees then became as much part of the celebrity side of the game as the players, with many pursuing media careers and Pierluigi Collina, once the world’s best, a recognisable figure even to those who don’t follow football.
These two strands still endure though, as you can happily referee while pursuing another central career, and many amateur level referees do just that. If you want to work up the levels you can, and the grading system is explained in greater detail below.
The work, as you would expect, is predominantly done outside, on pitches up and down the country, from the park to the stadium. Of course, some competitions, such as the classic five-a-sides or indoor leagues, are held in sports halls and the like. This means that you will be at times at the mercy of the elements, so if you want a nice cosy place of work, this probably isn’t for you! Applications for female referees are also being eagerly sought at the moment, and not just for officiating in women’s football but male games too.
One thing that does have to be addressed is the sort of abuse that some referees sometimes receive. Football, like many other fast, physical sports, arouses high emotions, and seemingly “wrong” decisions can cause problems. We have all heard the classic chant about referees that questions their parentage, and this is something to consider if you wish to become a referee. In other words, have you a thick enough skin and the confidence to handle players and spectators putting you under pressure?
However, despite the flak referees tend to take, the game just would not go on without them, and that is what renders them so indispensable.
The salary for a referee does depend on things like amateur and professional status, the level he/she is refereeing at and whereabouts he/she works. Referees will be expected to undertake a certain amount of travel too, and you may not receive expenses if you are not semi or fully professional.
However, a decent guide would be around £20-30 for amateur games and £80 for semi-professional games. Proper, full time professional referees can look to earn around £40,000 per annum, with match fees and other expenses possibly payable.
- Inspect the pitch and nets, to make sure they are all correct, playable and safe
- Check the pitch markings
- Meet the managers of the teams to check on any last minute changes to the teams
- Liaise with their assistant referees (if they have them) to confirm what signals they want used and to check that any radio equipment and the like is functioning correctly
- Inspect their kit to make sure all is present and correct, plus cards, spare timepieces, notebook etc
- Start the game and follow its course, making decisions as they arise and controlling the players and management staff within the rules
- At higher levels, referees sometimes have to provide a post-match written report, which can elaborate on things that went on during the match itself
To be an amateur, unqualified referee all it really takes is a passion for the game, a passing knowledge of the rules and a whistle! However, proper referee assessment and accreditation is carried out by the Football Association, and training is ongoing throughout a career.
To become a referee there are three basic requirements: to be over 14 years of age, to have good eyesight (with contact lenses or glasses as required) and have a certain level of fitness. If you satisfy these you can then register with your local FA to take the basic Referee’s Course and then you are qualified, albeit at the bottom of the ladder. You can then continue to study various further courses, which dictate the level at which you can referee.
Some of the aptitudes required to be a successful football referee include:
- Excellent communication and people skills
- A self-confident, firm manner
- An affinity with or love for football is a distinct advantage
- Patience and self-control
- The ability to take on large amounts of information, to build up a thorough understanding of the rules of the game
- Decision-making ability
- A willingness to work on and maintain a decent level of physical fitness
- Observational skills
As mentioned above, the vast majority of a referee’s work will be conducted out of doors, which is a boon in the summer and sometimes a chore in the depths of winter. However, as a referee is moving around the pitch (or is supposed to be!) it isn’t too difficult to keep warm.
There are no real dangers inherent apart from the odd injury that you might pick up doing any form of physical activity. Pulls and strains are particularly troublesome and can be picked up if a referee doesn’t warm up properly.
Working hours are typically weekends and weekday evenings, indeed any time a match is being played. As you might expect, there is a certain amount of physical exertion required, as ninety minutes constantly on the move while keeping sharp mentally can be tiring.
There is no solid prerequisite experience required to become a referee; merely satisfying the three requirements above will do, plus a Criminal Records Bureau check, if you are to be working with children. You then build up experience as you move up the levels, taking exams to prove this and going on to take bigger and better matches.
The largest employer of referees is, quite unsurprisingly, the FA, who do so through their county presences. They organise and allocate matches to referees and are a support network to them too.
However, it is not unknown for referees to forge contacts with many different managers and clubs and organise their own work, taking payment for it there and then too.
Referees in England move up a series of levels, numbered 1-10. Level 10 is for non-playing staff, (assessors for instance), Level 7 provides a basic qualification whereas a level 1 referee is a full time professional taking the biggest matches. You can apply to move up as you gain experience, and will be assessed over a group of matches and take exams to prove your aptitude at the higher level. These will entail evening and weekend workshops to gain the correct qualifications; your progression is dependent on you as an individual and how far you would like to go.
Also known as…
- Assistant Referee
- Tennis Umpire
- Rugby Referee
- Hockey Umpire
What’s it really like?
Andrew Fox, aged 21, from Coventry, in the West Midlands gives us the inside information on being a referee. He is a special constable for the police but enjoys a second career as a professional football referee.
How long have you been training and working as a referee?
It will be about 7 years.
Did you do any other jobs before this one that led to refereeing?
No, I started the referee training when I was at school so I went straight into it having always liked and played football.
What was the training like to become a referee, and how did you find it?
I did a course, one night a week (two and a half hours per session) for ten weeks, which gave me my basic qualification. I then attended other courses as I wanted to move up the grades. I found it all relatively straightforward; as long as you put the hours in to the studying and focus on your assessments everything is OK.
Have you met any footballing personalities, players, referees etc..?
I have met a lot of players from local professional clubs through refereeing reserve games, including teams like Birmingham City, Coventry City, West Brom and Aston Villa. The players I’VE met include Kevin Phillips, Craig Gardner, Stuart Parnaby, Roman Bednar, John Carew, and Emile Heskey, to name just a few. Also, I have met and socialised with Peter Walton (a leading Premier League referee) and also worked with various other Premier League officials including Howard Webb, Mark Clattenburg and Andre Marriner.
How do you deal with the abuse a referee sometimes receives? Does it bother you?
After seven years in the role it no longer bothers me unless it is of severe personal nature. Generally, players are abusive to the uniform not the person wearing it so it tends to be water off a duck’s back!
Can you describe a typical day as a referee for us?
On 3pm match days I tend to wake up about 10am, depending on the distance I have to travel, have a good, hearty, energy-filled breakfast and get my pre-prepared kit bag in the car ready to leave. I tend to arrive at the ground two hours before kick off and begin my pre-match routine with my colleagues. On non-match days I tend to train for two hours per day, allowing a recovery period from previous games and making sure I have optimum energy levels for any upcoming matches.
What things do you like about being a referee?
To be honest, I like feeling important, in knowing that without you this game wouldn’t be happening. Seeing different grounds and travelling all over the country is great too. The rewarding feeling you get when you’ve had a good game and getting recognition from the players and staff is also a great buzz.
And the bad side! Anything you dislike?
Only one thing – having an indifferent game and knowing inside that you could have done better!
What advice would you give to any budding referees out there who want to become a success?
You need confidence, not arrogance. Enjoy what you do and remember that to the players a Sunday league game is as important as a Champions League game and you have to have the same mentality. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
Are there any other related roles you might like to move into?
Yes, I would very much like to gain a development role within the Football Association or County Football Association.
Finally, any secret little tips for future referees?
Three things. Firstly it’s not always what you know, it’s who you know. Secondly, admin is a very important part of progressing in this career not just the on-field bit and thirdly keep your nose clean!