We have all heard of a lack of HGV drivers causing petrol and supermarket shortages, but the Isle of Wight has another serious shortage: a lack of qualified referees to officiate Island League games.
It has been said that football is a game of 22 players and 22,000 referees in the stands. We may like to criticise referees from the comfort of our armchairs, but would you have what it takes to be the man in the hot seat?
This Saturday, 7 Isle of Wight League and Cup games are without a qualified referee to take charge. Becoming a referee gives you the chance to take exercise in the fresh air. You also get paid for your work: £35 for each Island League game you officiate.
There is the opportunity to advance from the amateur to the professional game. The Isle of Wight’s most successful referee is former Sandown High School student, Lee Probert, who refereed the 2014 Cup final between Arsenal and Hull City. Lee’s first game was an Island League match featuring Niton Reserves.
“There have been some ups and downs, but I have enjoyed every one of them. And there is no better feeling than walking out to take charge of a Premier League match. If any youngster decides he or she wants to become a referee, it is a great opportunity to succeed, with so many societies and avenues to help you along the way and move forward.”
Arguably, the Isle of Wight has been more successful at producing professional referees than professional footballers. Another former Premier League referee is Ron Groves from Chale, who recently wrote the book: From Cowfield to Anfield. The most senior Isle of Wight referee at present is James Linington, who officiates in Championship matches.
A Premier League referee currently earns around £70,000 a year, with a Championship referee taking home a little less.
Island Echo spoke to a couple of Island League referees about the pleasures and pitfalls of their pastime. First, we spoke to former player and current referee, Ali Taylor.
“We are in a dire situation at the moment. We are getting few and far between. Three of our referees are over 70. They can’t keep going for ever. Sometimes people moan, but they don’t know how much time they put in. Some of these people have given up their lives to do Island football.
“However, if you’re young, the sky’s the limit for referees. You can start of refereeing at Island League level and, if you work hard, end up refereeing Premier League.
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“I’m an ex-player. I feel I’m putting something back into the game. We should encourage former players to take up refereeing as much as possible. Ex-players make good referees. If I can get through a game without any injuries or bookings then I’m happy. I try to talk to players throughout the game.
“Of course, we’re only human. I make mistakes. But we just go out and do our best.”
We also talked with veteran referee, 79-year-old Andy King. Mr. King has been a referee for 64 years. He refereed his 1st adult game in 1957 aged 15 (Isle of Wight Division 3, Niton v Binstead).
“I shall carry on refereeing as long as I can make a difference. In 2 matches this season, players have accidently collided with me, knocking me over. But I still managed to finish the games.
“My advice to anyone taking up refereeing is to try to enjoy it from day1. With experience and practice you get better like every job in life. Man-management is key. You don’t learn these things on the 1st day. You learn with time.
“There’s a lot of pressure on refs verbally. It’s not easy, and they must be switched on. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
“You’ve got to earn respect. You don’t get it without earning it.”
At the time of writing, 12 people are required to form a group for training as a referee. There are 8 Islanders willing, so 4 more are needed.
The cost of a refereeing course is £145. Only 1-and-a-half days are spent in the classroom. The Isle of Wight DFA will pay half the cost of the course once a referee has completed 7 games.
Anyone wishing to become a referee should contact the Hampshire Football Association. Further information may be found on the Hampshire FA website.
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