Referees should be a protected species

Bradford-born referee Martin Atkinson invites Paolo Di Canio to sit in the Stadium of Light stand before the volatile Italian was sacked as Sunderland manager

Bradford-born referee Martin Atkinson invites Paolo Di Canio to sit in the Stadium of Light stand before the volatile Italian was sacked as Sunderland manager

First published in Sun Alliance by

Spare a thought for the referee, one of the least appreciated people involved at any level of football.

Together with groundsmen, who are struggling to get pitches playable during the current spell of wet weather, match officials can expect to come under fire as they look to keep games in order.

But where would leagues be without the men, and women, in black? You only have to think back to the last time one of your club’s games was not covered by an official referee to see how valuable this much-maligned individual is.

A lot of planning goes into running a set-up of the Bradford Sunday Alliance League’s size and quality and two of the most overworked people are appointments secretary Paul Bennett and his wife Sue.

They must plan approximately six weeks in advance to get referees booked for matches, which is no mean feat when there is a shortage throughout the country.

The Football Association and local county associations are currently having a recruitment drive to create more referees – but it takes time to get them up to scratch.

Referees are graded from level seven, who is the rookie official, to level one, where the likes of Bradford-born Martin Atkinson operate in the Premier League.

The majority of referees taking charge in the Bradford Sunday Alliance League are at levels six and five and refereeing there can give them good grounding for further development.

There are quite a number of level three and four referees operating in the Alliance League but although they can be promoted to level five by doing only Sunday football, they will not progress any higher unless officiating in Saturday matches.

Young referees benefit a great deal by acting as assistants to more senior colleagues but there are limited opportunities to run the line in Sunday football due to the shortage of officials.

The only real chance to act as an assistant is when it comes to cup semi-finals and finals towards the end of the season.

When referees reach level five they will be checked by three different assessors appointed by the West Riding County Football Association and will be marked on certain aspects of their game.

At this stage the referee does not know their marks until they have been watched on three separate occasions, although they do receive a written report giving feedback on their performance and how, if needed, they can improve in certain categories.

The two most important sections of the assessment are the referee’s application of law and also their match control, with the majority of marks making up these categories.

There is also a section on the official’s positioning, fitness and workrate throughout the game, together with alertness and awareness including the management of stoppages.

Once an official has reached level four they will then be assessed on a more regular basis by assessors who have qualified at Football Association level.

A level four referee knows that the assessor will be coming to their game and, apart from meeting them beforehand, they also have a debrief after the final whistle. This is followed up by a written report and a table with marks in certain categories.

At the end of the season, if a referee is marked highly enough by assessors and clubs, they may receive a further promotion to level three and find themselves assisting some of the top referees in the country.

It is a long process, and referees inevitably have to develop a thick skin to cope with increasingly vociferous players, but the rewards can be high.

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