A FOOTBALL referee is regarded by many as someone who often makes mistakes and receives endless criticism from players, coaching staff and supporters.
The number of qualified referees taking charge of senior matches in Huddersfield reached an all-time low last season, with between only 14 and 19 available for Saturday fixtures and six on Sundays.
And, in an interview with the Examiner last year, Sir Trevor Brooking, director of football development at Soho Square, said the FA lost around 7,000 referees nationwide each year.
Despite the worrying figures, for Mik Roberts, of Honley, who completed a referee course held at Newsome Sports College last month, taking up the whistle is something he thoroughly enjoys.
Mik, 38, said: “I read about the shortage of referees in the town and thought ‘why not give it a go’.” I have always loved playing and coaching, and I now love refereeing.”
Players directing verbal abuse at officials and a general lack of respect shown to them have been cited as the main reasons for the decline in numbers.
The Examiner launched its Save The Ref campaign in August to help put an end to the town’s crisis and entice more people to become a referee.
Now, seven months into our project, there has been an improvement in many leagues and all Sunday fixtures are being controlled by a trained official.
There has also been dramatic progress made on Saturdays in leagues like the District and Works.
Mik, who said the course he completed at Newsome was very informative, explained: “A few of my friends also trained for their referee’s badge at the same time as me and also enjoyed it.
“I think that ex-players, whether at a professional or amateur level, tend to make good referees because of the experience they have had and knowledge of situations.
“It is a hard job. You need a strong personality because people do quarrel with you from time to time. But there is no doubt about it, if you have that type of personality you will enjoy it.”
Steve Rhodes, referee development officer at West Riding County FA, said that any player who planned on hanging up their boots should seriously consider becoming a referee.
“Being a referee is not all about issuing players with red or yellow cards, it’s much more than that and enjoyable too,” he said.
“From local park football on a Sunday morning to the FA Cup final, all football needs referees.
“On a basic training course held a few months ago I suggested to candidates that it was the next best thing to playing only to hear a colleague instructor offering a different opinion by saying ‘it’s even better than that!’
“Coming from a former player released from a professional football club after a number of injuries who, in six seasons, progressed through the ranks to officiate in Football League matches, it was quite a statement.”
Steve said with the growth in popularity of football, the demand for match officials was increasing.
He added: “It never ceases to amaze me how many candidates attending a basic training course say the words ‘I never knew that’ when being taught the laws of football.
“Yet many will readily admit they’ve criticised an official for getting decisions wrong when they’ve never read the laws themselves!
“It can be challenging but it is a great way to start or maintain involvement in the game.
“Absolutely anyone can take it up by simply contacting the West Riding County FA and getting themselves booked on a basic referees’ course.”
“The fee may sound expensive at £60 or £80 according to your age – although £10 or £30 is refunded once you’ve qualified – but why not ask a club to sponsor you?
“For a 16-year-old, for instance, who has an ambition to become a professional footballer in the Premier League, the chances of success are probably one in 100,000.
“Whereas, to reach the same level as a referee, the chances are nearer one in 100!”
Anyone interested in becoming a referee should contact Neil Simpson, referees’ instructor for the Huddersfield FA, on 01422 374916.
TOMORROW: Meet our family of referees.