A blog on how the Port Talbot Referees Society are encouraging people to take up the whistle.
Recently members of the Port Talbot Referees Society were offered some top-flight insight as English Premier League referee Roger East attended a training and development day aimed at providing the sort of education usually only afforded to those further up the refereeing ladder. The day proved to be a huge success and is now set to become a regular event in the calendar of a refereeing society that continues to go from strength to strength.
“At Welsh Premier League level, and for younger referees who are fortunate enough to be included in the South Wales development group, there’s lots of opportunities for them to attend events like today,” explained society secretary Paul Fisher, a former Welsh Premier League referee himself. “The referees that have attended those events have come on leaps and bounds. What we thought about doing was to put something similar on for our members. Our society has a wide range of referees, from those that have been refereeing for 25 years or more to those that have just done their first course. They are out doing games every weekend, so it’s nice to bring everybody together for today.”
Secretary Paul Fisher welcomes members of the Port Talbot Referees Society to the training and development day
Formed in 1952, the Port Talbot Referees Society has regularly produced officials that have progressed to a significant level in the game. Current member Ian Bird is a FIFA assistant referee, and having recently run the line at the 2017 JD Welsh Cup final between Bala Town and The New Saints, he joined Roger East in speaking to the group about his experiences, which included his selection for the UEFA Under-17 Championship finals in Croatia last month. Bird was commended for his performances in Croatia to the extent that he was selected for the semi-final match between Spain and Germany, which was also the first competitive fixture to be decided by the ABBA penalty system.
“I owe all my achievements to the Port Talbot Referees Society,” explained Bird. “It is optional to be a member of your local society, but for me it’s a support group, a social group, almost like a union at times when you need help and advice. But not only that, you want someone to share your success with, and if you have failures, it’s someone to share those with too and to pick you up. From the first day I started as a referee I joined the society, and they have really carried me along. It’s been excellent.”
Split into two parts, the event involved participation both on the field and in the classroom, and the bond that Bird spoke about between members was clear as the group bought into the day with enthusiasm and interest. “What we looked at doing was to have an outdoor session this morning to go through some of the drills that a lot of referees do,” added Fisher. “Ian took half the group to do a specific lining session, while the others did some fitness work, and it was good to see the boys having a game together at the end.
“This afternoon we’ve had Ian talking about his phenomenal last couple of months where he has been officiating in Turkey and Croatia on UEFA tournaments, as well as the pinnacle of his career so far, the Welsh Cup final. It’s been good to hear from him and then our main guest speaker, Roger East, who didn’t hesitate to agree to come down when we asked him. Hopefully he’s given everyone some great insight into the life of a Premier League referee.”
FA Premier League referee Roger East puts members of the Port Talbot Referees Society through their paces
Roger East is a familiar face on the English Premier League circuit, and some of his achievements include being assistant referee at the 2004 FA Cup final and officiating at a number of European ties during his career. Ironically, he refereed his first Premier League match just a few miles down the road from Port Talbot, as he took charge of the match between Swansea City and Sunderland in 2012. Now part of the Select Group of referees, East was keen to share his experiences and stories with the group, and answer questions on a wide range of refereeing issues in the modern game.
“I think it’s very important,” East replied when asked about his attendance at such an event. “As I come from a league where everyone sees you on television, I think it’s important that people see you as a person as well. If I can pass on just one thing today it will be a bonus for me and make it a successful day. If I can help inspire someone to referee the best game they possible can, and they take that away with them, then that would make me feel proud. What I learn from these days is that the system that I have come through is tremendously hard, and that there are some fantastic referees out there who will never make it to the level I have. Sometimes through fault of their own, sometimes through no fault of their own, but just that they needed a break.”
FIFA assistant referee and Port Talbot Referees Society member Ian Bird passes on his experience
And it is providing such opportunities that makes the Port Talbot Referees Society such a success. “I’m in the fortunate position to be able to organise events like this,” Fisher added. “As an instructor and an assessor, it gives me the opportunity to coach and encourage new referees to keep going, as one of our major problems is the retention of referees. Referees go out for the first time, have one or two bad experiences, and then pack it in. Either because they’ve had abuse or their confidence has gone through a mistake, so one of the main things I’ve tried to do is get them on the pitch in the first place and then give them the support to keep going.
“Once they keep going and they’ve done the first few months, they start enjoying it. That’s what we encourage, it’s not all about being on FIFA or doing cup finals, you aim to the best in your category, referee to the best of your ability, and with a little bit of luck and desire an opportunity can come your way and you can climb as high as somebody like Ian Bird has. My role is to get people to start, get people to keep going, and once they really get involved and start enjoying it, help them progress up the ladder.”
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And the importance of the society in the modern game was emphasised by Roger East. “I think referee’s societies like this are fantastically important,” he added. “For a few years I was chairman of my local referees association and I’m still vice-chairman now. I still go along to the meetings, and I think it’s tremendously important to air your views with other referees as opposed to airing your views with people that aren’t referees, who would either make fun of you, or not help you in anyway. I think refereeing is fantastic. I walk out in front of thousands of people every game and I get a tremendous buzz from it. I would have loved to have been a footballer, but I wasn’t good enough, so be able to walk out where I do is a dream come true.”
Although refereeing can be seen as a lonely job on times, almost a thankless task on a cold Saturday afternoon, Ian Bird was keen to explain the social benefits that refereeing provides in addition to the sporting enjoyment that participation can bring. “My favourite thing about refereeing is the team atmosphere,” he added. “It can be lonely on a Saturday afternoon if your refereeing on your own in the local park, but being involved with the society, you do feel part of a team.
Members of the Port Talbot Referees Society receive some practical training at the event
“When you go higher in the Welsh League and the Welsh Premier League, you travel together and have a great camaraderie. You don’t know unless you try, but every single referee I know is first and foremost a fan of football. We all love the beautiful game, and if you can’t play then is the next best thing. We’re on the same pitch, we’re involved in the game like the players around us and before, during and after the match, and we share the sport of football with them.”
But it doesn’t have to be one or other. Attending the event were a number of youngsters, some still playing local league football, some recently attending their first refereeing course. “Why didn’t I start earlier?” asked Fisher. “We hear that from every single ex-player that becomes a referee. Sometimes, it’s just about making that decision – What else are you going to achieve? Realistically, when you’re 35 years of age, we would say to people to go and think long and hard about what else you’ve got left to give as a player. Because once you start, you can give a hell of a lot back as a referee.”
Photos courtesy of Ryan Thomas