Blog,  Interviews

Former NI referee Alan Snoddy on refereeing

Former referee Alan Snoddy has been at two World Cups, has helped and mentored a lot of referees at Uefa and CORE. He’s currently a referee consultant at the Latvia FF and grew up as referee in Belfast in the 70ies and 80ies. In this story he shares his experiences and tips with you. 

Alan Snoddy on Irish FA tv
Alan Snoddy on Irish FA tv

Who is referee Alan Snoddy

Please introduce yourself, what is your current role in refereeing? 

At present my main role is working with the Latvia FF as their Referee Consultant. This job involves working closely with the Referee Committee & Referee Department to assist the development and quality of all aspects of refereeing in Latvia. 

I was approached in October last year to utilise my experience and to have overall responsibility.

In 2018 & 2019 I was a Senior Course Leader appointed by UEFA for CORE 39 & CORE 41. This is an extremely rewarding role working with the team of coaches and seeing so many young talented match officials make significant progress in the six months they are in the project.

I am also a member of the UEFA Convention Panel, as an adviser, and also responsible for Bosnia, North Macedonia, Gibraltar & Kosovo, supporting and monitoring their work.

I also conduct seminars on behalf of FIFA as one of their Technical Instructors, and also for UEFA in a similar role. 

In Northern Ireland I am a Referee Instructor & Referee Observer, and just about to complete 48 years involvement locally.

Snoddy’s years as FIFA referee

You’ve been a FIFA referee for 20 years from 1980 – 2000. What were the most beautiful moments of your career?

If we look at my international career of course being appointed to the World Cup Finals in Mexico 86 & Italy 90 rank at the highest points of my career. 

At Mexico 86 I had the honour of being the youngest ever World Cup referee. This record was broken four years later by the late Peter Mikkelsen from Denmark. A really good guy and we kept in touch with each other regularly until sadly events made this impossible.

Proudly representing Northern Ireland

I would say every international game is a beautiful moment. Proud to represent Northern Ireland at the highest level and be an ambassador for the Irish Football Association & refereeing in Northern Ireland.

Of course some games have special memories. One of these was the night Israel beat France in Paris which ultimately cost France at place at USA 94. Whenever I meet referee colleagues from Israel they remind me. 

Alan Snoddy in 1994 at France vs Israel

The FIFA U 20 World Cup Final Tournament in Saudi Arabia 1989 was also a highlight, operating in a different culture & the only time I refereed in a sand storm !

Keeping involved in the game

Time goes fast. In 2020 it is also 20 years ago you officiated your last game at the international stage. What has that period brought you? Why do you want to remain involved in refereeing in different roles?

Refereeing has played a huge part in my life since I was 16 years old (maybe at times too big a part!) 

During the past 48 years of involvement in refereeing I have accumulated vast experience and my main motivation for staying so deeply involved is to pass on my knowledge to others, should they be match officials, observers, instructors, mentors, coaches etc. 

Start of the Uefa Referee Convention

I got invaluable experience with the eight years I worked professionally with the Irish FA as Referee Development Office. The highlight during this time was achieving membership of the UEFA Referee Convention and being able to avail of the €100k per year funding to use for referee development projects. 

At that time all the minimum requirements were met & the basic structures put in place, but development never stands still, it is ongoing and requires constant work & finance with the UEFA funding a lifeline for the majority of the 55 National Associations.

Opportunities to develop referees

I know from my time at the Irish FA without this funding the progress, development projects, training camps, talent programmes, recruitment, etc etc would not have been possible, and I know from my work with many other countries it is exactly the same.

Now I am privileged to continue to work full time in refereeing and I hope to remain involved until its the right time to stop. However I can never see myself not playing some small part somewhere until retiring fully and being able to go to watch a game without any extra duties.

Refereeing in Belfast in 70s and 80s

Back to the start of your career. How was refereeing in NI and Belfast in the 70s and 80s? 

During all the political unrest in Northern Ireland during this period grassroots football survived and whilst it may rarely have impacted during games, football continued despite the difficult times. 

For me it was a great apprenticeship, and I always said my first five years as a referee in the early 70’s gave me a foundation in refereeing that was invaluable. These were physical tough and competitive games and not comparable with matches at the same level today.

I was also enjoying refereeing and after these five years progress was rapid, becoming a Premier League referee at 23 & a FIFA referee at 25 in 1980.

Improving refereeing at NI

You’ve had an important role in refereeing in Northern Ireland. How has refereeing of a small country developed over the years? 

I was lucky that I was able to take early retirement from my bank job at 50 years old and become the first full time Referee Development Officer at the Irish FA. 

The timing was perfect & I had a blank piece of paper and an empty desk to start with!

As I explained earlier the catalyst for meaningful referee development was the UEFA Referee Convention funding which is crucial for smaller countries and made budgeting much easier with €100k dedicated and ring fenced for refereeing.

Importance of talent and mentor programmes

In N Ireland it meant the Premier League referees & observers could go on a 5 day mid season training camp to Portugal or Malta, and indeed we went one year to Zeist.

Talent & Mentor programmes became a normal part of development at all levels with regular residential seminars and equipment provided.

Recruitment was crucial, and an increase of almost 70% in numbers of registered referees in eight years was a big success story.

A structured educational programme supported by a group of dedicated instructors was delivered to the four regional referee societies.

NB: Uefa also has a talent programme at the Centre of Refereeing Excellence. Read more about CORE.

Working in Cyprus

You also moved to different countries, like Cyprus. How is it to work there? 

Yes, I spent about 2.5 years working for the Cyprus FA. They needed an “independent” person to take decisions, and responsibility for the referee appointments. The role also included being their Referee Committee President.

Again the timing was very suitable. I had retired from my post at the Irish FA after almost eight years, taking advantage of a voluntary redundancy offer. 

I was approached by Jaap Uilenberg & Hans Reijgwart, two good friends who were working with the Cyprus F A, to see if I would be interested in taking over from Hans, and after meeting them I decided to go.

A lot of the work was similar to what I had been doing in N Ireland, but in a completely different culture. I described it as somewhere you went with experience, not to gain experience.

Cyprus is passionate about football and every word and action is scrutinised. Referees in Cyprus are courageous people, it’s a small island and everybody knows everybody. NB: on this topic I wrote: “The fans know where we live”.

Refereeing in Cyprus: Angela Kyriakou
Refereeing in Cyprus: Angela Kyriakou (photo provided by referee before interview)


Being neutral and independent

My role had to be neutral and independent, indeed to protect the local referee people. I took responsibility away from them, so they were protected and could not be accused locally of making appointments or favouring their friends.

One of my proudest moments in refereeing was watching my last game in Cyprus, their Cup Final in 2016, refereed by a team of match officials from Cyprus. The first time in many years that “outside” referees had not been brought in following pressure from clubs. 

This was the perfect time to draw a line under my Cyprus work, great experience, and some wonderful people who have remained friends.

Mentoring Milorad Mazic

You’ve been a mentor of UCL final referees, sometimes already at their early stage in European football, like Milorad Mazic. How did you experience this and what is important to be a good mentor?

I first started to mentor Milorad in 2010 as part of the UEFA Talent & Mentor programme and it was clear then he had something special. 

We remain great friends to this day and of course he is now in China and working for the Super League.

Mazic tunnel talk with captains.
Mazic tunnel talk with captains.

Another proud moment was being his guest at the Champions League Final in Kiev in 2018. Nobody deserved this appointment more than Milorad. He works harder than anybody, superbly fit, prepares to the finest detail, and has a great team around him.

If I played any part in helping him succeed after we started together in 2010 then I must say he did the work, I only guided him. 

Being a good mentor

To be a good mentor you need to be honest, if something goes wrong then don’t hide from it. Find the solution and encourage and support. Be the “big brother” and earn the trust of your talent. 

What kind of mentor do you have? Find out more about 4 different types of mentors you need or 10 ways to become a better mentor.

Mentor vs observer

You are a Referee Observer as well. I’d love to take my readers along the way how observing goes. How does your schedule look like as observer? 

The observer role is different from that of a mentor or coach. The focus is on one match and the performance is analysed to identify the positive elements and the points for improvement, with solutions and advice. 

Appointments would be received well in advance of the game and there would be pre match contact which focuses really on creating a positive and supportive environment for the match officials. The observer is there to help, the “fault finding” days are long gone.

Topics discussed at seminars

You help a lot of young referees as CORE coach and FIFA Instructor. What are the most relevant topics at recent courses? And what tips would you give the readers of my blog on these topics?

The normal technical topics apply at CORE. Teamwork, handball, recognition of fouls, offside, advantage, free kick management, penalty area decisions, etc.

Also the FIFA seminars have similar topics depending on the local requirements. 

What is interesting about the FIFA seminars is the very wide range of audiences. For example a seminar with the Chinese Super League officials is very different to a seminar in Grenada, or in Bangladesh with a lack of resources & facilities. But all are equally rewarding and the discussions are the same.

Uefa publishes videos with their verdict and on my blog you can download these Refereeing Assistance Programmes.

New LOTG changes

How do the new rules (LOTG changes) and VAR influence the way you instruct new referees?

I don’t think VAR influences the way new referees are instructed. I guess 99.9% of games worldwide have no VAR if we include grassroots/youth upwards. 

Obviously when there are changes to the LOTG all referees need instruction. But in my opinion this is not simply talking through the changes, and learning theory, it also needs to be discussed and the implications of the changes analysed so when theory becomes practice is everyone ready.

Therefore discussion groups and workshops are essential and this is emphasised at FIFA/UEFA Instructors seminars. 

For example, the substitute is replaced at the nearest point, but who is responsible for ensuring he arrives safely to the technical area? Are the referee team clear about their tactics. 

NB: Check out the case study on tips with this substitution procedure.

Also the change in the handball interpretation. It’s very easy now just to penalise the attacker when the ball touches accidently his arm, but has he scored a goal or created a goal scoring opportunity?

The new “drop ball” restart situation occurs only when the team in possession of the ball changes, but I have seen games stopped when the ball has hit the referee and possession has not changed.

One difficulty when there are changes to the LOTG is that in many cases educational clips are not readily available. This is why it’s essential that FIFA trial the changes in tournaments or competitions before the changes are ratified.

One final tip for you as referee

You started at Churches League in Northern Ireland. If you must give starting refs, readers of my blog, one important tip if they want to move up the refereeing ladder, what would it be?

Yes sadly this League no longer exists, but as I said earlier it played such a big part in my early learning.

If I had one important tip it would be that football needs strong courageous referees who will protect the players. 

In addition, hard work, high level of physical fitness, learning from each game, self analysis, don’t be afraid of making mistakes but use them as development points, and finally enjoy yourself. 

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