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‘Refereeing is becoming more and more demanding’

“Refereeing at high level is becoming more and more demanding”, says Darren Handley, Football League assistant referee.

Interview written by Dave Humphreys.

Darren, can you tell me how you got into refereeing and gone on to achieve your status as a Football League assistant referee?

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“I started at the age of 14, I played local football for junior teams for my father, he was a referee, I struggled to play to a high level week in week out, he said why don’t you try refereeing? So I signed to do a couple of lines when he was refereeing. Then at the age of 14 I refereed my first ever game at under 10s level on a Saturday morning, from there I progressed through the local Sunday league football in Bolton, the Boys Federation which was a very strong league at that time.”

“Then at the age of 16 moved into open-age football, again in a local Sunday league and on Saturday afternoons as an assistant referee, where I obtained my level two status, the old class one – level 5. I was promoted to the West Lancashire League as a referee; I spent 5 years as a referee, obtained promotion to the North West counties panel of referees, where I spent 2 seasons as a referee before being promoted to the National List of Assistants. I then spent a further 2 seasons as a referee on the NW counties league and I was promoted to the Panel list of officials, which is the current level two and operates on a national level. It incorporates refereeing on the Barclays Premier League reserve games, Football League Pontins fixtures and the Blue Square Conference.”

So could you highlight to me what a day is like as part of a, Football League assistant referee, because you look at the players these days and they go through , the whole, they do it all through the week, the whole fitness and training then on match days, is it similar as part of a Football League officiating team?

“As an official, it is classed a hobby but its becoming more and more like a job, we certainly have more demands compared to 10 seasons ago. We train regular and have to download our data and send it into the sports scientists at the Football League on a fortnightly basis.”

“The training sessions we do are quite demanding, we are training in parallel with the professionals just not as many hours as the footballers are doing in preparation for match day on a Saturday, baring in mind some weeks it’s difficult because of mid week fixtures so we might only get the one training session as well as the fixture but the demands of the sessions and the time consumed, travelling to and from, fitting in with family time, it’s becoming more and more demanding. You need a number of key skills such as fitness, co-ordination, speed but most important you need to remain calm and focused when under pressure.”

Looking across the whole game, what is your view of the Respect campaign? Obviously it’s implemented by the FA nationally across the game, would you say it’s more so to appease the top level game rather than the lowers levels? I know in my experiences as a local parks referee in Liverpool you could almost say it doesn’t exist because we feel that just a rope, either side of a park doesn’t really stop angry people coming on, players approaching referees, getting in the faces of referees. What would your opinion be of the Respect campaign?

“I think the Respect campaign has had massive, massive impacts on not only the national game, but the local game. Personally, I’m not as involved in the local leagues as I’d like to be because of my position as a level 2 referee, but certainly going looking round at local parks games when I get an opportunity, players now seem to show more respect to some referees than they did 5 years ago and it does come from the attitude of some of the players at the higher levels.”

“The Premier League every week, through Sky, TV, radio, advocate the Respect campaign, the Referees do their upmost through handshakes before the game, meet and greet an hour before kick off with team sheets exchanged, again it’s handshakes all round, we try and promote as much as we can.”

“The only thing that’s difficult at local level is the handshake that signifies the Respect at the beginning of the game that the TV audience see, isn’t seen at local level. I personally think we should be trying to, through county FAs and the FA, try to promote clubs to do the handshake signals before the games. Some leagues do operate it, but it does come down to the actual league directive whether they wish to do it or not.”

Read the second part of the interview next monday on the Dutch Referee Blog.

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