As football starts to take its first steps back after lockdown, there has never been a better time to consider becoming a match official here in Wales.
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With a wide and comprehensive range of online education courses available through the designated becomearef.wales website, everyone has the opportunity to use this spare time for the good of the game ahead of the action returning. Without a referee, there is no game, and the game in Wales needs new match officials now more than ever before.
There are a number of benefits associated with becoming a qualified match official, and FAW.cymru recently spoke to four of them at different stages of their refereeing careers to reflect on their own experiences, and to explain why this vital aspect of the game can be so rewarding.
Lewiss Edwards is a familiar face on the Welsh refereeing circuit, and has travelled across Europe and beyond as an assistant referee since qualifying as a FIFA official. “The opportunities that come with refereeing in Wales are endless if you’re committed and passionate about being involved in football,” he explained.
“At 27 I had officiated in two Welsh Cup finals and a Europa League play-off final. As well as being selected to officiate at the UEFA U17 finals last year, I also officiated Europa League group stage matches. I've run the line in a number of Saudi Arabia Professional League matches, including a title-decider on the last day of the season. The new online course is a great hassle-free way of qualifying as a referee, and the support available is better than ever.”
But while such experiences come through years of progress, support and development, there is as much enthusiasm from those just starting out on their own refereeing journey. “I just love the game,” explained Michelle Portelli, who recently qualified through the online course. “I had seen the tweets about the online courses. With a simple click of the button, I was registered, and my journey began!
“Since qualifying the FAW have been really supportive. My advice to anyone considering taking up refereeing would be to simply just do it! Without a referee there is no game, and for some players there is nothing better than when a referee turns up who is qualified and neutral! It makes such a difference, and you can be that difference.”
WATCH: Check out this recent FC Cymru episode that takes a look at football through the eyes of the match officials. Referees from all levels discuss how and why they became match officials, also highlighting the help and support on offer.
After 30-years on the refereeing circuit, there are few better people to discuss the positive strides that have been made with than Eddie King, who is now the FAW's National Specialist Assistant Referee Coach. “Our JD Cymru Premier officials now have access to at least four group training sessions per season, a weekend residential conference, exposure to regular live TV coverage, full match footage and specific clips of match incidents in the days afterwards,” he explained.
“There is also a sports scientist who feeds backs training data that is submitted weekly by the officials, medical cover, designated coaches in myself and Ray Ellingham, match and training kit sponsorship, and assessment and coaching at every league game. Today, our referees are involved in exchange matches in countries such as Gibraltar, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, the UEFA Youth League, and potentially, be part of the UEFA CORE (Centre of Refereeing Excellence) Programme.”
Meanwhile, FIFA assistant referee Laura Griffiths has never looked back after attending her first course back in 2013. “The first couple of matches can be very daunting,” she explained. “Working with new referees week in week out can feel like a lot of advice to take in. I gained a lot of confidence after a few matches, and without the support off my refereeing colleagues, I wouldn't be where I am today. The refereeing world is massive, and attending the course was the best thing I ever did.”