Tuesday 26 February 2013
The job of the referee is arguably the most unique in the football industry. While they are not unlike players, coaches and managers, in that they spend a lifetime trying to get to the top of their profession, they do so while holding down careers in jobs usually far removed from the football field.
For nearly all match officials it is a permanent juggling act between career and football, with considerate employers appreciated given the amount of travel they must undertake, especially during the week. Of the 77 referees and 231 assistant referees that Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) is responsible for, only the 16 Select Group referees are full-time professional.
However, even they have to make unusual job prospects, with most effectively put their careers into deep freeze while they take charge in the top flight. Of the current Select Group there are policemen, postal workers, accountants, engineers, teachers and prison officers.
"This programme will allow our referees to consider their future career options when they finish officiating"
The opportunities for a retired referee to remain in their football profession are rarer than those of a player. Those that do return to their previous industries often find a changed landscape after being removed from it from anywhere from 10 to 20 years.
It was against this backdrop that three years ago PGMOL General Manager Mike Riley and his team of coaches began to investigate life-long learning opportunities for match officials. What has transpired has been beyond his expectations.
Over the last two years, PGMOL and the University of Gloucestershire have developed a higher-education qualification at postgraduate level focused on match officiating and professional practice in refereeing. The qualifications are aimed at helping the career development of referees.
There were 14 Select Group officials who worked for their Postgraduates Certificates in Personal and Professional Development during the 2011/12 season, and eight attended a special graduation ceremony in January at the University: Chris Foy, Kevin Friend, Mike Jones, Andre Marriner, Jon Moss, Neil Swarbrick, Anthony Taylor and Howard Webb.
All are continuing their studies and are working towards a Postgraduate Diploma before they could move on to a Postgraduate Master's Degree. From a responsible employer perspective, Mike Riley believes this approach is the right thing to do because life-long learning provides an essential function hitherto missing from PGMOL.
"All of us who have taken the qualification are grateful that PGMOL is looking after us in this way"
The studies assist the career development of the officials, ensuring that when officials re-enter the workforce that they do so on the strongest footing.
"As a referee you have an extremely unusual career path. All of our professional officials come to us from a diverse array of jobs, which they put on hold while they referee at the highest level," said Riley, who believes that referees have an admirable skill-set.
"I am really pleased that so many of our officials are taking this opportunity to develop their career because they are all extremely capable individuals who have much to offer the business world.
"Being a referee you acquire many skills that are extremely transferable. Instant decision making is one of the hardest jobs in management but our referees do that week-in, week-out. They are also excellent team-players who have a wide array of analytical and evaluation skills. This programme will allow our referees to consider their future career options when they finish officiating."
One of those typical of the diverse nature of refereeing is Andre Marriner. He left school with a few O-Levels and at first worked for the family business, before he then joined Land Rover for five years, and finally he became a postman. But he left the Royal Mail 13 years ago to devote his life to refereeing and is sure there would be little chance of him returning to posting letters and parcels now.
"This initiative demonstrates how higher education can make a big difference to sports training and education in the future"
Dr Andrew Pitchford
"If I was to leave refereeing now I couldn't walk straight back into the post room because that world has changed. But we're fortunate as referees that our skill-set could be put to use in other industries and it's just honing in on that and bringing it to a level that we can use practically," said Marriner, who believes the postgraduate qualifications he is earning will be of real help for when his refereeing career comes to an end.
"I've really enjoyed studying for the Postgraduate Certificate. Being out of education for so long it’s not been easy but I've enjoyed motivating myself to learn. I'm now looking at a life after refereeing and thinking about teaching because of the work I'm doing going into schools talking about the Get On With The Game kids website. But all of us who have taken the qualification are grateful that PGMOL is looking after us in this way."
But it's not only those from PGMOL who have been captured by the initiative, Dr Andrew Pitchford, Director of Sport at the University of Gloucestershire, believes it shows how continuing educated can be beneficial to employees.
"The University has been supporting referees in a range of sports for some time but this initiative demonstrates how higher education can make a big difference to sports training and education in the future," he said.
"The course has been carefully designed so that it integrates with the referees existing training programme, and the feedback from the students has been extremely positive. We look forward to developing the relationship further and taking the students through to the next level of study."