Wednesday 14 November 2012
Referees in the Barclays Premier League have been lauded by their Japanese counterparts after two came over to England and took charge of matches in the Barclays Under-21 Premier League and FA Cup.
Hiroyuki Kimura and Jumpei Iida, both FIFA-approved referees from Japan, flew over as part of an exchange programme with foreign officials that the Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the referees organisation, started in 2007.
Kimura took charge of the FA Cup first-round tie between Bishop's Stortford and Hastings United, before refereeing the Barclays Under-21 Premier League tie between Manchester United and Stoke City.
Iida was placed in charge of Mansfield Town v Slough Town in the FA Cup and Arsenal’s Barclays Under-21 match with Bolton Wanderers. In-between they saw their English counterparts in action at Liverpool v Newcastle United in the Barclays Premier League.
The exchange scheme started with the Australian Football Federation five years ago and was expanded to the Asian Football Confederation in 2010.
"The idea is to exchange talented referees who have the ability to progress through to the elite level in each nation and give them the experience of football that they would not normally encounter in their country," said Mike Riley, general manager of the PGMO. "It is not just football, but the climate, the culture, too so that their horizons are broadened."
"The players have respect for referees, they complain sometimes but they have respect"
This was the third year of the exchange with Japanese officials and proved valuable for them in that the football Kimura and Iida encountered differed from that in their native country.
"Every match was a tough match, with lots of physical contact, compared with Japanese football," Iida told premierleague.com. "It was very quick. It was real football.
“The players have respect for referees, they complain sometimes but they have respect."
It is not just the behaviour of those on the pitch that was a new experience for the Japanese referees, Iida found the attitude of crowds in England were different, too.
“In Japan many stadiums are not football-specific - with athletics tracks - so you are not really aware of what the fans are saying," he said. "But in England the crowds are closer and you can hear what the fans are saying much more clearly.
"They are shouting but what I found was that in England the fans are much more knowledgeable about the rules of the game. In Japan there is more booing for the referee – not that it bothers us."
While saying that the abilities of referees in Japan and in the Premier League to judge foul play was not much different, Iida added that his colleagues could learn from the communication that Premier League referees undertake with players in the field.
He expressed sympathy for his counterparts in the Barclays Premier League over the greater pressure that they are under because of the global exposure that the league has, something that the J-League and its officials do not face.
When asked what he would pass on to his colleagues upon his return to Japan, Iida said: "I would share with them what I learnt about the importance of communication and to show the same calmness that Premier League referees show despite the greater pressure they are under."
"The J-League prepared Lee better for officiating in European matches"
Such learning has happened in the other side of this exchange too, by Premier League referees over in Japan. Lee Probert had the chance to travel there last year, when he was new on the international list, and the experience of officiating in the J-League helped his development.
“The Japanese game is very technical and faster but with less physical contact and a stronger approach to disciplinary sanctions," said Riley. "Lee found that that type of football prepared him better for coming back and officiating in Europa League and Champions League games, because, when he stepped out to referee those games, he was prepared to appreciate teams with a different style to what he is used to in the Premier League.”
For Probert there was a significant personal experience to his visit to Japan. “Lee went out immediately after the devastating earthquake and tsunami and even refereed a match in Sendai,” said Riley. “You hear him talk about his experiences, seeing at first hand the devastation and you can see the impact it had on him as a person.”