I started refereeing in the 1970-71 season and have been involved in the activity since. I refereed in the premier leagues in Ireland and South Africa. I was then asked to head up the referees at PSL by Trevor Phillips, and did so willingly, albeit reluctantly. Why reluctantly? Because it meant I had to retire from the pitch.
I found the first few months of non-activity difficult, but I soldiered on for the good of the game, and especially for refereeing.
Part of my duties at the PSL as head of referees was making referee appointments for matches. As a committee of three, we would sit down together on a particular night and select match officials.
It was always a bone of contention as to which referee should get what game and why.
Our committee had a unique way of selecting the guys for the games – we would try not to have a referee or assistant referee with the same team for three matches in a row. It wasn’t always possible because of the nature of the various games and the complexities that sometimes arose, but we persevered.
CAF also had its own criteria for referee appointments. They were categorised into elite A and B groups, and young talent.
Elite A refs officiated at all A-grade games and would be in the pool of referees for the Nations Cup and the later stages of the CAF Champions League.
Elite B refs would officiate Championship of African Nations and Confederations Cup matches.
Young talent would officiate the Under-17 and Under-20 tournaments, as well as Olympic qualifiers until qualifying rounds, when elite B refs would then be brought in.
You might ask: “What about geographical areas to maintain neutrality?”
Well, usually referees from a certain zone are not allowed to officiate teams from their zone in tournaments only.
Africa is divided into north, south, east and central zones. West Africa has west A and west B, but in a match where there are two teams from the same zone, changes had to be made to accommodate that scenario.
I have heard it argued that it shouldn’t matter where a referee is from or who they are refereeing, they must be neutral and seen to be neutral at all times.
I believe that is correct and should be correct.
I remember one time giving my brother-in-law a red card, which he deserved. He was dumfounded. He couldn’t believe it. I can still see his face, mouth and eyes wide open as if to say: “What; why?” I looked back at him with equal amazement as to why he was so surprised. He had committed a foul, which, according to the laws of the game, deserved a red card.
Referees are appointed on their merit and according to their experience. Remember Bakary Papa Gassama from Gambia and his excellent handling of the Al Ahly versus Mamelodi Sundowns game in Egypt? He was cool and professional, and not intimidated in any way. That’s the way it should be.
Many referees go out and are unable to handle the atmosphere of a heated game. In fact, there was a time when the Egyptian Football Association used to bring match officials in from Italy to handle their local derbies.
Selecting referees is never easy because of all the considerations that have to be looked at. The quality of a person, their geographical location, experience, bravery, professionalism and coolness are a few of the qualities needed to become one of the best.
Not all will make it, but they shouldn’t be prevented from trying.
How I miss my involvement with the guys, but that’s another day’s work.
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