Why Would Anyone Want To Be A Football Referee?

Criticised, reviled, mocked, second-guessed, even attacked: football referees unite players, fans, managers and pundits in bafflement. Alex Moshakis talks to officials at all levels of the sport and asks them the only question that matters: why do they do it?

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On a windy Sunday morning last October, Alex Clubb, a biomedical science graduate and part-time referee, left his home in Charlton and cycled 35 minutes to Clapham Common, a vast, verdant area of parkland in southwest London. Clubb, 23, had been asked to referee an amateur football game on one of the Common’s eight pitches and he’d jumped at the chance, partly because refereeing had recently become his main source of income but also because, for some reason not immediately clear to him, he gained satisfaction from it.

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When he arrived, he dropped his bike at the side of the pitch, changed into a grey training T-shirt and a pair of shorts (as if he were heading to a gym), and introduced himself to the captains of each team. He then spent 15 minutes alone, readying himself for the game, an introspective act of preparation that involved both a physical warm-up and a mental bracing. He knew that what was about to happen might not be pretty.

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Clubb had been refereeing on and off for around two years, usually two games a month, but that Sunday represented a milestone. A couple of weeks later, he would enrol on a 48-hour course to become a fully fledged Football Association referee, which, assuming he passed, would provide him with the license to officiate at higher levels, maybe one day in the professional leagues. This was to be his final match without an FA qualification: the last time he would take charge of a game without having officially proven he knew all of its rules.

Clubb began like he always did: by calling each captain to the centre spot for a rehearsed conversation about respect, which he believes players should offer him, and each other, at all times.

Refereeing is a lot to do with control, seen and unseen: of the game itself, of the players who play it and even the people on the sidelines such as the managers, substitutes and onlookers, of which today there were four. Clubb sees the pre-match chat as an opportunity to set the game’s tone. He likes to let everyone know he’s there, present and in charge. Nothing untoward will pass so long as he’s the man in the middle.

The scene was reminiscent of countless others being played out up and down the country that day. The pitch was jagged, pockmarked and damp and muddy in the centre circle. And until two substitutes were persuaded to run the line halfway through the second half, there were no linesmen. Players smoked before kick-off, preferring a cigarette to a stretch. And they talked not about tactics or positioning, but about the night before.

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A portion of the home side seemed hungover, and it showed: lagging, they went three down inside 40 minutes. Their keeper, a ringer, had turned up late, so a winger had started in goal. That showed, too. At every opportunity the away side shot. It could have been eight.

When a football team concede three times in one half, without scoring themselves, they have two options: to accept defeat as inevitable, perhaps grasping a modicum of second-half dignity by preventing the score line worsening further; or to reassemble and rally, push for a draw or more, no matter how dire the situation might be. In amateur football, teams usually pick the second option, partly because it’s often more fun to attack, but also because when ability is lacking, respect is instead attributed to those who try.

At this level, it’s not about how good you are, it’s about how hard you dig in.

Which is what the home side did. After only 10 second-half minutes they had scored twice, and the comeback roused the whole team. Action on the pitch shifted from meandering to frenetic. Every tackle became a foul – and, for Clubb, a decision to make. When, in a 90th-minute surge, a tiring first-half substitute stumbled over inside the box under a clumsy challenge, a mêlée ensued. All 11 home players claimed a penalty. The other 11 protested in defence.

“Fuck off, ref,” one onlooker shouted. “Fuck off. Fuck off. Fuck off.”

Clubb could hear him but only slightly. He was 45 yards away, in a bright yellow bib, because his training top was too similar to the away side’s kit. He didn’t know exactly why the man was shouting, or in what capacity. And he didn’t much care. He’d heard it all before; he’d heard it all that day. Players had muttered worse. Their managers, too. Even passers-by such as local kids or people out walking their dogs.
“Fuck off. Fuck off. Fuck off.”

Didn’t bother him, the words. Never have. What bothered Clubb was going with his gut, making a good decision and standing by it. Clubb saw the challenge. He saw the striker shoot high and wide past the left upright. He saw the defender slide in late, long after the ball had left the boot, when it was no longer in play. And he saw both players come together in a heap on the floor.

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And then he saw their faces. There were 22 angry men clamouring for a decision this way or that. Opportunists. Mercenaries. Animals. All of them fixing their eyes at Clubb, waiting for him to waver, to offer the slightest moment of indecision on which they could pounce, eke out an advantage for their side.

From afar, the scene looked markedly brutal yet, to a football fan, resoundingly familiar: 22 grown men and that irate, expletive-laden voice on the sidelines, angry and getting angrier, pointing, arguing, shouting, temporarily united against one man. And Clubb, alone in the middle in that bright yellow bib, with a decision to make.

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What would any objective onlooker think? The only thing anybody with the semblance of half a mind could, the question I’ve been asking for the past few months. Why? Why would anyone want to be a referee?

***

A few weeks later, I meet Alex Clubb in a busy pub in south London, where he tells me what he’d experienced that day was, if not normal, then not entirely abnormal. “Throwaway comments,” he calls them, unless the abuse becomes more than that, malicious somehow. “I don’t let it get to me unless someone is really in my face,” he said. “Or if I feel under threat.”

Clubb is soft-spoken but resoundingly confident. He is also tall, well over 6ft, and lithe – a physical presence – which in the world of amateur referees, makes him one of the lucky ones. His height, and his demeanour, force players into thinking twice about evolving their verbal abuse into something physical. He’s been pushed a few times, but he’s never been punched or kicked or wrestled to the ground. He’s never been set upon by a group.

Which isn’t to say that sort of thing doesn’t happen. YouTube is rife with footage of referee abuse, plenty of it physical, all of it disturbing. (The category isn’t exactly a genre in its own right, but, given the number of films available, and their apparent popularity, it might as well be.) As of mid-February a clip entitled Tanzanian Referee Beaten by Players had received more than 250,000 views. Similarly, footage of a diminutive Iranian referee being slapped, repeatedly, had notched up 100,000.

There are other examples from Lebanon, Kuwait and Chile. In the latter, an amateur official was left barely conscious two years ago following a mid-game brawl, while his assistant also lost teeth.

In 2012, a linesman died having been assaulted by amateur youth team players in Almere, a city 16 miles east of Amsterdam. He was officiating a game in which his son was playing; the assailants were 15 and 16. People have referred to the incident as the nadir of referee abuse.

Events like this are extreme and uncommon – players rarely lash out, often preferring subtler, less physically involved means of coercion – but they are widely reported.

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Even so, aspiring referees aren’t put off. There are roughly 27,000 FA-registered officials in England, from bottom-rung Level 9s, the kind who referee in parks, right up to the Level 1s, the 17 Select Group professionals who officiate in the Premier League.

That figure doesn’t include refs who aren’t FA-accredited – hobbyists, stand-ins, once-a-year types who never bothered to pay the association a £135 course fee. Include them and the number rockets north of 30,000. Gather them together and there’d be too many to fit in most Football League stadiums.

Clubb can’t pinpoint the exact reason he became a referee, but in the pub he reeled off a number of motivating factors: the allure of being outdoors; involvement in a game he loves, even when his playing legs eventually give out; the money.

Clubb spent the last year of his degree in a lab, which meant he had little time out in the open, beyond the confines of a white-walled research centre. By his graduation, he already knew he wanted things to change and in a hurry he left science behind. The last thing he wanted to do for the rest of his life was wear a lab coat.

So, when someone asked him to referee an intermural game, on a whim, he said yes, despite having no experience. Clubb loves football, playing as a kid to a decent standard, until a leg break ended any slim chance of a professional career and schoolwork took over. Now he plays for fun, at the weekends. He’ll never get paid to do that, but he gets paid to referee. “I was interested in jobs that paid by the hour,” he told me of his initial curiosity.

The thing is, money isn’t a very convincing motivating factor. Clubb, like most Sunday League referees, receives around £35 per game. Taking into account the half hour it often takes him to reach a pitch, the 30-minute pre-match preparation, both 45-minute halves and the 15 minutes in between, a full game amounts to around two hours and 45 minutes of his day, not including his journey home. That equates to £14.28 an hour, a decent rate over the course of an eight-hour shift, sure, but Clubb only ever manages one game a day, two days a month.

Being outside isn’t all that satisfying a reason, either, considering that instead he could jog, or ride his bike, or, at least for the next 10 years, continue playing recreational football – all activities that would keep him trim and in the fresh air, without the abuse.
Unconvinced, I asked Clubb if there was anything else that drew him to it?

“Man management,” he said.

Man management?

“I get to learn new skills.”

Clubb believes refereeing is teaching him how to “handle people”, which he considers is a transferrable skill necessary for success in the modern workplace. True, perhaps, but what else?

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Silence. I asked him if, actually, he just kind of enjoyed it.

Clubb shrugged.

“I wouldn’t put it like that.”

***
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***

Jeff Pettitt paced the sidelines of a soggy pitch at the training ground of Charlton Athletic. Tall and barrel-chested, he was wearing a woolly hat and a long blue training coat to keep out the cold, and on his upper lip he sported a thick moustache. Every now and then he exhaled a deep, disappointed groan, turned to the small group of onlookers who surrounded him, and complained about minor details of the performance of one of his most talented protégées.

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Saul Kay, who on the pitch was displaying the subtle awareness of an off-duty policeman, wasn’t doing enough to impose himself on the game. Coach wanted words at halftime.

Pettitt and I had met earlier that day, in the players’ lounge, a scruffy canteen filled with tables and chairs more suited to a conference room. Scuffed walls were painted the colour of Charlton’s red and white home kit. Large windows offered views out onto the training pitches. In one corner there was a breakfast bar: cereals, fruit, juices. Staff periodically came in to fill up bowls.

Pettitt, 56, has used this room and others like it in the ground since 1990, the year he set up one of the most successful refereeing academies in England.

At any one time, he and a group of jocular middle-aged coaches train 25 budding officials working towards one day refereeing in the Premier League. Most are in their mid- to late teens; some are older, but they’re rare. To give them a genuine opportunity to make it, Pettitt likes to start them young.

By the time they reach the academy, Pettitt’s students have completed the FA’s training course, which means they have a firm understanding of football’s 17 basic laws: how many players are in a team, how big the field should be, how long a game should last.

At the academy, Pettitt helps students elaborate on those rules, suggesting methods to successfully interpret and apply them in games that feature talented youth team players concerned less with cajoling the referee into making particular decisions and more with the quality of their football.

For this reason, Pettitt calls the academy a “safe haven,” by which he means referees learning in this environment benefit from a minimum of abuse. Parents might sometimes use foul language mid-game, but the verbally abusive are sent home, their children threatened with expulsion. The general atmosphere is positive, mostly.

Given their ability, Pettitt thinks a few of his students might make it to the top flight, but he’s skeptical all of them will stick it out, and he frets some just turn up for pocket money.

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“They all say they want it,” Pettitt told me, “but you say you want to be a member of Status Quo, and then you find out about the amount of practice you have to put in, and the amount of pain. They think, ‘Shoot, it’s an awful lot of work.’”

Pettitt was speaking from experience. A football fan, he became a referee the moment his playing talent ran out, and the activity energised him. He reached a level high enough to take charge of semi-pro games in the Conference, and eventually made it to the Premier League line. “I enjoyed being involved,” he said. “I was actually on the field, best seat in the house, and for an hour-and-a-half there was absolutely nothing else going on in the world.”

Later he added: “Once I got over the fact people were shouting at me, it was great.”
Pettitt was a Premier League linesman until 2000, a year before top-flight referees evolved from being amateur hobbyists to professional careerists.

By that point the academy had been running for a decade, and Pettitt was keen to extend a growing list of success stories. Academy graduates have gone on to referee in the Conference and the Football League. Constantine Hatzidakis, a 25-year-old alumnus, is currently an assistant running the Premier League line. Pettitt, who delights in the thought he might be contributing positively to his students’ lives, thinks he has the promise to go further.

When I first arrived at the players’ lounge, six young referees, including Kay, who at 26 was the oldest of the group by a decade, were sitting around a table waiting to be told which of the two games they would take part in that day, and in what capacity. While they waited, their coaches began recounting stories of spectator incidents. Pettitt told of the time an Arsenal fan said he hoped his wife got cancer.

Another coach, DQ Barley, whose 16-year-old son Jordan was due to referee a match that day, recalled a story of how a fan, enraged by the fact his team were losing, had begun directing his anger at the game’s officials. Barley, a linesman, was closest to him, and took the brunt of the abuse. “He called me a cheating black bastard,” he said, before pausing and throwing wide his arms, opening his body up to the young referees. “But I enjoy being sworn at.”

I wasn’t sure of the exact point he was making, but the conversation seemed part of the training: personal experience as academy syllabus.

Even so, of the six referees listening in, only Kay seemed to be enjoying the stories. The others, some of whom were about to take part in an academy game for the first time, sat nervously in silence, as if awaiting trial. Eventually, Pettitt assigned roles for the day – Kay and Jordan Barley would referee; the remaining four novices would run the line – and corralled his students out on to the pitches.

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Their coaches huddled together in tow.

Kay’s first half went without major incident, so much so that Pettitt believed his lack of action could have a negative impact on the game.

“Personality,” Pettitt said to the group. “He just needs a bit more of it. The players forget that he’s there which means that when he is actually called into action, they won’t listen.”

At halftime, Pettitt walked into the middle of the pitch and called Kay and his two linesmen together. “There’s an ‘F-word’ in football,” Pettitt said to the group with a smile. “What is it?”

No one answered. Everyone was familiar with the manner in which Pettitt coached – with questions that seem simple to answer but are often not – and no one was foolish enough to be tricked into saying the “F-word” they all had on their minds; the one they hear a lot on the pitch.

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“Flow,” Pettitt said. “We love flow. Keep the game flowing.”

Pettitt turned to Kay.

“But be in the game,” he said, quieter now. “Boss every throw-in, not too officially, but make them look at you. Otherwise they’ll forget that you’re there.”

Kay nodded and the group dispersed. As Pettitt walked off he stopped and turned back to his students, suddenly remembering to raise another important observation.

“One more thing…” he said to the young trainee linesmen.

“The flagging’s awful.”

***

A couple of weeks later, on a cold Saturday afternoon in December, I met Nabila Youssouf at The Valley, Charlton Athletic’s home ground. Youssouf was there to observe the referee, Andy Davies, who on that day was in charge of a game between Charlton and Championship strugglers Blackpool. Youssouf considered this visit part of her training. She wanted to take notes.

I had met Youssouf during one of Pettitt’s Sunday academy sessions. At 30, she is the oldest student enrolled in the programme and currently its only woman – a rarity in both respects.

She told me then that she had become a referee two years ago, having followed through on a New Year’s resolution she hoped would get her out of the house, especially during the weekends, when she had a tendency to laze around.

The idea worked. She found an FA course, trained intensively, and passed both practical and written exams within three months. Now her schedule is hectic: girls’ games on a Saturday; boys’ matches on Sundays.

She goes to the gym twice or three times a week, and on another evening she trains with Pettitt and others at the academy, spending three hours on fitness and positioning. On those occasions, she gets home at 10pm.

During the day, she is employed as a doctor, monitoring the neurological development of premature babies.

Youssouf, who is a Level 7 referee, dreams of one day officiating at a World Cup final. But mainly she considers the activity a hobby, something to do rather than running, which she figured she’d have given up after three weeks. “I’ve always been interested in football,” she told me at the Charlton game, “compared to most girls.” She was drawn to the idea of “doing something, a physical activity, I liked and wanted to do.”

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She was not motivated by the cash, which to her is poor reward. “There’s no money in refereeing,” she said. “We get £20 per [academy] game, but consider the cost of the training, the travel, these game tickets” – she held up a Charlton Athletic-branded paper stub for emphasis, and it waved in the wind – “and the kit.”

A standard referee’s uniform costs close to £100, and officials are obliged to replace them regularly. Nothing says “on-pitch authority” like a neatly pressed black shirt.

When the game began, Youssouf immediately began to comment on Davies’ decisions. Mostly she agreed with his actions, but every now and then she’d wince, shake her head, and offer an opinion. When Charlton broke quickly from defence, leaving Davies lagging slightly behind the ball, she said, “He’s very far from play.”

When Davies stopped the game after a heavy challenge, she commented, “I wouldn’t have whistled at that.” Youssouf was interested in the match’s outcome, but only indirectly. To her, the football was secondary to the referee’s actions. Davies was the main event.
Youssouf wasn’t the only person in the ground commenting on the referee’s decisions, but she was one of the few individuals passing judgement rationally.

Davies was receiving grief, particularly from the home fans, who pounced on every moment of indecision with jeers.

In the space of two or three minutes, one fan shouted, “He’s not giving us anything”; another screamed, “Absolute rubbish ref”; and, more simply, one called out, “Twat.” Thirty-five minutes into the game, when Davies awarded Charlton a free-kick on the edge of Blackpool’s box, the home crowd united in an ironic cheer, the biggest of the day, suggesting it to be the first decision awarded in their favour all game. It was not.

Davies, a former professional football player, appeared unaffected by the abuse. Still, it seemed like a difficult thing to have to cope with. The situation was pertinent to Youssouf. The ability to block a crowd out of your mind is something she openly admitted she needs to improve. She referred to it as “soundproofing”, the ability not to let noise affect her or the decisions she makes. By that point, the crowd had gathered together in a simple song whose lyrics were directed at Davies. “You’re an arsehole,” fans sang. “You’re an arsehole, referee.”

I turned to Youssouf and asked if she actually enjoys refereeing, believing she must, otherwise why volunteer to take part in an activity in which behaviour like this is considered normal?

“Only after the game,” she said with a sigh.

“Why not during it?”

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“I’m too scared of doing something wrong. Was that a foul? Was it not? Once you make a wrong decision, it will affect you for the rest of the game. It’s such a panic. I can’t relax,” she said.

Halfway through the comment, Youssouf began to smile, as if stumbling on a good idea.

“Do you enjoy the panic?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “All referees have to be slightly psychotic. You’re one person in front of 10,000. In shorts. In the cold.”

She stopped and looked out at the pitch. Blackpool had just scored, and the home crowd were baying for Davies’ blood, chanting in frenzied union. In any other environment, the scene would be terrifying.

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“I mean, you’ve got to be crazy.”

***

The Premier League’s offices are situated in a group of grand, adjacent townhouses near Baker Street in central London. It is a shared space. The Football League’s administrative headquarters are in the same facility. As is the office of PGMOL, Professional Game Match Officials Limited, which has the power to decide who referees in the Premier League and in which games.

It was PGMOL that, in 2003, promoted the English referee Howard Webb from the National List, a roster of 50-plus officials that administer order in the Football League, to the 17-strong Select Group, whose members facilitate matches in the Premier League. At that moment, Webb became a Level 1 referee and a football industry professional. PGMOL has been his employer ever since.

Webb, who retired from refereeing last July, is perhaps England’s greatest ever official. During an 11-year Select Group career, he ran the rule over 400 Premier League games, officiated countless matches in domestic, European and international cups, and oversaw the 2010 World Cup Final.

He has been awarded an MBE, was twice named the world’s best referee by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, an organisation that chronicles football via numerical data, and is one of a handful of international referees who have achieved a degree of celebrity status beyond the game. You might actually recognise him in the street.

I met Webb at the PGMOL offices, where we discussed the reasons why he became a referee. His story is familiar. As a kid, Webb’s great interest was football, but his ambition to play professionally was misplaced and ultimately unrealised. “The bottom line was I wasn’t good enough,” he told me across a conference room table. “Didn’t have the talent.”

His father, who had become an amateur referee in 1969, encouraged Webb to attend an FA course, which he eventually did in 1989, aged 18. The decision changed his life. He quickly began to enjoy being responsible for successful Saturday and Sunday league games, and he welcomed the feeling of satisfaction that flooded over him in their aftermath.

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“I recognised quite early that the more I did this thing the better I got, and the more I learnt about myself,” Webb said.

“Getting to a high level as a footballer wasn’t going to be a possibility. [But] here was a chance to get to a good level a different way.” Later, he mentioned an additional motivation: to stand out among officials as a young referee. “They all seemed to be bald, old men,” he said, laughing. “Which is what I am now.”

***

Webb is indeed bald, but, at 44, he is not old, and neither does he look it. He is tall and impeccably trim, and he has a deep, baritonal south Yorkshire accent that makes him seem at once approachable and authoritative. When we shook hands on first meeting, he grasped firmly and looked directly into my eyes, as if trying to make an immediate and lasting impression. Habit, perhaps.

While he climbed the rungs of the refereeing ladder, Webb worked as a police officer in Doncaster, and later as a sergeant in Sheffield. (The similarities between the two professions – identifying potential troublemakers, taking appropriate action, diffusing situations with body language and targeted man management – are obvious and not lost on him.) He worked a 40-hour week, leaving space to train and oversee matches during busy weekends.

“You needed good time management,” he said. “[And] you had to have sympathetic supervisors.”

As mentioned previously, there are just 17 professional referees in England today, and some four professional assistants. Until officials reach the Select Group, making a living in the business is tough, so most hold down other jobs. Football league referees are also teachers, salesmen and postal workers. A number of Pettitt’s students are pilots: calm heads prepared for difficult situations. Most referees with Premier League-level ambitions hedge their bets; if refereeing doesn’t work out, the theory is they’ll have a supplementary career to fall back on.

Webb quickly moved his way up the chain within the police force, “but the football would almost come first,” he said. “That was the one that was a real passion.” It is the same, he thinks, for all referees. “That’s what keeps them going,” he said. “Otherwise, why put yourself through two careers? It’s no different to fans who travel the length and breadth of the country on a Saturday. Because they have a passion for it.”

PGMOL was created in 2001 to improve refereeing standards. Some are unsure as to how effective the organisation has been, particularly over the last few months.

In early January, Keith Hackett, a former referee and ex-PGMOL chief, publicly criticised on-pitch decisions made during the busy Christmas period, and subsequently called into question the role of the organisation and the ability of its incumbent chief, Mike Riley, another ex-referee. PGMOL reacted by releasing stats – minor percentage improvements in the accuracy of major decisions – meant to provide proof of a development in refereeing quality since Hackett’s exit five years ago. They did, but a question lingered: do standards need to improve, and how might that happen?

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Howard Webb, who last summer became Technical Director of PGMOL, a multi-disciplinary role that involves coaching high-level referees and liaising with the media about pertinent in-game incidents and issues, considers refereeing in England to be a success story. But he’s aware that maintaining quality, and improving it, is an ongoing effort.

“Can we do better?” he asked, before nodding. “We can always strive to develop. The challenge for me is to make sure the next generation are there to replace the ones that are there at the moment. And to make sure that as the game gets faster, and the scrutiny gets even more intense, if that’s possible, that they’re able to cope at that level.”

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Near the end of our conversation, Webb told the story of a friend who took the same referee course he had in 1989. As soon as they qualified, the pair began refereeing amateur games. Webb’s matches went without major issue, but in his friend’s second game, a scuffle arose, and the referee was struck in the face. “He packed it in,” Webb said, still disappointed. “That was the end of it. Who knows where that journey would have taken him.”

Webb understands his business can be tough. In the early days, he changed behind cars and refereed four games in a weekend; as a pro, he regularly experienced high profile moments of public criticism. But, he said, the rewards associated with refereeing can be huge, and “by and large it’s a positive experience”. Later, though, he added, “You’ve got to get through the shit.”

When he was ready to leave, I asked Webb, who could still theoretically referee in the Premier League, whether or not he missed being an official.

“I don’t wish I was out there,” he said. “I miss certain parts of it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But I don’t wish I was on a game tomorrow, particularly. I look back with fondness at most of what I did. I miss that feeling when it’s gone well, that high, because nothing really quite replaces it, the walk out before the game, the buzz.”

He stopped and thought for a second. “And then that feeling of satisfaction when you’ve done a job well.”

When I’d met Alex Clubb in the south London pub in December, he had stumbled over the question of whether or not he actually enjoyed refereeing. He could not answer positively. In fact, he could barely answer at all. Whenever I brought the issue up, our conversation would unravel into moments of prolonged silence, leaving me with the impression it was a question with which he’d wrestled previously.

In late January, I asked him the question again, one final time.

“I guess that implies it’s fun,” he said, “and, as you can imagine, it’s not always a stroll in the park.”

By then, Clubb had passed the FA course – “it was straightforward enough,” he wrote in a text message the next day. “Been revising for the test ever since I started watching football!” – and he had been refereeing games as a fully-fledged official for six weeks. He had continued for the same reasons: the money, the exercise, to be part of the game. That last point – the being involved – is what tied together all of the referees I spoke to, the answer to the question, why? Each official craved a pivotal role in a game for which they share an inordinate passion.

“I do gain satisfaction from being involved,” Clubb told me, “and ensuring the game is played in the right way. If there are particularly good players on show, then, of course, there are times it can be a pleasure to watch... As long as it’s not pouring down with rain.”

When Clubb made his decision on that penalty in the Clapham Common game, he did so swiftly and with extreme confidence. It was not a ruling half of the players on the pitch were happy about, but still, the game went on.

As the match ended, and players shook hands, Clubb began walking towards the sidelines, readying himself for the cycle home. In a couple of weeks, he would likely repeat this whole experience again – similar location, similar players, similar decisions – but for now, the game was done.

As Clubb reached the edge of the pitch he paused, turned, and looked out.

When he moved back towards his bike, he was smiling.

***
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