Referee boost for Suffolk

THE number of referees is increasing in Suffolk following a number of initiatives announced last year.

Elvin King

THE number of referees is increasing in Suffolk following a number of initiatives announced last year.

A breakthrough is taking place after years of being unable to boost numbers and failing to cover an increasing number of games.

While the average age of qualified officials across the country is growing, 23% of Suffolk referees are now aged under 19.

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For many years the number of newly registered referees has been counter balanced by the number that left - many within weeks of qualifying after vocal and occasionally physical abuse on the parks and playing fields of Suffolk.

Simon Long is Suffolk FA's referee development officer, and he said today: “The challenge we face is to keep new recruits so that they replace older referees when they retire.

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“And we are making good progress.

“When we launched a Suffolk Football Plan in July 2008, we set ourselves a target of a qualified and registered referee for every game played.

“At that time we had around 390 referees, and to achieve this we require in the region of 565 referees by June 2012. We currently have 458 active referees.”

The referees' academy and development group under the guidance of former Football League assistant referee Trevor Pollard now provides young referees a safe environment in which to learn and develop their refereeing skills.

These referees officiate at Ipswich Town girls' centre of excellence on Saturday mornings and the academy on Sunday mornings.

Each game is watched by a coach, who is a senior referee, who provides support and advice.

“As our youngsters develop, they are supported to make the transition into local youth and then adult football through our partnership with the Ridgeons League,” added Long.

“They also benefit from additional off-field training, such as visits to meet high profile officials like Howard Webb and Steve Bennett.

“We also have a mentor scheme for new referees not involved in the academy.”

And it appears to be working.

The average age of Suffolk's 458 active referees is lower than most other counties at 40 - with 29% falling into the 40-49 age group.

“We have had a lot of recent success recruiting young referees,” confirmed Long. “And our training methods have changed significantly in the last 18 months.”

Historically, potential referees attended a course facilitated by local referee associations for up to 10 mid-week evenings. They were taught the laws of the game, took a written and oral exam, before being sent out to referee games.

Suffolk FA now offers an annual programme of refereeing courses around the county delivered by special licensed tutors and instructors.

Courses are now run over two full days (normally two consecutive Sundays) allowing someone to be refereeing games in two weeks, rather than ten.

Candidates are required to pass a written and DVD-based exam where video clips are used - with referees returning for a further afternoon of additional training after completing a minimum of six games.

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