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Career profile: Football referee

A referee might not always be the most popular person on the football pitch, but they’re always the most important. Read on to find out more.

A what?

A referee makes sure that no-one breaks any rules – or any bones – in a football match.

On the job

During a match, the referee follows the players to see if the game is being played fairly and safely, making decisions about things like whether a player is offside or whether a penalty should be awarded. They also have the power to book or send players off.

This means referees have to know the rules of football inside out, and must also have excellent eyesight and observation so they don’t miss anything during the game. Refereeing is also very physically demanding as referees have to constantly keep up with the ball right across the pitch. It can also be emotionally pressured, and referees need great communication skills and a calm attitude when explaining their decisions to players.

But a referee’s job doesn’t begin at kick-off and end with the final whistle. They will often inspect a pitch and equipment for safety before a match, and meet with managers, coaches and players to check the team line-up and answer any questions. Once the match is over, they may have to write a match report and meet with regulatory officers from the Football Association (FA).

Most referees are freelance and may only work part-time at amateur or semi-professional level, refereeing local matches at the weekend or evenings for around £30 to £80 a match. Professional referees are normally employed by football leagues and can earn up to £40,000 a year at the highest levels, plus match fees.

What’s the training like?

All referees need to register with their local County FA and complete a basic skills training course before they can officially referee a game. You must be at least 14 years old and have passed a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check to register with the FA. You’ll also need to demonstrate experience playing football for a school or other organised team.

Referees who want to become professional will then need to work through the FA’s referee training programme. There are 10 levels depending on how far you want to go, and the courses are based on exams and assessment during matches.

There are no set qualifications you need to get entry on to the training programme, but an apprenticeship in coaching football, a diploma in sports and active leisure or a degree in sports science would all give you a useful insight into what the job requires.

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