The world we live in is so incredibly unpredictable, with few things guaranteed from one day to the next, especially in the world of football.
But there are a few things in the sport you can always rely on. Whether it’s Harry Redknapp signing Niko Kranjcar, Steve McManaman saying the word ‘Fletch’ or referees getting scrutinised – there are a few predictability mundane things within our game.
With the introduction of VAR having a disappointing first season in English football, it has placed the spotlight even further onto referees with both the man in the middle and the man at Stockley Park both firmly under the microscope.
It wouldn’t be daft to suggest now is the hardest time to be an official, with continuous abuse from the stands and constant scrutiny online plaguing the job role.
So, who would want to be a referee?
We spoke to the Liverpool FA Services Manager Steven Swinnerton to find out what the Grassroots level of officiating looks like in this City, and what the future holds.
“Grassroots at the moment is probably going through a challenging time, because life has changed in terms of resources for people with finances.” Steven admitted.
“Our youth football is strong in terms of numbers, long-term the county has got a lot of stuff in place to underpin and ensure Grassroots survives and gets better.”
Whilst football isn’t considered as ‘essential’ for people now due to cuts and savings according to Steven, he does believe the current investment will help set Grassroots up for the future.
“The investment coming into the city of Liverpool, with the four Park Life Hubs, is going to help out with the long-term.
“More football can then be played week in week out without any damage to these facilities.”
Whilst investment in the City’s football is seemingly on the rise, it’s important that the referee count also continues to rise as the demand increases in such a football hungry city.
“Young referees can get qualified at 14, do the course here and then go into the ‘Lion’s Den’ if you like of refereeing mini soccer and youth football.
“The retention of those referees is probably better than in previous years gone by, where you would get 12 months or a season out of an official. There will be a drop off because it’ll be young lads who are here during University, then they move on and we lose that individual.
“We also get a drop off of referees if it’s not for them. Sadly, some bad experiences through the minority who crop up and ruin games of football make referees think it’s not for them and understandably.
“But we will work and encourage that individual to stay in the game.”
Liverpool is seen as one of the most proactive referees departments in England with support available via mentors and in-house training from the Liverpool FA, but how many people are actually signing up to be the person with the whistle?
“We currently have about 650 registered referees.” The Liverpudlian said.
“That’s with all ages, boys, girls, disability programme, everything. The retention of that is about 90% for the year. We then do a number of referee’s courses every season.
“They’re always full and always popular.”
Looking to the future then, what does the future for Grassroots football and referees hold in the city? Steven believes the future is bright.
“I think that long-term the future of the Grassroots game is positive. We’re not going to rest on our successes though, we’re always looking to improve.
“In 20 years when I finish with the game, we’d like to think that the next generation of youngsters in the county and Liverpool as an area will have those opportunities to play (and officiate) football at whatever level they want.
“As well as having the facilities and the infrastructure to enjoy the game for years and years to come.”
With the need for football growing in the city with each passing season, it is crucial that the FA keep up with the supply of pitches and the development of referees to keep the league system flowing throughout the city.
With Steven at the helm it’s clear that there is a direct plan to do so, and whilst being a referee is far from easy at the moment, the Liverpool FA are doing everything in their power to make it as enjoyable as possible.
You can listen to the full transcript with Steven below.
Images credited to Chiraphat, Pixabay and Maxwell Hamilton via CC License.