The 2019 season is a special one for Football NSW referee James Barnes; it marks his 50th consecutive year with whistle in hand.
Barnes, or ‘Barnesie’ as he is affectionately known, is a remarkable servant of the game hailing from the Nepean district and a tremendous character both on and off the pitch.
Managing 50 seasons, year in year out, is no mean feat.
For Barnes, it has constituted over 2450 games, which equates roughly to 225,000 minutes, 3750 hours or 156 days out on the paddock!
He has been registered with Football NSW since 1978 and proudly recalls that back in 2005 he was the oldest referee to debut in the National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 1 competition at the age of 53.
For Barnes, who still frequently officiates State League Men’s fixtures, it all began back in 1970.
“I was 17,” he recalled.
“I had just moved to Australia and was playing for Belmore but couldn’t hold my place in the first team.
“So I went with my cousin to refereeing and I’ve been there ever since!”
The referee made it clear what has led him to register year after year.
“The will to improve keeps me going,” Barnes revealed.
“My love and passion for the game is just as strong as it has always been.
“I am also a long-distance runner so train 6 days a week and referee every Saturday and some Sundays.
“I considered giving it away 5 years ago, but an athletics coach asked me ‘are you still enjoying it?’
“And of course, you know what the answer was!
“He said don’t give up, so I didn’t.”
Barnes is more than willing to share the tricks of the trade he has acquired over the years.
He advocates a strict mantra that relies on strong player-referee communication and prioritises enjoyment of the game.
“I have a good relationship with coaches, players, managers,” he said.
“Younger referees should always learn how to communicate, because that’s what it’s all about.
“Learn to communicate with people and show that you’re human.
“You earn far more respect doing that than being a robot referee.
“The game’s most important to me.
“I tell the players it’s not about me or my refereeing, it’s about them enjoying the match and me just doing my part to ensure that happens.
“We have a few hassles here and there, but it is the way you approach people that matters.
“That’s the way I look at it.”
In his half-a-century of appointments, he has seen it all.
Some of Barnes’ proudest moments include all of the Grand Final days he has been a part of, but one year sticks out in particular.
“The 1984 NYL Grand Final at St George Stadium between St George and Parramatta Melita,” he recalled.
“I turned around in front of 15,000 screaming fans and said to myself ‘what am I doing here!’”
“But once I blew the first whistle that was it.”
Barnes has been lucky enough to share the field with some Australian footballing royalty, of which he happily listed a few.
“Johnny Warren: gentleman on the field.
“Lawrie McKinna: tough as bootlaces but always fair.
“I remember sending off Archie Blue one time up at North Sydney Oval, and he always liked to remind me!
Barnes is keeping is cards close to his chest as to when he will finally hang up the whistle.
“I’ve said jokingly to people that they’ll have to start carrying me out there!”
-By Chris Curulli