After an incredible 50 consecutive seasons of service, legendary Football NSW referee James Barnes has made the tough decision to hang up his whistle.
‘Barnesie’ shocked attendees at the NSW State League Football Referees General Meeting at Bankstown Sports Club on Friday night as he announced that the 2019 season was his last.
Barnes has been registered with Football NSW since 1978, and in 2005 was the oldest referee to debut in the National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s 1 competition at the age of 53.
Over his time, he has officiated some Australian footballing royalty including the likes of Johnny Warren, Lawrie McKinna and Archie Blue.
He fondly recalls appearing on SBS with Les Murray and Warren ahead of his 2000th match back in 2013.
That total now sits at 2487 matches, with upcoming involvement in the Football NSW Champion of Champions and ANSA African Cup tournaments set to take the extraordinary tally past the 2500 mark.
“There was a big lump in my throat last (Friday) night when I announced my retirement,” Barnes reflected.
“It’s been a hard decision, but one that came because I knew the time was right.
“I’m not tired of running around in the middle at all, I just feel what I’ve lost is a slight edge sprinting up and down the line.
“It’s more that I would never want to let the team down.”
While withdrawing his involvement from Football NSW refereeing, Barnes isn’t quite yet ready walk away from the game he loves entirely.
He intends to continue assessing and training the next generation of whistle blowers, while continuing to spend some time out in the middle with the Nepean Referees Group.
Despite boasting abundant experience, Barnes continues to keep up to date with recent rule changes and evolve the skillsets of both himself and the young officials he mentors.
This is evident in his recent Class 1 Theory Holder certification, and intentions to undertake a Level 2 Assessors course in the near future.
“I’m still capable of running around in the middle,” Barnes declared.
“But I’m going to focus on training, assessing and giving back to the game what I’ve got out of it.”
Barnes is immensely grateful to an extended list of individuals who have assisted him over the years.
First and foremost, he would like to acknowledge Keith Lockrey who was a key mentor inspiring his growth as a referee.
“I take my hat off to him (Lockrey), and still actually go back to read his assessment reports for pieces of advice,” said Barnes.
Barnes would also like to extend his gratitude towards Doug Rennie, Malcolm Buchanan, Alan Townsend, Robert Colombo, Richard Lorench, Gary Power, Roger Donau, Richard Baker, John Parker, Sandro Perticarini and Chris Young, as well as the many others who have contributed along his footballing journey.
For Barnes, the greatest benefit of his retirement is the increased time he can spend with those he loves.
“I’m looking forward to having a bit more time to spend with my partner who I really treasure,” he said.
“Nobody has given me the support that she does- to come and sit for 7-9 hours some weeks is just phenomenal.
“The last few weekends have felt a little bit funny not actually refereeing but they have given me a bit more time to relax and reflect.”
Barnes will never forget the endless array of memories granted to him by the game he has committed half a century of service towards.
“I never dreamed that I would go on this long because a lot of people don’t.
“The friendships, banter and camaraderie with players, managers, coaches and officials is probably what I’ll miss most.
“People called me a player’s referee, and I appreciate the players for who they are and the skills they hold.
“It’s never about me, it’s all about being part of the game we all love.
“You just want to know that you’ve left some good memories, and I hope that’s what I’ve achieved.
“I won’t be far from the game I can tell you that, it’s well and truly in my blood.”
By Football NSW Reporter Chris Curulli (Twitter handle @ChrisCurulli)