Players weren’t the only ones that cheered Community Football’s return; referees were also rejoicing as Sutherland Shire Football Referees Association President Chris Young saw 75 of his officials hit-up the various pitches in week one of the association’s matches.
“Like for everyone in Football, it was a relief to be back on the Park.
“Football is the largest participant sport in the Sutherland Shire with over 18,000 local players lacing up the boots each week to represent one of 26 local Clubs.
“A lot of work goes into getting referees ready for every season and to have been literally days away from our first pre-season meeting, only to have everything shut down, was frustrating.
“Most referees are involved to give something back to the sport they love, so it was great to see our members back on the park and doing just that (and to be out there refereeing with them).
“Seventy-five of our referees were on their first games during week one of the reboot of the Sutherland Shire FA’s return. They ranged from 14 to an 87-year-old.
“We deliberately ran our new referee courses in late February, early March so that the information we provided was fresh in our new recruits’ minds come round 1, so you can imagine the added pressure that came with a recent three and a half month break and no trial games between the course and the first competition game.
“To counteract this, we had an army of volunteer coaches out and about at the 65 local pitches during the first lot of matches ensuring our referees had the support they needed.
“I think Kevin Dwyer, Principal of WMD Law summed up the importance of referees when he talked to our members at our season launch – Everyone understands that a referee is essential to a game of football. But well trained and well supported referees mean a better quality of game for everyone.”
Just like our players, referees had to adjust to life under new COVID-19 and Return to Football guidelines where online courses for officials were the new norm according to the 37-year-old President.
“We have had to adjust the ways we do things due to COVID-19. We have 360 members in our association, and for the first time we have had to run online courses and training (instead of in person).
“Our Branch Coach Gary Lockwood has done a lot of work in getting that set up, but it was very well received, and is something we will look to continue. Online won’t replace in person learning, but it will be a great supplement to it.
“COVID-19 has meant we do things on-field a bit differently too. Like players, we have many referees who would normally show up and fight through a sniffle so they can get their weekly football fix, who have now been told they must stay home until they recover.
“Under the current restrictions, referees are not allowed to share equipment, which might mean teams see less use of the electronic communication gear that has been invested in by our branch, and assistant referees may from time to time need to use mismatched flags, which is something we have always tried to avoid.
“We also had to delay the introduction of our new major partner, WMD Law, to the football community. While it is common for Football Clubs to benefit from such partnerships, it is rare for a referees branch to do the same.
“And this is surprising, because referees are seen on every field across a local community every weekend. But they have understood and worked with us through the delay, and we have really appreciated that, because the multi-year investment they are making is even more important with COVID-19 affecting football.”
Currently in his twenty-fourth year as a referee and serving his fourth season as President of the Sutherland Shire Referees Association, Young had some important words for his referees during the reboot of the 2020 Community Football season.
“When speaking at the season launch I reminded all our referees how lucky we are to be getting back and getting a season at all.
“Our Football Association has taken a “Football First” approach for the remainder of 2020 and they will try to play as many games as possible and be as flexible as possible in achieving that.
“I asked our referees to take a similar approach – we are going to face unexpected and extraordinary difficulties this year, and have new COVID-19 procedures to navigate, but the important thing to remember is that we all love being involved with football, and need to keep that top of mind.”