Welcome to the first installment of Officially Official. Over the next few weeks, you will get a better look into the lives of officials.
Officially Official’s very first guest is a young man named George Head. George is a 15 year old from Kent, London. Kent is known as the Garden of England, first coined by Henry, the VIII, and the White Cliffs of Dover. Along with the beautiful scenery, and along with the rest of Europe, Kent is home of more than 3 dozen football clubs, including Ashford United F.C. Canterbury City F.C., and Sutton Athletic F.C. (to name only a few).
George was born and raised in Kent. Growing up, he played football. His main position was full back, left or right. He stopped playing football because he had a small shoe size! I had him elaborate, since I was always told it was “not the size of the boat, but the motion of the ocean.” He was told that his feet (as well his stature) was small for the game. This unsettling news didn’t stop George from participating in the game.
George is a student at Towers School and Sixth Form Centre. Arsenal Soccer School heads the schools’ football program at Towers School. The program offers a rigorous structure of practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and every player receives individual evaluations around Christmas and Easter from their coaching staff. Players also have the ability to qualify for European football tours, scholarships to universities in the US, coaching opportunities throughout England and the US and even opportunities to play for semi-professional and professional clubs.
George started as an official about two years ago. It started with four of his friends wanting to start officiating, but shortly after, two of them quit. Currently, he officiates up to U14 in clubs and leagues around Kent. Next season, he is looking forward to getting into officiating men’s leagues (over 18). George also applied to line a few of the World Cup qualifying games and was awarded that opportunity. *For those of you who are not familiar, football usually has two officiants: field officials who are on the field calling the game and lines men who decides out of play balls and off-sides.*
Like most athletes, George has a pre-game ritual. He wakes up, showers, eats something with high calories, like cereal – something to get him energized. In the car, he likes to listen to music, nothing in particular, just whatever is on, but he’s into pop. Once he gets to the pitch, about an hour early, he gets in and focuses and mentally prepares himself for the game.
I asked George what he likes most about officiating, and without hesitation, his response was “You get to have the final whistle.” He has done over 120 matches so far and enjoys this hobby, and it makes it more enjoyable if the teams don’t have any issues with him. Being such a young official, there tends to be more pressure from the players, coaches, staff and fans. He recalls a time when he made a mistake call and things turned ugly. If any of you have been to a football match, or even encountered a football fan (and I mean die-hard football fan), they can be ruthless! During a league game, specifically the County Cup game in Kent, he had made a few bad calls and knows (now) that he shouldn’t have made them. One of the team managers kept swearing at him in anger, and George asked him to stop. During halftime, George approached the manager, telling him if he didnt keep quit, he would have to kick him off the pitch. The beratement continued and George was forced to remove the manager, which wasnt an easy task at all.
There are times when games turn out just as planned. It was a local game, United v. Kent, and the game just felt right. He got really good feedback from both teams and was even compliments on being the “best referee this season.” And you know it a good game when none of the parents come up to you afterwards!
Being an official, you run the risk of being injured during matches. Luckily, George has never been seriously injured during a match, however, he has been hit numerous times on the field by a ball. But, hey, some teams could look at it as a 12th player! He has seen some gruesome injuries to players. Hes seen wrists broken by powerful kicks, broken arms from slide tackles, and even full-out brawls between teams! He’s even had the opportunity to send players off the pitch for fighting.
Every year, George officiates at tournaments. During these tournaments, there is always, without a doubt, a team that, well, has a reputation. George is aware of these teams and players but always takes a neutral stand and calls the games fairly.
As we adopt technology into our daily lives, more and more, there is always a question of “Will technology replace you?” George doesnt believe it will. He believes that it will only help. He refers back to the 2010 World Cup, England v. Germany. The score was 2-1, Germany, and England was on the offense, a ball was placed right outside the 18 and shot. The ball hit the cross-bar, bounced behind the goal line, and on the 2nd bounce, bounced back into the pitch. The official called a “no goal.” This was detrimental to England, resulting in Germany advancing, ultimately taking 3rd place. George believes that had the technology been in place, this call could have been different and the outcome different. Eliminating controversy. He also believes that the use of body cameras could be useful as well as protect officials at the grassroots levels.
George is just like any other 15 year old. When he isnt in school, he likes to play PlayStation. Being a youth coach, I hear a lot of the kids talking about the latest and greatest. The current trend, is Fortnite. If you don’t know what Fortnite is, google the dances and then you’ll know… He does enjoy playing Fortnight. He also plays FIFA, fitting, as well as Rocket League – to which I jokingly challenged him to a duel, but he declined. George still plays a little bit of football, just for fun, but is hoping to get back into it with his school next year. He is also looking forward to being more involved in officiating, as next season he will be in charge of appointing other officials to certain games. George doesn’t have dreams about being an official when he grows up, but has bigger plans, as he wants to become a police officer, but who knows, if he continues on this path, he may become the next Pierluigi Collina.