In 1960 I stepped out onto the football field wearing a black uniform with a whistle in one hand and a notebook in my pocket to start my refereeing career at grassroots level,

Twelve years later after a long apprenticeship I was promoted onto the Football League where I spent twenty-two years officiating professional games, my final two years before retirement was on the newly formed English Premier League.

I was also in this period the second longest serving English official operating on the FIFA Referees panel.

Throughout my long years officiating I was employed in Industry as a Sales and Marketing Director juggling refereeing games, achieving sales and ensuring that through careful planning I left sufficient time during the week to do my physical training.

After retiring from active refereeing, I became a UEFA Referee Expert, and a founding member of the UEFA Referee Convention.

In my final years has an active referee the speed of the game increased and this was placing pressure on all referees on the Premier League to maintain contact with play, particularly when players were applying several dynamic sprints and with play switching from one end to the other in one telling pass.

In the late nineties I had a meeting with the Chairman of the Premier League and placed before him a paper outlining my belief that the competition needed to create a group of professional referees.

In 2001 the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL) was formed a limited company with three funding partners.

·       The Football Association

·       The Football League

·       The Premier League,

The Chief Executives of those organisation were the Board along with an independent Chairman,

The Finances were managed by the Premier League Financial Director,

The Company Secretary was from The Football Association

I took over the role of General Manager two years into its existence and set out new business objectives with the appointed 24 referees.

I laid down a new business objective which was;

“To create a cadre of World Class officials”

I appointed a full time Sports Scientist with the aim to create a lifestyle change in every referee. Structured training sessions were introduced monitored and outputs carefully measured.

Nutrition specialists were used to educate and inform the referees on diet and food intake to improve recovery programmes after their performances.

Twenty-four professional referees made up the panel of Select Group One Referees and I wanted them to become the twenty first team in the Premier League.

The twenty-four officials selected had different skill levels and came from different backgrounds some were already FIFA international officials.

In order to achieve my goal, I needed the group to get on with each other and to be supporting of one another in difficult times.

I decided that one way to achieve this was to encourage them to talk and hopefully then begin to understand each other but needed to accelerate this process.

I arranged for them to meet me at a local hotel in the Lake District at one of the nicest hotels in the National Park.

They arrived and had an enjoyable first night but I knew that they would not be prepared for what was to come in the ensuing days.

The next morning having checked out of the hotel I handed them £20 each and informed them that they had to but food and rations for the next four days. I gave then less than one hour for this task and it was an eye opener when they returned for waiting for them was a guide. They were informed that they had a walk of about ten miles to a base camp in the hills.

There they would be set a number of tasks without supervision and would have to rely on each other.

The guide informed me that on the first night that those referees who had concentrated on buying tins of food were rather challenged due to the fact that they had not purchased a tin opener and some had managed to lose the content has they tried hammering the cans open with rocks.

The local streams the only source for water to drink and bathe were rather cold at that time of the year, and I did receive a number of messages from them that the beds were uncomfortable.

After the four days I can say that the group had worked well and survived the various challenges set to test them individually and as a team.

Some of the more experienced referees had to rely on their less experience colleagues when they were put to test on the rock-climbing course or the night walking event and soon, they were enjoying the weeklong event.

With our referees generally officiating two games a week Matt Weston our Sports Scientist had decided to introduced four training sessions of variable intensity on a seven-day cycle adjusting individual programmes to avoid clashing with games.

In addition, the programmes were aimed at injury prevention and we introduced a ground breaking WARM UP session to take place prior to every game

The SPRINT COACH was brought into the team to improve their dynamic sprinting to ensure that referees could comfortably cover those quick breaks and not become detached from play.

The group of professional referees met up for three days every two weeks at a central avenue and each morning attend a physical training session under the supervision of Matt Weston.

We would fitness test them on a monthly basis measuring their recovery times etc.

With the use of video clips, the group would discuss various incidents to determine what future changes they could apply to their performances to improve the quality of their decision making.

It took some referees some time to admit to their mistakes and on one occasion we had the full group of 24 referees viewing a clip of a reckless challenge that warranted a yellow card.

The referee on the day Dermot Gallagher attempted to convince his peers that the award of a free kick was sufficient punishment. However, several of the group and determined that it was reckless and Dermot should have applied a yellow card.

Dermot was clearly not going to be persuaded that he had made an incorrect decision and continued to bring the matter to a close by calling for the referees to vote.

I shouted those referees who believe it was a yellow card offence raise their hands. Twenty-three agreed it was yellow leaving Dermot the only one in the group in disagreement.

However, when he looked around the room and saw all his colleagues disagreeing, he smiled and said “Only testing you then I thought it was yellow all along”

The meeting closed with smiles on everyone’s faces.

In the future these types of workshop discussions became regular practice and helped to teach the referees how to improve their officiating and the correct application of law,

Many topics were covered over the period that I was the boss of the PGMOL

I worked at improving referees

•        MOTIVATIONAL SKILLS

•        INTERPERSONAL SKILLS

•        PRESENTATIONAL SKILLS

•        COGNITIVE SKILLS- Better Referees SEE things before they happen…(Anticipation/Awareness)

With the aid of a Sports Psychologist we looked at many aspects related to officiating.

We discussed how referees could improve their body language and communication skills to aid the decision-making process.

I brought into several of the meetings a Football Manager to talk tactics to raise awareness of our referees that on occasions they must be able to cope with the changing dynamics of tactical changes.

We raised their awareness to the changing team dynamic when substitutions took place.

We developed criteria to deal with mass confrontations, dissent and acts of simulation.

Finally, referees had to be more accountable and a poor performance from a referee would be met with a loss of an appointment.

With the accountability came a new Performance Analysis System and the training of Assessors to identify areas of shortfall in performance so that appropriate advice can be given to the referee.

This was shortly followed with the Premier League accepting my idea of creating a pool of Match Delegates made up of former players and Managers and the likes of Kenny Hibbett. Denis Smith and Mick McGuire were taking in games and producing a report on how they saw the players performance involving the managers of both teams before putting pen to paper.

With some pride I watched the likes of Graham Poll, Paul Durkin and Mark Clattenburg develop along with someone really special Mark Halsey who is now part of the Keys to Football team of experts

KEITH HACKETT