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Match Officials

Men in Black: Simon Hooper

12 March 2013

By Russell Kempson

It could have been, and perhaps should have been, one of the most memorable days in the life of Simon Hooper, both from a social and professional perspective. As the Wiltshire referee waited to be interviewed for the contributory leagues list - his hoped-for next step up the ladder - Sven-Goran Eriksson walked in the door.

Hooper, only 22 at the time and already a tad wary at the upcoming inquisition at Soho Square, the former headquarters of the Football Association, was taken aback. And when Eriksson, the then England coach, acknowledged him, he didn't quite know how to react. He was churning inside, he was starstruck.

"I was still very young, I'd joined my company straight from school and I'd not done interviews before," Hooper recalled. "So sitting there in the reception area, I was feeling a bit nervous anyway. When Sven came in, my heart started beating like mad and my legs just went.

"I mean, at the time, Sven was a national hero. I really wasn't sure what to do. It really affected me, the whole occasion got to me. Needless to say, I failed the interview. Of course, it was very disappointing, but set-backs like that can make you a stronger person and I'd like to think it did."

A year later, and his confidence boosted by another season in the middle, Hooper was back in the interview hot seat. This time, in the less intimidating atmosphere of the Gloucestershire FA offices. And, this time, he passed. "Psychologically, I felt a lot better there. It was great to get through it."

Hooper, an IT service manager, is used to overcoming set-backs. At 16, the promising centre-forward was released by Swindon Town after seven years at the club. However, as his fledgeling refereeing career began to take shape, he also played semi-professionally for Highworth Town and Swindon Supermarine.

Yet even in his early days with the whistle, there were hiccups along the way. "When I sent off a player in a Sunday men's match, he threatened to knock me out," he said. "That was not very nice. I got a bit emotional, the tears flowed. I could have quit before I'd barely started."

Support from friends and colleagues - and especially his mother and father, Sandra and Pete - kept Hooper going. Through the hard yards in the Hellenic League, Southern League and the Blue Square Premier, and on to The Football League line in 2006 - only for injury, in the December, to halt his progress.

Simon broke his left leg playing five-a-side and that it went undiagnosed for three weeks - it was initially dismissed as a calf strain - did not help, either.

"Things had been going well but the rest of the season was a write-off. I still play five-a-side regularly, to keep fit, but I've cut out the really competitive stuff."

Keeping fit has never been a great problem for Simon. He represented his county at tennis and athletics as a youngster and took a keen interest in most sports, including cricket and rugby union.

Playing with his son, eight-month-old Oliver, has offered a new and enjoyable challenge and at least allows wife Tracey a brief break from her family duties.

Refereeing, though, consumes much of Hooper's life. He is in his fifth season in the League middle and, at 30, has plenty of time to add to his growing list of high-profile appointments.

In 2008, he took charge of the Conference League Cup final, in which Aldershot Town defeated Rushden and Diamonds 4-3 on penalties after a 3-3 draw at the Recreation Ground.

"I've had a very good grounding and matured as an individual," Simon said. "I've learnt a lot along the way and I'm still learning."

Enough to have his eyes on the top prizes - to officiate a match at Wembley, to earn his 'Three Lions' badge, for refereeing a major final, and perhaps, ultimately, to join the elite Select Group of officials.

"I'd like to think that the world is my oyster. You have to set targets and to do Wembley would be a first aim. That would be brilliant.

"To get into the Select Group, to be a full-time referee, that would be a dream come true. I'd love to do it.

"There is a younger generation coming through and anyone would want to be refereeing at places like the Emirates Stadium and Old Trafford. Who wouldn't?"

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