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Match Officials

Behind the scenes at The Football League: Meet the youngest League official

5 August 2015

The officials selected for the 2015/16 Sky Bet Football League season have been announced and the first set of appointments have been released. The youngest name on the list this year is Josh Smith.

The 22-year-old from Bourne in Lincolnshire has been promoted to the National List of Assistant Referees which means he will run the line in Football League games this term.

Click here to see the match official appointments for the opening weekend of The Football League season

Josh's 2015/16 promotion is the latest development in a refereeing voyage that started at home...

When did your officiating journey begin and what got you interested in it?

My dad, Nigel, referees as well. He was a massive influence. He's level three so he referees in the Southern Premier League and he's an assistant in the Conference North and South.

I used to travel around when I was 11, 12 and 13 going to all of his games. Then, when I was 14, having followed him and seeing what it was all about, I realised it was something I wanted to do.

It was probably inevitable that you were going to be a referee then...

True! It was good to have him. From when I started at the age of 14 and throughout my development I always had that knowledgable support, which was invaluable. I was able to develop my skills with advice given to me from someone who was doing it actively themselves at a good level.

Did you play as well, or was all of your focus on officiating?

I played until I was 16 – my weekends were all about football. On a Saturday morning I'd referee mini football, then on Sunday morning I'd play a match and Sunday afternoon referee a game. I wouldn't change that, I really enjoyed it.

My love of football was another influence. I was always realistic and knew I was never going to be a particularly able player and, for me, officiating was the best way to keep involved in a sport that I've loved since I started aged four. To be involved in football at the level I am as a referee is fantastic.

How did you find your first experiences of matches as a referee?

The mini football tournaments I used to referee carried a lot of pressure. All of a sudden I was in the middle, making decisions, and I wasn't used to it. When you're a player you think the decisions are easy, but I was making them and I soon found out it was very different. I loved it, though, and it's gone from there.

You've had plenty of promotions since - did you always believe you could get this far and maybe one day make a career out of officiating?

I think there are more career opportunities in officiating now, but it's all about how hard you work and the commitment you put into it. It doesn't fall on a plate for you – you have to work really hard. There are opportunities out there, but you have to earn them and not relax when you are given a chance.

Personally, I keep myself as fit as possible, training a few nights per week, but it's also about analysis. When I'm watching football I look at what the officials are doing, rather than just watching the game.

When did you learn about your latest promotion, and what were your immediate emotions?

I found out in early May, on a Saturday morning, and I was shocked but obviously over the moon and really proud after what had been a good season for me last time around.

As well as getting onto The Football League line, I was also promoted as a referee so I can referee in the Conference North and South, and received an appointment to the FA County Youth Cup Final.

The Final went really well, it was a great experience. From a refereeing point of view, to get the Three Lions FA representatives badge is poignant and it was an absolute honour to receive that.

How do you follow that next year and what are your feelings ahead of 2015/16?

It's really exciting times for me but I also know that just getting onto the National List of Assistant Referees isn't enough for me. The hard work continues now.

It's not about resting on my laurels and getting complacent. It's now about continuing to work hard and ensuring I'm in the best possible shape both physically and mentally for another good campaign.

What have you done to ensure you are in peak condition for the start of the season?

I've worked very hard on fitness with plenty of pre-season training, and I've also used the dietary advice given to us by the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited). Generally, I've just made sure I'm in the right frame of mind through pre-season matches prior to this weekend.

What do your friends make of your officiating?

They are very supportive. It's becoming more commonplace for people to take up officiating at a younger age and, therefore, I think in a lot of circles it's the norm for someone to be a referee, or know someone who is a referee at a young age.

Looking to the future, what are your targets for this coming season and beyond?

One of the things I say to myself is control the controllables, so I focus on the things that I can control, such as my fitness levels. My target is to do everything I can to support my career in the best possible way.

I want to keep progressing and know in myself that when I come off after every game I've done the absolute best job that I could've done.

Behind the scenes at The Football League: Compiling the fixture list

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