The 2016/17 season has certainly provided a number of first-time moments for English football, even at this early stage.The EFL and Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL) have made an important step forward together with the introduction of a new group of professional match officials called Select Group 2.
The group, which will work predominantly in the Sky Bet Championship, will be made up of 18 new contracted referees and 36 assistant referees. One of those officials now employed on a full-time basis is David Coote.
The 34-year-old has been on the National List for the past 10 years and has taken charge of more than 150 EFL matches so far in his career, including the 2014 Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium.
Coote’s first match as a Select Group 2 referee came at Highbury Stadium in the EFL Cup, for the Round One tie between Fleetwood Town and Leeds United.
Speaking at the EFL launch day earlier this month at Fulham’s Craven Cottage, Coote discussed the benefits of Select Group 2 and how the focus is to promote honesty, integrity and positive behaviour across the game.
David, thank you for taking time out to speak to EFL.com. We will start from the beginning; how did you get into refereeing and why did you want to become a full-time match official?
“My uncle was the manager of a local Sunday League team that my dad played for so I helped as the team’s linesman. A couple of local referees suggested that I should take the referees course and 20 years later, here I am.
“I have enjoyed a number of different experiences and the time has flown by. For the past 10 years I have been on the National List and, for the past six seasons, I have refereed matches across all three EFL divisions.
“It was an easy decision for me to make becoming full-time. How many people can say they have had the opportunity to turn their hobby into their career?
“I previously worked for the Manchester FA as county development manager. There were various different elements to take into account, for instance finances, but in the end the decision was a no-brainer.
“Over the years, officials have had to make a lot of sacrifices. It was common to work a normal 40-hour week before travelling to your game on the Friday.
“On many occasions, match officials only had chance to see their families for a full day on a Sunday.”
How did the opportunity present itself to you to become one of the 18 referees to join the Select Group 2 programme and how do you expect your life to change?
“We went through a vigorous selection process in March and spent two days at an assessment centre in Warwickshire. The first day we had a fitness assessment and the second day was to assess five different elements of our performance.
“I expect now that I am a full-time referee I will be spending a lot of time on the road at different locations around the country.
“We are increasing the amount of community work we do and we want to raise the right profile for football match officials.
“There is a great opportunity to reach out and give referees a better name. This is obviously not what it is all about but we want people to remember that referees are human at the end of the day.
“Select Group 2 is an amazing opportunity for all 18 referees and 36 assistants.
“I can only see that it will be a benefit to the EFL and to all the clubs involved. We are really looking forward to the challenge this year.”
What are the benefits now your full-time working commitments are focused towards officiating in the EFL?
“There are a lot of benefits. For one, match preparation will be better. We can analyse our performances in further detail after each game.
“In terms of diet and fitness, we had a professional regime before we started full-time. The PGMOL have had sports scientists in place monitoring our fitness.
“In that sense, nothing is new, but a significant change is that we will not have to fit training sessions in and around our working lives.
“For example, if work finishes at 6.30pm and you head to training immediately after, it is not going to be the best quality session. The difference now is that our sessions will be professionally managed and therefore we will see an improvement in physical performance.
“English referees already have a strong reputation and now having a second professional group of officials, it will only help raise the standards in this country.
“We will be meeting on a fortnightly basis as a group and that will become a very important factor. We can now prepare better as a team and have more consistency.
“The relationship between clubs and officials will get stronger and we will follow the example set by Select Group 1.
“We are acutely aware that the professional game, especially in the Championship, is worth a lot of money to the clubs in terms of promotion and relegation. It is important to remember that the refereeing standards are also expected to improve in League One and League Two.
“The referees in those two divisions will want to perform to the best of their ability so they can join Select Group 2. It should have a knock on effect and improve standards throughout the leagues.”
Officiating a professional match is never an easy task and mistakes will be made. How do referees handle harsh criticism?
“We are humans and ultimately mistakes will be made from time to time. I am sure every referee will reflect back like a player does when they make an individual error.
“We take mistakes to heart and we take those feelings home with us. For the Select Group 2 referees it is now their full-time jobs so there is even more pressure to get decisions right.
“From a personal point of view, when I have made an error, it is very difficult to sleep that night and I spend the following day reflecting on the decision.
“Once I’ve got over the initial disappointment, I then try and figure out why I made that mistake and how it can improve my performance leading up to the next game.
“We are fully aware of our surroundings and every decision we make is scrutinised. There are lots of different types of decisions to be made every single game.
“The EFL are keen to see an increase in the standard of player behaviour. We want to improve relationships between clubs and referees by heightening awareness of a lack of respect shown towards referees.
“Mistakes need to be looked as learning opportunities. Now we have the chance to do that with our coaching and support team. They will help us move forward.”