Throughout the week, the ‘Support the Ref’ campaign has highlighted the challenges officials are tasked with on a daily basis across the country, from grassroots to throughout the EFL and the Premier League.
No stranger to the pressures of refereeing at the highest level, former EFL and Premier League referee, Chris Foy, decided to hang up his boots – or rather his whistle – to work for the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL), where he is Head of Community and Public Engagement.
PGMOL operate with a team of dedicated managers, coaches, sports scientists and support staff dedicated to improving refereeing standards across all of the EFL, the Premier League and Football Association (FA) competitions, and includes the training, development and mentoring of 109 referees and 206 assistant referees.
Introduced at the beginning of the 2016/17 season, the Select Group 2 referees take charge of all fixtures in the Sky Bet Championship, providing a further 18 full-time officials. It is something Foy believes was an important step to take.
He said: “I think the introduction of the Select Group 2 has been very important as we near the end of our second season with a further 18 full-time referees.
“It has given them a fantastic opportunity, of which they went through a rigorous recruiting process to be selected and appointed to that list. Predominantly they take charge of Championship fixtures, but the exposure they get is phenomenal.
“It is very important to prepare properly, so they have the benefit of everything Select Group 1 have, including the training meetings, sports science, sports psychology and a full-time coach that they work with.
“The biggest testament I can give them is that Chris Kavanagh has been promoted to Select Group 1 and has slotted in nicely, so it just goes to show that the preparation and training all have put in stands them in good stead to be able to step up seamlessly.”
Whilst providing further full-time referees across the country, the introduction of Select Group 2 has given all match officials across the EFL, and even at grassroots level, another platform to be able to improve their standard of officiating – with a clear personal goal in sight of reaching the highest level.
Alongside the Select Group 1 officials, there are now 36 full-time officials across England taking charge of games predominantly in the Premier League and the Championship.
Foy continued: “Not everybody can referee a World Cup Final, but everybody has ambitions. The opportunities that are now available and the support mechanisms in place for officials make it all there for you.
“If you can grasp what you’ve got, dig into what you need and take the advice from all the support mechanisms that are in place, then you’re on the right track.
“At the end of the day, come 3pm on a Saturday you’re officiating that match, and it is down to you as an individual to do the business on the pitch, even with all the support that is provided.
“Those in the Select Groups are reaching fitness levels that the players are at, and their body compositions would not look out of place in a dressing room before a game. They’re getting a very high percentage of decisions correct and are improving all the time.”
Commenting on the change of officiating within the game, Foy added: “The game has changed massively. The officials now are used to the exposure and are used to the media.
“When I started refereeing in the EFL in 1996, there was only one camera on the halfway line, and you just went out and did your job. Nobody really knew who you were, and now you look at throughout the EFL, and there is more exposure, so people know who the referees are before the game starts.”