WHEN football moved from strictly amateur to semi-professional in 1960, the demands on referees also changed. Pre-1960 it wasn’t unusual to see a club official in charge in the middle, or on the line – but now a high degree of professionalism is required among whistle blowers.
WA football historian Richard Kreider recalls in his excellent book Paddocks To Pitches: “A referee’s lot has forever been a challenging one. Early football was amateur in many aspects, including the standard of officiating, which was performed mostly by club volunteers with varying degrees of understanding of the rules.
“Since the laws of the code were themselves primitive, referees were left exposed to much greater criticism than in today’s game, where first-class officials are assessed at every appointment.
“In those early days it sometimes led to verbal and physical assaults on referees by infuriated players and supporters.
Referees in those pioneering days received no pay and had to meet the expense of travel, etc, out of their own pockets. It wasn’t until 1912 that it was agreed to reimburse match officials for “secondary expenses”, such as tram and train fares.
Unless you are a top class, or world class, referee the renumeration is still spartan, leading to the query (and oft heard remark around grounds when it comes to debatable decisions): “Who would want to be a referee?”
In this article, former National Soccer League referee LOUIS PROSPERO JP (who is now chairman of Football Hall of Fame WA Committee) reflects on his decision to join the men in the middle:
“I FIRST noticed a referee when I played in our inter school Grand Final in 1979. He was the larger than life Tony Boskovic, and at that time he was a World Cup referee, having officiated at the 1974 finals in Germany. He later took part in the 1982 finals in Spain.
I thought when I saw him in the middle before the game how lucky we were to have him officiate the game.
We lost the game, to a very strong side, 1-0.
What stood out for me was his demeanour and impeccable dress sense, attention to detail and presence.
But it wasn’t him who made me think to become a referee – it was my friend Ivan Blyth. He was the best man at our wedding and died at the young age of 39 to melanoma.
When I was an assistant referee, I use to watch intently how the top level referees dealt with intense situations.
I found most of the referees who made it to the top seemed to be calm, and kept control of the mood of the game, by the way they spoke to players and their use of sanctions within the laws of the game.
Referees who had an influence on me were Richard Lorenc in NSW and, in WA, Eddie Evans, Sandy Stephens, Tony Mullaly and, the one who I enjoyed working with the most, John Sapelli.
John was a very animated character, never a favourite amongst referees or players, because he told everyone what he thought of them. But that’s what I admired about him. He had an Italian name but Dutch heritage.
Of the overseas referees, I remember Clive Thomas from Wales who officiated in England in the 1970’s and also in the 1974 and 1978 World Cup. He impressed me, however I started to take more notice in the late 80’s as I started to develop the craft myself.
We in Australia got to see more English League games through shows like Match of the Day and SBS with the NSL and the World Cup games. There was no stand out for me other than the famous Pierluigi Collina. He was well above the rest and is still revered around the world as one of the best ever.
Australian contraversial Soccer Referee Tony Boskovic in spot lights of world wide publicity at Hannover Stadium during world Cup match Brazil vs DDR. August 24, 1974. (Photo by Antonin Cermak/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).
I was fortunate to meet, whilst in England in 1994 for the FA Cup Final, Peter Willis, the first referee in history to send off a player in an FA Cup final – Kevin Moran from Manchester United in 1985. He was the President of the English Referees. And, the same night, I met David Elleray, Graham Barber, Gerald Ashby and Philip Don, who was on his way to the USA that year for the World Cup.
They were either FIFA referees or then became one later on. I was so lucky to meet them. I never tried to emulate or copy their techniques, just listen and watched to see what worked for me.
I don’t know if referees have got better, but they have definitely got fitter, as the constant law changes have sped up the game. However, they seemed to be drilled to be the same persona and don’t allow to have their personalities come through.
They have to be fit as they are now carrying about 2kgs of equipment on them, so that they can communicate with each other.
By the way, I don’t like the VAR. I believe that should be goal technology only.
But, back to my early days. In 1980, after I started working, I wanted to be part of the Code that I played since I was three years old. A friend of mine started referring the year before so I decided to try it.
I joined the Gladesville/Hornsby branch in NSW. I started the theory course and learnt the laws of the game. I quickly realised that I didn’t know them, just the basics. But I completed and passed, then started the practical part of the course on the field of play. We had mentors watching and advising us, at junior level until we gained our confidence.
I slowly moved up the ranks with a lot of games as an assistant learning from senior referees. I was fortunate to have many games with Richard Lorenc, who at the time was an NSL referee and then became a FIFA referee. In 1983, I was appointed on the NSL Youth panel of referees and officiated at that level for that year.
My family decided to move to Perth at end of the same year and I moved with them. My first game in Perth was at Osborne Park Galeb ground in Jones St Stirling. The first referee I met was Ahmed Ismail and Wilf Bebbington the assessor.
In my first year I was appointed to the Under 18’s Grand final. Bayswater won the Competition undefeated. Included in that squad were the Naven brothers (Craig and Gareth), Scott Racey and Alton DeSouza
Not long after that, I was appointed the Reserve Cup final and in the meantime officiated at numerous representative games as an assistant. Notables were the games against Dublin University, West Ham United, Sarawak and the Olyroos v Brazil at the WACA ground.
I rose through the ranks and was appointed to referee at the State League level in 1988 under the Referees director of Coaching Eddie Evans. I was awarded and officiated in many local State finals as an assistant referee and referee, and I had received many awards along the way.
In 1996, when the Perth Glory had commenced playing in the NSL, I was placed on the NSL panel and officiated on the first game at East Perth Oval as it was known then.
In 1998 I was given the honour of being placed on the NSL Referee panel and was given several games to officiate in other States of the country.
When nominations were put forward for the NSL panel in 2000, I was excluded from the list, despite being awarded the Assistant Referee of the year.
After 20 years of active duty, I decided to retire and concentrate in providing assistance in recruiting and retaining referees across the State.
I became the Chairman of the Referees Commission in 2001 and then went onto be the President of the Soccer Administration of WA in 2002. The same year I was nominated on the Soccer Australia Board and also became the Chairman of the Football Hall of Fame WA.”
PICS: Louis’ leads out Perth Glory and Adelaide City in his first NSL game; Louis with Simon Micaleff, Steve Muldoon and Frank Moretti; Louis and Andy Gorton with Adelaid’s Steve Maxwell; Louis with top English ref Philip Don; Clive Thomas and Tony Boskovic; Pierluigi Collina with WA’s Eddie Lennie: WA ref Rudi Hankey and Wolves star Derek Dougan in 1972.