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News Archive > Sport > Swabey leads Cornwall FA pathway plan for referees

Swabey leads Cornwall FA pathway plan for referees

By Tom Howe 17th February 2021

Swabey leads Cornwall FA pathway plan for referees

“You do get a number of young referees that do it for a bit of pocket money, which is why I started. I had the choice of getting up at 4.30 in the morning and doing a paper round or going out on a Saturday and Sunday to do something I really enjoyed, which was refereeing football.”

From humble beginnings in local junior leagues around his native Plymouth at the age of 17, Lee Swabey has found himself officiating in some of the finest stadiums in the country as a professional referee, writes Tom Howe.

Day-to-day, he is as a development officer for the Cornwall FA and it was with that hat on that he spoke to the Voice this week, revealing there has never been a better opportunity for referees to progress to the very top of the game.

It is a misconception that football is a game played by two teams at any time. It is that third team, the officials, who are often forgotten about but, without whom, games simply couldn’t go ahead.

Refereeing is a hobby for hundreds of people in the Duchy, some who want to reach the professional ranks and others who prefer to remain local and do their bit to help the local game thrive. It is Swabey’s job to ensure each of them, no matter their goals, age or gender, are provided with the support and tools required to be at their best.

“When this role at Cornwall FA came up, with my passion for development and refereeing, it was perfect for me really,” he said. “I have been doing the role now for 18 months and have enjoyed every minute. It has some challenges but we can see a real game plan to help improve what we are doing and what we are offering.

“I have to say the support from the referees in Cornwall has been absolutely fantastic. The support from Cornwall FA and the Board has been amazing. Coming into the role, I have been supported with everything I have wanted to do.

“It has been great to show the real value that Cornwall FA has in referees which has made my job a bit easier. I have been able to say look, we really value the work you do as referees. Cornwall FA have made registrations this season free of charge. Normally we would pay £20 a season to register but they have made it free because the season ended early last year and the uncertainty of this year.

“Cornwall FA see the fantastic work [referees] do and the support that referees give football. I haven’t been put on furlough. I have been very lucky and am still able to work with our referees. I could be put on furlough and [referees] would be left until football restarts whereas Cornwall FA really do see the importance of having me in the role to continue to support our referees during what is a really difficult time for everybody.”

Swabey began his job by travelling around the county to meet different referees and gauge how best he and his team could support their community.

His vision? To create and maintain a clear pathway from potential future referees booking a course, to passing, to the support that comes afterwards, promotion and then, when referees reach the higher levels, assisting their development and ‘hopefully’ helping more from Cornwall into the professional game.

“The referees are really honest,” he said with a smile. “They didn’t pull any punches and told me exactly what they thought. Some areas were very good but some could be improved and I would like to think we have done that. For example, we have got different groups for our referees. If you are a referee going for promotion, we have a core group for you where we have regular meetings and development sessions.

“One thing we also found was that, once you became a level four referee, there was less support for you. We have now got a group designated solely for what we call our senior referees and developers in place for all of those promotion candidates.

“We are also in the process of providing a real clear pathway for our referees. From the moment they take and complete their referees course, they are going to be put into a support group. Rather than putting them straight in, it is more about working in youth football and Flexi Leagues around the county for more experience before throwing them into real competitive junior and senior football.

“We hope that will not only support development but also retain referees as well. What we have found is that, if we put a newly-qualified referee into a Trelawny League game for the first time and that is their first experience [of refereeing], that can be a really tough place to be even with the support that we provide. It is not until you get out in the middle that you realise how tough it can be.”

“Ultimately,” continued Swabey, “There are a number of referees who don’t really want to progress but want to stay involved in local football and help out. A lot of them are ex-players who have said ‘we have played in games where we haven’t had referees so if I can help by becoming qualified then I will’. Those referees are really valuable to us. We want them to progress, absolutely, but if that is their goal then we will support that too.”

Swabey has urged clubs to contact him with any referee-related issues, showing a commitment to using real-time events to educate both clubs and officials when saying: “There is that support mechanism for everybody rather than hammering somebody for getting something wrong which is easy to do.

“We want to identify what didn’t quite go right and what can be done to improve that next time. Sometimes that information can come from managers or players, it doesn’t always come from a referee.”

“I was never, ever going to get to Wembley as a player but I have been there as a referee,” he concluded. “I was never, ever going to get to some Premier League grounds as a player but I have been there as a referee. Now, more so than ever, there is a clear pathway from trainee referee to professional referee. There has never been a better time to get into refereeing. If you want to progress to the top, the opportunity is there.

“We are going to really target some ex-players and players coming to the end of their career. I would say do the referee’s course. You never know how far you can actually go.

“It is not just a young man or young lady’s game. There is the opportunity to progress no matter what age you are if you are good enough. Ultimately, it keeps you happy, it keeps you active and it keeps you fit.

“For a lot of referees it is that social side of it. That is what a lot of us are missing at the moment. Sometimes you have players who stop and look at what they do next. Refereeing is absolutely, in my opinion, a great next step to keep them involved.”

By Tom Howe 17th February 2021

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