Becoming a football referee isn’t a path every child dreams of. Wondering how to become a football manager is more likely, but there are plenty of people who want to become a referee, even if the job presents more than its fair share of challenges.

Referees are subject to abuse, and their decisions frequently questioned, whether officiating at the local park or Wembley.

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The game needs officials, though – training and preparing the next generation of referees from the grassroots through to the elite level is crucial for the sport.

The journey to becoming the next Mike Dean might not be obvious. Many potential referees may not be aware of how they can get into it as a hobby, let alone to become a professional and officiate at the top of the sport.

This article hopes to make that a bit clearer, with a few of the steps required to become a football referee…


Take A Basic Football Referee Course

So long as you’re over 14 years old and a resident in the United Kingdom, it’s possible to become a referee. County Football Associations offer basic refereeing courses – completing one of these is a necessity to start officiating matches.

According to the Surrey FA’s website, an introductory referee course costs £150. There’s an extra £10 charge for a criminal record check for those intending to referee youth football who are over 16.

Like trying to become a football coach, the course is the crucial part at the start – the accessibility and cost is a point of controversy.

Start off with a basic course and within years you could be a referee getting analysed by the football betting experts as they look to make their card bets.

Get Fit

As a referee looks to develop their officiating, they will be dealing with higher standards of football and, as a result, better athletes.

You don’t need to be a world-leading analyst to understand that elite football is played at a quicker pace than a hungover Sunday League kick about.

Getting to the necessary fitness level and maintaining it isn’t easy. It is perhaps the under-acknowledged part of officiating – referees need to be able to keep pace with blistering counter-attacks and switches of play.

Exhaustion will make decision-making even more difficult than it already is.


Work Your Way Up The Levels

Per the FA website, new referees start at level nine as a trainee and can work all the way up to level one.

The top level is the Football League and Premier League standard, but the officials at that point all started off at level nine. A combination of gaining experience, fitness and dedication to developing as a referee is required to climb the levels.

Experience is obviously crucial, like in most parts of life. There aren’t shortcuts to jump from level nine to the FA Cup final, but ascending can be done quicker with the more hours put in at local level.

Refereeing at every opportunity will open doors, it will give more of a chance to receive feedback and understand your strengths and weaknesses.

It is usually expected that referees will spend at least a complete season at each level from seven up to four.

Seven is an introduction to men’s football at the amateur leagues, six is the county leagues and so on. For those referees particularly impressing, it can be possible to move up a bit quicker, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

Next Steps Up

Once a referee has reached level four, the next steps work in a slightly different way. Clubs and observers will mark your performance and building up a good reputation is the route to levels three, 2A and 2B.

Getting from 2A to the Football League, and potentially higher, requires an interview. Moving from that standard to the ‘International List’ is for the elite of the elite with only a handful of officials currently on that list.

The pressure intensifies with each step up. The sports betting world is focused on every decision, careers are at stake. Not every official will be comfortable with the spotlight as they move from local leagues to televised matches.


Develop A Thick Skin

Unfortunately, abuse of football officials is normalised. Despite campaigns to treat referees with more respect, they will still face plenty of foul language and insults.

Being able to deal with this and diffuse potentially aggressive situations is important. Referees need to make objective, clear-headed decisions in heated circumstances.

Having good communication skills is a must, both to work with the assistant referees and to explain decisions to players and coaches.


*Credit for the main photo belongs to Rui Vieira / AP Photo*

Sam is a sports tipster, specialising in the Premier League and Champions League.

He covers most sports, including cricket and Formula One. Sam particularly enjoys those on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean – notably MLB and NBA.

Watching, writing and talking about sports betting takes up most of his time, whether that is for a day out at T20 Finals Day or a long night of basketball.

Having been writing for several years, Sam has been working with 888Sport since 2016, contributing multiple articles per week to the blog.