In a football season where refereeing decisions have dominated the back pages for the all the wrong reasons, Sports Gazette spoke to three FA referees about their experiences in officiating both football and futsal, and why getting involved in the latter should be encouraged to the younger generation.
From the introduction of Video Assistant Referees in the domestic cup competitions to Michael Oliver being confronted by Italian great Gigi Buffon, referees have certainly been under the sweltering spotlight during the 2017-2018 campaign. There was an even more shocking incident in May in North London, where a young official was physically attacked by both players and spectators on the pitch. He should consider himself lucky, only escaping with bruised ribs.
It does make you wonder why anyone would want to become a referee in the ‘beautiful game’ at the moment. Perhaps this is a reason why a number of them might look to leave the football field for the indoor courts.
Can futsal be used as an option for referees to escape the challenges of the 11-a-side game? Is there less pressure from the players and from the stands? These are just a few of questions answered by three local referees who have officiated both sports, and who were willing to give us an insight into their experiences.
Ricky Ansher is a referee for the Middlesex FA who has refereed football for around six years. He is a newcomer to officiating futsal after completing his conversion course in October 2016.
Adam Marsh was a coach before he decided to test his hand at refereeing three years ago and he is now a qualified official for the Hertfordshire FA.
Fiona Shone is an official for the Lancashire FA and she has started a pilot league where she is now focused on getting more young referees involved in the game of futsal. Fiona also has experience in officiating women’s futsal and football matches.
What are the differences in refereeing both futsal and football?
RA: As a futsal referee, you referee in more of a position of an assistant referee in football because you have your two futsal referees who work in diagonals, the same way a football referee works in diagonals with his assistants. Also, there’s the speed of the game. In a minute in futsal, I’ve heard it quoted somewhere that you could have up to 110 decisions to make, where in football it’s something like 20.
AM: In futsal, it’s a lot faster, you’ve got to be a lot more aware because on and off the ball is so different. You always have to be watching everything in futsal. In football, you can relax a little bit during a normal game and in futsal you can’t.
FS: In futsal, the majority of the time in the games that I do, I’m working at least with one other referee, if not a team of three. It does make a difference – that feeling that you are part of a team and that you’re not on your own. In football, pretty much at any level, you’re going to be on your own, whereas in futsal, you’re going out as a pair. That makes it a lot more enjoyable.
Do you think it helps that there is less scrutiny on futsal?
RA: There’s less analysis on decisions because there’s less coverage of it. The moment the coverage deservedly increases, that’s when I think scrutiny will increase as well.
AM: Not really, no. When I do all the futsal games, they do a lot of live streaming on there so we all know you could be filmed which is not a problem. They do that especially at National League level but they don’t do it as much at local level. But it’s not as high pressured as it is with the big games.
FS: Yes publicly, but I know that every National League game is recorded and looked at and analysed. The referees at the top of futsal will get feedback from referees across the country through the learning platform. This means you’re actually put up there against your peers in a way.
Do you feel that there is more of a community feel amongst futsal referees?
RA: Within futsal, most people will know other referees because a lot of futsal referees are quite experienced. But for me, because this is my second year of refereeing futsal, I still haven’t met a lot of people. It does feel that people do know each other quite well. It helps as you get to meet them and you get used to refereeing with the person.
AM: I’ve been lucky enough to go out where a lot of referees have been out before which means you do get a good rapport with each referee and you know their style, how they referee and you work on that as well. In a way, yes it is because there’s a smaller community, we have the National League meetings which are normally once or twice a year now so we actually met referees from different parts of the country.
FS: The development that I get from futsal is far better than anything that I’ve received from 11-a-side. This season, I’ve been down to St. Georges Park, I’ve officiated with the England U19 team playing against National League sides as part of the development day and then have the chance to watch an England-Wales international, sit down with the referees and talk about the game. You don’t get that access in the same way with 11-a-side.
How does the abuse differ between both sports?
AM: In football, it can be either from the players, coaches and crowd. In futsal, you don’t get any problems with the crowd, it’s always from the players and the odd coaches, but it depends how you man manage them. I’ve had a few players this year where I’ve had problems and then as you develop a relationship with them, they respect you which means they give you a lot more leeway and we do the same as well.
FS: You don’t get the same abuse from parents, from supporters, even from players in futsal. We just started a pilot league recently and it’s really good natured between the parents, the players and the officials. It’s a completely different thing to 11-a-side.
What’s the differences in terms of your relationship with the players?
AM: A lot of it depends on man management. The four second rule does help because the game gets started quite quickly so if they moan about anything, the ball could be in play so the players are more accepting of a decision. At a high level, they do accept a decision a lot more than maybe the youth level.
FS: In the main, I think there is probably more respect at a higher level. I don’t know whether that’s down to the fact that some of the skill level that you see in futsal is probably at the higher level than 11-a-side. With futsal players, I’ve found if you are honest and say honestly I didn’t see, they’ll take that, whereas 11-a-side they’re far more in your face. I’ve found futsal players tend to be easier to talk to and build a rapport with.
How do you personally deal with the abuse?
AM: In general, it depends. In futsal, it’s normally a quick word with the players and if they carry on then it’s a yellow card. Normally in football, the problem is you go through the step approach which is the player, then the captain and then produce the card. You give them enough warnings so as I say they hang themselves really if they carry on. It’s a lot easier to get abuse in football than futsal.
What are the differences with regards to the crowd reactions towards you?
FS: It depends where you are. In futsal, when you go to Manchester, the atmosphere is set up that you don’t tend to hear what the crowd is saying. With 11-a-side, if you’re on the line, maybe it’s because your concentration levels aren’t as high, you notice what the crowd are saying. With futsal, you can’t afford to take your eye off the ball, there’s no place to hide as you’ve got to be constantly watching that game. In 11-a-side, the ball goes out of play and you get your breath back and you’ve got that little bit of time.
Do you think enough is being done to encourage more young referees into futsal?
AM: There needs to be a lot more done on it. It’s something I try and push locally. There’s not enough referees in futsal in Hertfordshire. I think we’ve got two referees on the National League this season but that’s it. As for youngsters, there’s not a lot going on. When I spoke to the local FA a few months ago, they are doing a course in September or October, but it’s been hard to try and push that. I know a lot of referees that want to do that course and a lot of them are youngsters, some are refereeing futsal and they want to take the next step. They’ve done the referee course but they want to do futsal as well. But trying to get them involved is very hard now. The person who used to help out in our area left last summer and he did a lot for futsal in the county. Now, the people who have taken over haven’t done enough in my mind to push it forward, it’s more gone backwards since he’s left.
FS: I’m more focused on developing other referees. If we’ve got young referees and I’ve got one lad and he’s really keen, in five years’ time, he could well be knocking on the door of doing some of the top National League games because the opportunities are there. For a young referee, you’ve got a better chance with futsal than with 11-a-side. One of our development officers has said “we’ve got youngsters at the age of 16, dropping out of playing football, how can we address it?”, and he sees futsal as a way of addressing it. In Lancashire, there aren’t many futsal referees up here, so our challenge is to try and get out there and sell it to the referees and to the clubs. The clubs that we’ve had taking part in this pilot league, you can see an improvement in their skill level and if they can take that into their 11-a-side, other teams will start to ask well what are you been doing differently? That will help us grow the league and then as the league grows, we’ve then got to say we need the referees. I know the Referees Department (in the FA) have been told it’s got to start coming on their radar, they’ve got to be aware of it and doing more about it.
What’s the best way to get youngsters involved in refereeing futsal?
AM: There needs to be a lot more courses arranged. It’s a lot more aware in the north rather than the south. The universities do a lot which is great but they don’t do enough publicity to show what it’s like. Eurosport does it and it would be nice if Sky could pick it up and push it a little further.
Give us an insight into what’s like to be a women officiating both sports?
FS: When I’ve run the line on the Super League 1, they just get on and play. They’re not interested in you as an assistant. If you were to make a massive mistake, then they may react differently but I’ve found at that level, the women football players are not that fussed with the referee as they just want to get on. Lower down in 11-a-side women’s football, they get a bit more catty but that’s the same with the men’s game. You probably get more arguments at lower down with women’s 11-a-side than the semi-pro women’s football. Generally, with women’s futsal, especially with the universities, it’s more about educating the players because they’re not as used to futsal. Even at the highest level, the gulf between women’s futsal compared to the men’s futsal is huge, and it’s probably a bigger gulf between men’s and women’s futsal at the top level than 11-a-side.
How can more girls be encouraged to playing futsal?
FS: I don’t think there’s anything targeted at women particularly. They’re doing more with the National League as they’ve brought in a Women’s National League but I think they’re trying to grow the game of futsal (as a whole). If you’re trying to develop a sport, you’ve still got a lot more boys playing 11-a-side than girls, so you target where you’ve got the bigger group of people interested because once you’ve got the boys going, then you get all the girls going. What I like about futsal is that the Football League clubs do their 16-18 programme, teams can be mixed in that. I’ve seen girls playing alongside boys at those futsal games and I think that it is fantastic because as futsal is far more technical and less contact, they can put the girls alongside them.
What are your opinions on VAR?
RA: I see the benefits of its use and I also see the negatives of it. In the Liverpool-Manchester City game, it would have benefitted City twice. You had the assistant behind the goal, who I feel doesn’t benefit anyone, who is someone who literally stands there with a stick in his hand who could have easily told the assistant referee that it had come off Milner and not a City player. With offsides, I can see how it could be helpful because it’s sometimes hard to keep up with the play.
AM: It can be good and it can be not. Looking at it as a referee, it does need a little more tweaking to make it right. Until it’s completely, you’re always going to have problems with the big games but for me personally, I just want to referee. It’s not ready for the World Cup yet. Over here and in Europe it hasn’t gone well and I think in America they use it a lot and it seems that it might be working over there but not as much over here. It depends on what guidelines they are using. But I think with the World Cup, it might be a bit too soon to put it into place for such a big tournament especially when officials aren’t really used to it.
FS: If they can get it right, then that’s great. You’re always going to have teething problems when you bring it in but if they can speed up the process, it’ll be helpful. I found it a bit strange that they were doing it in the FA Cup and at a Premier League ground, you can have VAR but if it’s a ground outside of the Premier League, you can’t have it. They need to develop some sort of system that they can take and put into grounds there and then because you’re going to get some of the non-league teams getting into the latter rounds of the FA Cup. Can you develop where if they’re at home, they also get the benefit of VAR? The last thing you want is for one of these non-league teams to go out because of a dodgy decision.
Do you think VAR will be necessary in futsal?
RA: I don’t think it’s needed because most decisions are black and white. The only thing I can see it being beneficial for is whether a ball is struck before the buzzer went because it would help. Futsal is a bit like basketball so if you shoot before the buzzer, it’s a goal and I know that it’s happened once on the Super League this season where a ball was struck on the buzzer.
AM: The problem is that VAR takes too long. Futsal is a quick game and you just won’t have time to go back and to actually watch it because it’s so quick. That would be the biggest problem. It’s got to be something that’s going to be instant but if it’s not then there’s no need for it.
FS: Possibly but as one of the criticisms of VAR is that it slows the game down, futsal is even quicker. If you consulting a VAR and looking at a screen, it gives the players time to get their breath, time to reshape, talk and work out the next tactics, you don’t want to bring that in futsal because part of futsal is that you only get one timeout per half per team and you have to manage everything within the time. Unless there was a way of having an instant decision within a couple of seconds, I think it would be even worse in futsal than in 11-a-side.
Photo Credit @ Wikimedia Commons