By Evin Grant
As the FAI look to increase their pool of referees for the coming years, TheCity.ie takes a look at where budding officials gain experience at schoolboy level, and asks whether the problems that arise on the pitch are really worth the hassle?
Among this new crop of referees is a young Lucan man by the name of Adam O’Dowd. When asked about what attracted him to becoming a referee, he shrugged his shoulders, and said: “I love football, I want to be involved in it. I wasn’t good enough to play professionally so I took up coaching first and then refereeing. I lost interest in coaching so being a referee appealed to me more.”
O’Dowd is 23-years-old and has been officiating schoolboy football matches in the Dublin District Schoolboys League since the age of 20. In those three years, he has experienced a series of highs and lows that have put his love for football to the test.
“It was daunting starting out. But the more games you do, the more at ease you become, and it gets easier from there. There are times when I question why I do it,” he said.
“I’ll come home on a Saturday afternoon in the horrors after being lambasted in more than one match. It’s not a nice feeling at all and makes you wonder whether it’s even all worth it.”
Following a series of abuse aimed at officials in the Kildare District Underage League and Dublin District Schoolboy League earlier this year, the FAI released a statement hitting back at claims that they do not do enough to adequately protect their referees.
“The FAI condemns any threat of violence against a referee and will take action against anyone found guilty of any behaviour that threatens a referee, verbally or physically,” the association said.
“The FAI would like to reassure all referees that a zero-tolerance policy is in effect in relation to any threats against match officials.”
O’Dowd is one of thousands of schoolboy referees across the country who have received a barrage of verbal abuse and physical threats during his time officiating.
“This year alone, I’ve been threatened four or five times, and had abuse thrown at me in every second game. Whether it’s a coach, player or parent on the side-line, there’s no filter when it comes to speaking to a referee,” O’Dowd said.
“The FAI, I think, can only do so much. There’s a procedure for us [referees] to report abuse or threats and it sometimes works. But it’s more about educating people. If we can promote respect for referees and maybe have stricter punishments in place, then it might get better.”
Brendan Oliver, U12 coach at Collinstown FC, recently received praise for pulling his team off the pitch due to abuse directed at the game’s referee from the opposition side.
“I always tell the players to not say anything to the referee that they wouldn’t say to me. When a decision is made, right or wrong, it’s done. We can’t change it, so we have to show respect and move on,” Oliver said.
“That day, we felt the treatment of the referee was unacceptable and we didn’t want any part of it. He [the referee] thanked us and we were vindicated. We were 3-1 up with 20 minutes left and we were still awarded the win.”
O’Dowd was keen to point out that, just like Oliver’s team, there is a positive side to refereeing at schoolboy level.
“It’s not all doom and gloom like. I’ve refereed loads of games where both teams have been respectable and thanked me for my efforts. They’re the times when I’m reminded of why I do it.”