Since beginning his refereeing career at the ripe age of 16 in Tamworth, James Cleal has risen right to the very top of the ranks in Australia as a Hyundai A-League Official, and even assisted the referees in the AFC Asian Cup.
Having played in representative teams in his early playing days, alongside the likes of Nigel Boogard and Troy Hearfield, James’ passion for football led him to officiating which quickly became a role that he loved just as much as playing.
James said being a referee presents him with opportunities to integrate and experience the sport he loves, in various different ways.
“The main reason I enjoy Refereeing is having the best seat in the house to watch the game,” said James.
“I love that the game is playable by all shapes and sizes and isn’t dictated by who is the tallest, the biggest, the fastest or the strongest.
“No matter your strengths, there’s a position on the field that you can play in and for that reason, football becomes a game accessible to anyone to play.
“Refereeing gives you all sorts of opportunities to experience the game in a way very few will ever get to achieve.
“It’s given me the opportunity to travel around the country and experience football in all sorts of locations, something I hope will continue the longer I get to remain operating on the Hyundai A-League.”
James has officiated in the Hyundai A-League for a couple of seasons now, and although he’s a local boy, admits that he has forced himself to not become supportive of any teams, and will continue to as he tries to continue moving onto greater heights.
“In the Hyundai A-League and Westfield W-League, I follow the referees,” James confessed.
“They’re a high-performance team expected to operate on the highest level without the same amount of funding or support available to the other teams.
“As a Referee in the Hyundai A-League, you can’t really get too invested in any particular team because you’re really only focused on getting that next decision right. I don’t necessarily see players or teams, I see blue player number 6 or red player number 8.”
Having become a veteran of elite refereeing, James has learnt to combat the negativity and enjoys sharing with prospecting referees.
He even has multiple innovations and initiatives that he feels would begin to stamp out problems officials often face.
“I don’t think there’s been a game where I haven’t experienced ‘negativity’,” James said.
“Football is a frustrating and tense game which is one of the things we love about it given how close and tense it can be.
“I try and stay objective and remove the emotion of the moment.
“Did I do my best and make the most correct decision I could with the information I had available? If so, then that’s all I can do and if I got it wrong then I try and understand why I got it wrong to avoid making the same mistake next time.
“A more practical solution might be the introduction of a ‘sin-bin’. It is being trialled at some levels of football for certain offences but I’d love to have the use of a sin-bin for dissent especially.”
James’ career has already seen him amazingly leap to the top stage, and he encouraged others that if they too want to experience football in the unique ways he has, and even develop various skills that aren’t football related, they should just give refereeing a go.
“If you like interacting with people, enjoy the game and talking about the game and being in the game and analysing the game, then you will love refereeing,” James suggested.
“I’ve also known referees who have quickly developed excellent public speaking skills as well as learning from criticism, thanks to the regular practice refereeing provides.
“Give it a go, you’ve got nothing to lose and until you have tried it, don’t critic or abuse someone who has,” James concluded.
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