They walked different paths towards becoming match officials but Riley Kirkaldy, Jake Southward and Jack Fisher have one thing in common – their passion for refereeing.
Northern NSW Football is celebrating Newcastle Permanent Referee Recognition Week from July 20 to 26, thanking the wonderful match officials who make playing football across northern NSW possible.
Kirkaldy, Fisher and Southward are the NNSWF match official administration, appointments and education officers respectively. Together, they work under Senior Officer – Match Official Administration and Development Brad Carlin to keep the NNSWF referee operation running smoothly.
Kirkaldy has been refereeing for six years. The 18-year-old got his start when a friend completed a Level 4 course the previous season which planted the seed.
Southward started refereeing with Macquarie Football in 2012 but has since turned his focus to coaching and developing referees.
Fisher no longer referees but enjoyed six seasons with the whistle before starting work with the NNSWF Referees department.
“I love being able to see a different side of the game and its participants,” Kirkaldy said.
“You are meeting new people all the time, players, coaches, etc. But there was also a new community that I was welcomed into.
“You never quite know how tough a referee’s job is until you put yourself in that position. It’s a challenging but rewarding experience.
“Becoming a referee is a way to give back to the game that many people have played or been involved with their whole lives.
“I think that it is important for everyone to have some knowledge of what a referee’s job actually is, in order to build up the amount of respect that we show each other in the game.
“Even if you don’t care about all that, it’s a great way to earn a little pocket money and keep fit while being involved with a game that we love.”
Southward, 23, said while being a match official had its challenges, it provided a great opportunity to stay involved in the game.
“I love being able to be able to spend time around football and see the game from another perspective,” Southward said.
“It is always a challenge dealing with and managing different personalities on the field. All players react differently to different incidents which keeps you on your toes as a referee.
“If you love football it is a great opportunity to be involved in the game and earn some extra money at the same time.
“All referees have one thing in common and that is that they love the game. I have plenty of great memories with the people I’ve met through refereeing and have plenty of friends through refereeing.”
Fisher acknowledged that match official abuse from players, coaches and spectators remained the biggest hurdle for referees to overcome. But the 21-year-old also highlighted the wonderful memories he had enjoyed from his refereeing career.
“[Abuse] wasn’t a huge issue for me when I was younger as I wasn’t too fazed by it. You knew you were never going to please everyone even if you nailed all of your decisions correctly,” Fisher said.
“But for many other referees it’s an extremely difficult thing to face on a weekly basis. It’s definitely our biggest obstacle in terms of retention of referees each year.
“Football has always been a passion of mine, so just being involved in the game in any capacity or role is always going to be something I’ll enjoy and refereeing ticked that box when I was younger.
“Your fondest memories of refereeing, as cliché as it’s going to sound, are the days on which you got to officiate alongside mates.
“Whether they were classmates from school, teammates that you also played with, other referees that you had officiated with for so many years, or even a combination of any of those, it would just make the day that much more enjoyable.”