Richard West Q&A
So Richard, tell us about how and why you got involved in Refereeing?
I was 14 playing football for Springhead Spartans when a local referee, Les Fussey, recommended myself and two of the other lads try refereeing, suggesting that if we were any good the world was our oyster. It paid the same as my paper round so I thought why not! I did the course at the Old YPI building on George Street in Hull one night every week until I passed the exam. Once qualified I started refereeing on the Sunday Boys league. Once old enough I progressed into men’s football whilst continuing to play at University. I was fortunate enough to get promoted to be a linesman on what was then the Unibond League. This was my first experience of football at a higher level. It was at this point I realised that to progress I had to concentrate solely on refereeing and I gave up playing. You also know when you start off playing up front and over time gradually come backwards and end up in goal like I did that it may be time! I refereed the inaugural match of the Humber Premier League in 2000 which at that time was the first season I refereed with assistants. In 2004 I was promoted as an assistant referee onto the football league. Just over 18 months later I officiated my first Premier League match which was Sunderland v Wigan Athletic with Mike Riley refereeing and George Courtney assessing. Following 4 more trial games I was promoted to the Premier League the following season. In 2007 I was promoted as referee on the Football Conference as well officiating my first Champions League match in Bucharest. I completed 3 years on the FIFA list and I am now entering my 13th season on the Premier League.
How does it feel to be a Premier League Match Official?
It is an honour as there are thousands of other referees out there that would jump at the opportunity to be where I am. The sense of achievement knowing the hours of dedicated training, commitment and sacrifices I have made have finally paid off. Walking out week in week out with the household names is a great feeling but comes with responsibility. The pressure of performing at the highest level in a league which is watched by half the world's population is immense. Every decision I make is scrutinized whether by media or evaluators which can be stressful at times, however, I wouldn’t swap it.
What do you enjoy about being a Match Official?
Being part of the beautiful game of football in some capacity. I was never going to make it to the Premier League as a footballer so refereeing had afforded me that opportunity. The razzmatazz of the Premier League is such a great feeling and something I look forward to every week. I suppose I like working under the pressure being able to showcase the skills others have helped me develop over the years of refereeing. I am fortunate enough to be a full-time professional assistant referee so it is my job, I have the time to concentrate on training, studying, and preparing for matches properly unlike others lower down the leagues. I like being part of the refereeing community whether working in a team on a matchday, attending training camps, local fitness sessions or RA meetings, the camaraderie is great and we’re all in it together.
What are your greatest achievements in Football?
I suppose everyone's greatest achievements are their firsts of everything. So my first Football League game at Grimsby Town, my first Premier League game at Sunderland, my first Champions League match in Bucharest, refereeing my first Conference game at Stafford Rangers and refereeing my first FA Cup 1st Round match at Crewe Alexandra are all great achievements. Over the years I have also been lucky enough to have been appointed to a number of cup finals: 2004 FA Sunday Cup Final, 2007 FA Trophy Final, 2011 JPT Final, 2012 FA Charity shield, 2017 EFL Cup Final, all of which were an honour and great experience. Every year I complete a season on the Premier League I see as my best achievement. It is now my 13th season of which I have been an assistant referee, over 530 games and 327 of those on the Premier League.
What is your best memory of Refereeing/Match Officiating?
Refereeing has provided me with stacks of great memories which nobody can take away. However, the best one for me has to be the 2017 EFL Cup Final at Wembley between Man Utd and Southampton. Although I had officiated at Wembley before on the FA Trophy Final and JPT Final this was in front of a full house and was a humdinger of a game involving goals and was nearly a potential shock result. It also took place on my birthday weekend so following the after-match meal and a few beverages I had to get a taxi to the airport and fly out to Spain to meet my pals who were waiting for our annual golf tour. A hectic weekend but enjoyable and memorable.
What are your goals in the sport?
When you start refereeing or even playing any sport you strive to get to the highest level possible and participate in the biggest games. As an assistant on the Premier League it's always good to get the derbies or the ‘golden’ games (top six) each week which I have luckily done. However, there are 5 matches every Premier League assistant wants to officiate before they retire, the FA Cup final, FA Trophy final, FA Charity/Community Shield, League Cup Final and Championship Play Off Final. I have done 3 of the 5 so far so I would like to complete the full house and officiate the FA Cup Final and Play Off Final. Unfortunately, this is out of my hands so all I can do is perform to the highest standard and put my name in the hat at the end of each season.
Off the field I am currently studying a Masters in Sports Psychology which I can hopefully use in the future to help others. Sharing my experiences of operating at the different levels with the support of theory and strategies developed from my course I believe I have a lot to offer those in the game and youngsters coming through.
What are the biggest obstacles you have faced in the game?
When starting out as a 14-year-old in the Sunday Boys League the biggest obstacle was the players parents on the side line. The abuse they used to give you as a referee and pressure they placed on their own kids was immense. As a young referee you need the resilience and support network to get you through the hardest start to your refereeing journey. Once you enter open age it got easier and the support from colleagues gets you through the tough times.
As you enter the semi-professional and professional game that support becomes more important, especially at home. You spend so much time away from family and work it is hard to juggle all the commitments. Missing important birthdays, nights out with your mates, family engagements come with the commitments expected of you to reach the top.
Now it’s all about managing pressure, expectations and injury prevention.
Who’s had the biggest influence in your Refereeing career and why?
So many people have had an influence in my refereeing career, from Les Fussey who encouraged me to take the course, to assessors such as Colin Render who advised me through my early days on local parks. The many referees, such as Paul Robinson & Carl Boyeson who I have been out with as an assistant and learnt so much from, to those experienced referees who’ve ran my line over the years, such as Steve Lazenby, Ronnie McNaughton. More recently the local PGMOL lads such as Mark Brown, Wayne Grunnill, Matt McGrath and Steve Wade have help me on a weekly basis, discussing incidents, providing support and helping me train.
The one person who I would say has been most influential would have to be Ian Blanchard. Working as his assistant and seeing him operate as a referee in the contributory leagues and assistant on the Premier League inspired me to follow in his footsteps. I learnt so much about how to conduct yourself off the field as well as on. Always on hand to give me advice both about refereeing and about work, he was a true inspiration. As with all those have helped me I am eternally grateful and couldn’t have got to where I am without them.
What advice would you give to people wishing to get involved in Refereeing?
Why not? If you have aspirations to be involved in the professional game and may not be lucky enough to make it as a footballer, take up refereeing. The odds of making it are probably better as a referee than a footballer!