When did you decide to become a referee, and who were some of the influences on your career?
I started refereeing at the early age of 12 in Cupertino, California. I was playing as a goalkeeper and, at the time, wearing a black shirt. One of the referees for the next game did not show up and one of the parents from my team was scheduled as the referee. Remember, this was a time when the two referee system was common practice. So, this parent asked me if I wanted to referee. I was concerned that I did not have the required referee equipment or uniform but was convinced that my black shirt would suffice as black was the only color worn by referees at that time.
I was very fortunate to have many great mentors during my officiating journey. Initially, I was helped considerably by two refereeing icons from Northern California. The first, was U.S. Soccer Hall-of-Famer Umberto Abronzino. He sent me to all the tough games. He also would assign me to officiate with him and he was the godfather of soccer in Northern California. So, I got lots of tough experience but was protected by Mr. Abronzino.
My second mentor was John Davies. Mr. Davies was one of the top referees in the old NASL. He was a transplanted FIFA referee from Canada. He was teaching a soccer referee course at a local community college that I attended. He noticed that I was a receptive and studious participant in the class. He took me under his wings and began to mold me into not only a referee but a professional. Mr. Davies was tough and I mean tough. He taught me to never be satisfied with anything but being the best.
Due to the mentoring of Mr. Abronzino and Mr. Davies, I was selected to be a linesman in the NASL at 19 years of age. I was young (and had a lot more hair then, by the way) but I was hungry. Within two years, I was running line on a NASL playoff game.
At a young age, I was also provided the opportunity to referee professional indoor soccer working for the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL). While learning the indoor officiating trade, I was fortunate to be mentored by Dr. Herb Silva who was the Director of Officials for many years and is now the Director of Professional Referees for the United States Soccer Federation. My indoor experience and the teaching of Dr. Silva taught me new lessons about player management and were critical in developing my personality and the ability to think under pressure.
In 1984 during the Olympic Games held in the United States, I was blessed because I met another wonderful person who was not hesitant to share his experiences and wealth of information with me. That person was Mr. Fernando Alvarez, who now lives in Northern California. At the time, Mr. Alvarez was on the FIFA Referee Committee representing the Asian Confederation. This was a critical moment because Mr. Alvarez was in charge of the Stanford venue for the Olympic referees. I was the referee liaison. Mr. Alvarez included me on all the referee events from the daily training sessions, to walking the field before the game, to the post-game debrief. With this experience, I knew that I wanted to be a FIFA referee. From that point forward, Mr. Alvarez has always been there for me and to help me maneuver the many winding roads associated with refereeing. Even today, Mr. Alvarez is a valuable asset helping guide my off-the-field career.
What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of the refereeing profession by coaches, players, fans and the media?
The magnitude and difficulty of the job the referee team faces every game. Soccer is the only sport in which decisions by officials can have such a great impact on the outcome of the game. For example, what other sports have a red card in which a team cannot replace a player for the remainder of the game. How many other sports have the penalty kick or no penalty kick decision that can lead to an almost certain goal? These are two examples of potential game-changing decisions that referees are regularly faced with.
Additionally, most referees from around the world are not professional in the sense that refereeing is their sole job. To maintain a high level of fitness and sanity when refereeing is not your primary job, is a credit to all officials. Players train daily and they have professionals to assist them in training and in recovery. Referees typically have themselves are motivators and cannot walk into a locker room for a daily massage as the modern player can. To maintain high standards is a testament to the general positive mental approach by and dedication of soccer officials.
The advent of technology has made the job more difficult. Soccer referees have a split second to make crucial decisions. The media has 20 plus camera angles to utilize to question the referee’s decision. So, the elite referee has had to learn to mentally and psychologically deal with external pressures outside of their control.
From your perspective as former professional referee. What are the best and worst aspects of being a referee and/or assistant?
The best is the friendships and the experiences that soccer gives you. With that comes the daily challenge of working hard to be your best – the pushing yourself to excel. I loved the challenge to prove others wrong. As referees, we make mistakes but these must not sink us. Others may want to see us sink but the challenge is coming back and proving these naysayers wrong.
The worst part of refereeing is the feeling you have, after the game, when you realize you have made a mistake. Although refereeing mistakes are honest, we take them to heart. It is hard to drop the weight of a bad decision off your shoulders. The sleepless nights (yes, nights not night). The public ridicule. The personal soul searching. They all take their toll on you and your family.
In your opinion, what are the key attributes that a modern-day referee must have to be successful domestically and internationally?
Elite officials must have a “feel” for the game. They must read the game and be the director of the orchestra. They must sense problems and take preventative measures before they raise their ugly head. To do this, referees must have a personality. They must find creative ways to communicate with players and coaches in a way that demonstrates positive authority and in a manner that helps channel player behavior.
In the modern game, fitness is vital due to the speed of the game. However, appropriate closeness to play means nothing if it is not accompanied by a positive referee message which is the result of how the referee uses his or her personality to influence player behavior or the direction of the game. Referees must have personalities as players have personalities but the referee must always remember their personality cannot be bigger than the game itself.
The modern referee must be seen and heard when the game requires him or her to be seen and heard. Through a feel for the game and the players the referee must know when to impart his or her personality on the game. Over time, the referee’s decisions and personality ultimate show the players where the referee’s “line in the sand” is for that game.
How do you diffuse a volatile situation that you know players are about to explode?
Referees must always remain calm and in-control. They cannot over react and they must have tried to anticipate and prevent the issue from arising. Getting to a spot early, having a presence as the heat rises, can help to control volatile situations. So, an early presence where the players can feel your “aura” around them is a definite plus. As the referee moves to the situation, a quick and sharp whistle is a good aid as is a strong voice. Remember, assistant referees can also lend their presence to prevent escalation depending upon the pregame discussions or the advice of the national association regarding assistant referee involvement.
What do you thing about the ‘RESPECT” campaign that is going on in Europe for the last 2 years?
We all like respect. Respect is a part of life both on and off the field. However, respect is often lost in competition. Players like to be respected by referees and the other players. Referees want to be respected by players and coaches. Anything that can help all parties show more respect for each other and keep the ideals of respect on the forefront are positive for the game and positive for the referee community.
At what stage of your career did you decide to focus on becoming a FIFA referee?
As I mentioned above, I decided I wanted to be a FIFA referee in 1984 during the Olympic Games in the United States. Working this tournament with great referees like David Socha (two time World Cup referee from the USA) and Joel Quiniou (three time World Cup referee from France), I developed the passion and drive to want to follow in their footsteps. I was 21 years old and I set a goal to become a FIFA referee by the time I was 30. Through hard work, excellent mentors and lots of luck, I was able to accomplish this objective.
Tell about your style of officiating how would you describe it.
I think commenting on my style of officiating is best left to others but I strived to be fair and apply the Laws of the Game using common sense and through a feel for the moment. As I matured, my style evolved and matured as well. Additionally, as the game changed over time, I worked hard to make sure I was on the leading edge of the change and never caught off guard. I feel that my coaching background gave me good insight into what players are thinking and what teams may be thinking at any moment of a game.
Most memorable game moment?
My most memorable game was the encounter between Italy and Ecuador which was my first whistle during the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan. As I walked onto the field my body was covered with goose bumps. The FIFA anthem was singing in my head. The excitement of the crowd reverberated through my body. But, most importantly, I felt the energy of all 120,000 USA referees carrying me on their shoulders onto the field of play. My dream had become a reality. My goal was no longer a goal.
In your new position at CONCACAF, How do you thing you can help to improve the refereeing?
I am very thankful to CONCACAF President Jack Warner and General Secretary Chuck Blazer for, first, identifying the need to put more resources into refereeing in our region. And, second, for their confidence in me in that I can work with the various stakeholders (Referee Committee, National Associations, FIFA and the referees) in CONCACAF to help in the development of the talented referees that reside in our region. I believe I can first help the development of our officials by providing some professional structure to the referee department and by improving the exchange of information that needs to flow between all the stakeholders.
To make Mr. Blazer’s vision a reality, I need to be a facilitator and open lines of communication. Our goal will be to help all the stakeholders do their jobs better and more efficiently and to provide resources to make better decisions and help referees develop to their full potential.
What advice would you give to anyone who desires to become a referee?
Anyone who has the desire to referee must first start with passion for the game and the desire to give back to the game. Without these foundations, given the ups and downs associated with refereeing, the person’s officiating career will be short lived. Be someone who likes challenges and does not shy away from challenges even though there may be associated failures. As an official moves up the officiating ladder, they must be cognizant of the fact that “balance” is vital. As demands on time increase due to items like games, training and travel, the referee must be able to find the appropriate balance in life. Balancing family, job, soccer and other issues become more difficult. Often times, more difficult than the games themselves.
Finally, I would recommend that the referee always strive to be the best they can be. Not every referee can be a MLS referee, a FIFA referee, let alone a national referee. But, every referee can work to improve by becoming a student of the game.
Brian, thank you very much for your kind and insightful contribution to our Referee Community.
US Referee Connection is pleased to welcome Mr. Brian Hall,
He is the new Director of Referee Administration for CONCACAF.
Brian, please accept a warm welcome to US Referee Connection.