When did you decide to become a referee, and who were some of the influences on your career?
- First, thank you for the invitation and I'’m honored to be asked to talk with you. I was 12 years old when I started refereeing in 1984. I can actually tell you the age group, location, and referee I did my first game with. My mom’'s brother thought it would be a good idea for someone like me to learn and make a little money. As a 12-year old, it was great money. And I loved doing it. So much so that several local referees who were “"higher up"” and around for a while picked up on that and motivated me.
There are so many influences and so much support throughout my career that it'’s hard to name names because I could not possibly name everyone. I was fortunate, and still am, to learn from some of the best people in the US and the world. At a very young age I was exposed to tournaments like Dallas Cup where I met FIFA referees from around the world, and other national and international level tournaments. But I learn from my colleagues today, too. I always believe that regardless of how far you get in your career you can learn from anyone - – including fans, coaches, players, and of course other referees!
What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of the refereeing profession by coaches, players, fans and the media?
- There'’s so much money and pressure in the game at the highest levels that I think everyone expects the referees to be superhuman. We’'re expected to be right all of the time, but we make mistakes -– just like the players and coaches. But we'’re neutral, and they'’re not. Our job is to keep the game fair and so we have to read it and learn and modify our behavior just like the others on the field. I don'’t honestly believe, regardless of which league it is in the world that the referees make as many mistakes as the fans and media think we do. In fact, I would suggest that we'’re right more often than not -– you just have to be neutral and understand the Laws of the Game. That'’s how we apply it...…and that’'s how we should. It doesn'’t matter if it'’s a Friendly, or it'’s a bit harsh, or whatever.
From your perspective as a professional referee. What are the best and worst aspects of being a referee and/or assistant?
- Well, first and foremost I think the best aspects are the camaraderie among the referees, the cities and restaurants we get to visit, and that we get the best seat in the house for all of the games. But all of those things take us away from our families –- and for me, that'’s the worst part about it.
In your opinion, what are the key attributes that a modern-day referee must have to be successful domestically and internationally?
- The key attributes in my opinion are: fitness - you have to remain very fit to do what we do, and it’'s not easy as you get older; confidence –- if you don’'t have confidence, you won'’t make it (but watch that confidence doesn’'t become arrogance!); passion -– you have to have a passion for the game that runs very deep; empathy –- you have to play the game at the highest level you can, in my opinion, to learn from it and to have the understanding of what the players go through (I learned that from Brian Hall). I was lucky after college to play a short stint in Germany in the Landesliga. It wasn’'t the highest level, but it was really good at the time. I learned so much and apply lessons from college and my time in Germany in almost every game I’'m involved in.
How do you diffuse a volatile situation that you know players are about to explode?
- There’'s not one way, but many ways. It all depends on the situation. I’ have done anything from crack a quick joke ("“I didn'’t know you two needed a date for after the game”"), use words, or even better -– actions to calm them down, or even just look at them and say, "“go ahead".” Usually they'’re confused at that point they just walk away. But in any case, you can'’t over react.
What are your impressions about the proposal to add additional assistant’s referees on the pitch?
- I really don’'t know much about it. UEFA seems pretty happy with the results of their tests, from what I hear. I’'m sure that it could be effective if it'’s used in the right way.
What do you think about the ‘RESPECT” campaign that is going on in Europe for the last 2 years?
- I think it’'s great! This is a game in which you really need to respect your opponent, the fans, and the referees. I said it earlier, we’'re all human and we make mistakes. The sad part for me is that it takes a deliberate '‘campaign'’ to drive the behavior that should be normal.
At what stage of your career did you decide to focus on becoming a FIFA Assistant Referee?
- At 14 years old, I learned what a FIFA referee was and that’'s what I wanted to achieve. I set the goal of becoming a FIFA referee at that point. It wasn'’t until 1995 that FIFA ARs were introduced. That was the year I was playing in Germany and had already achieved the State Referee (5) level. My goal, even at that point, was to make the FIFA Panel as a referee. In 1997 I was invited to attend the MLS Pre-season referee camp in Orlando. I was one of four, or so, State Referees included in the group -– and was only slated to do 4th Officials in Kansas City. After two years of working as a 4th Official in MLS, and working the amateur tournaments and Division II games, a couple local people who were on the US Soccer Referee Committee came to me and asked if I would be interested in being an AR rather than a Referee. They said I was a really good referee, but an excellent AR and they thought I had a chance at the FIFA Panel about two years from then. That'’s when I started to focus on being an AR. In 2001 I was nominated and selected for the 2002 Panel at the age of 30.
I want to add something to this, though. I don’'t believe at all that people should try to track themselves as referees or ARs as I hear very often is the case. You have to be a good referee and understand the game from both positions. The chips will fall where they fall. For me, this is very important for our future referees at the professional level.
What’s your pre-match routine?
- I like to travel in the afternoon the day before the game so I can finish my work day on the plane and get into the city so there are no problems. But on game day I like to sleep in, go for a walk around the hotel –- maybe even get a light upper body workout in, visit with the other referees, and take a nap. I always shower before leaving the hotel, too. When we get to the stadium it’'s important for me to be relaxed, but respect the things the other guys need, too. Always a bottle of water in hand to be properly hydrated.
There’'s something I do that only one person has ever picked up on...… and I don'’t know why I do it. It'’s a pre-game thing while running down to check the nets. I do it the same way every time -– and if I mess it up, I get freaked out and have to get over it quickly. I won’'t tell you what it is... …you'’ll have to watch and see if you can pick it up. But finally, when the referee blows the whistle to start the game, I make the Sign of the Cross –- so God’'s with me through the game, and kiss my ring finger for my wife and kids –- so I do the best I can to make my family proud of me. And then I tell myself to "“earn your badge today!"”
Pre match meal?
- Chicken Quesadillas
We all have bad games, how do you deal such match in your mind?
- It’'s difficult. You have to get through it –- or you won'’t survive. I really hate to make mistakes, but when you make one – you know it right away. Sometimes there'’s nothing you can do about it, except learn from it. In order to get to the top, you have to be able to make a mistake, learn from it, and move on quickly. Do the best you can… and sometimes it’'s just not good enough. Sometimes I think about my mistakes for days, but it'’s important to be through it before you leave for the next game.
Tell about your style of officiating how would you describe it?
- I feel like I tend to lean toward a style where I expect the players and coaches to respect the game and follow the rules where they'’re supposed to. I can be flexible, but there comes a time when flexibility goes out the window and it’'s time to draw the line. The game is physical and challenging and exhausting and emotional. But you should still have respect for it. When I was playing I was one of the worst when it came to yelling at referees. I wish now that I would have kept my mouth shut and just played -– I would have been a much better player. I think I have a good feeling for the game and that helps with my decision-making.
Most memorable game moment?
-There are so many! But I'’d probably have to say the 2005 MLS Semi-final between New England and Chicago where an offside decision I made ended up having a lot of repercussions on a lot of levels. The decision was correct, by the way, in the 91st minute and kept the game from being tied. I'’m pretty sure the video is still on YouTube and the situation is used by US Soccer for training because it involved every single aspect of offside: concentration, positioning, and the correct application of the Law.
How often do you train?
-It depends on my work schedule, to be honest. I try to train at least four times per week with a minimum of recovery and stretching, 30-45 minute endurance run, hi-level track or treadmill work, and pre-game. But if I can get a fifth training in, I do!
What advice would you give to anyone who desires to become a referee?
- Being a referee is a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it at the youth level and still do after 10 years on the FIFA Panel. You can learn a lot from being a referee. Have fun and enjoy it – first and foremost!
George, thank you very much for your kind and insightful contribution to our Referee Community.
US Referee Connection is pleased to welcome Mr. George Gansner. He is a FIFA referee since 2001 and a MLS referee.
George, please accept a warm welcome to US Referee Connection.