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Published 19 January 2022 4 min read

Lee Markwick: 'Oscar Wilde summed up the art of refereeing perfectly...'

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Lee Markwick

Essex official discusses his journey into refereeing and explains why it is up to the adults to set the standards for acceptable behaviour for children playing football

My name is Lee Markwick, I’m 59 and I am a retired fire officer with 30 years’ service. I retired in 2017, attained an Award in Education and Training qualification, and set up my health and safety business as a trainer and advisor. I deliver fire safety, hoarding disorder, mental health, and speed awareness courses. I am also a volunteer Covid-19 vaccination marshal. I am married with two grown-up sons and I lived in London up until the age of 14 before then moving to Essex.

Football has always been a passion of mine. I have always played it, since a young age. In London, I lived in flats with my parents and there were always lots of children around so there was always football going on. Whenever you see sketches on TV where they get their coats out and put them on the ground for goalposts, that is very much what used to happen. Once we would finish school, all the children would get changed and meet up to play football until you got called in for your dinner. That was every day, including the weekends.

My Dad took me to my first professional match when I was about 9 and I still get the same buzz today whenever I walk out to my seat and see the pitch and supporters.  I’ve always played football in teams, including representing and managing the Fire Service, which took me around the country.

I have been a manager, a coach, I’ve done my FA level two coaching qualification, I was a talent scout for a professional club, plus I’m also an FA referee tutor, observer, mentor, and futsal referee.

I stopped playing football at the age of 50 but I had already decided to take my referee course a year earlier having taken my son to watch him referee his games.

It was my eldest son who at 14 became a referee. He inspired me to take up the whistle having watched him regularly take charge of a match and apply the Laws of the Game. I soon realised that as a football player for many years I didn’t understand anything about what I considered the ‘rules’. I soon got the bug and I’m now in my tenth season!

Lee Markwick has been involved with football for most of his life
Lee Markwick has been involved with football for most of his life

In my second season I got a double promotion and then the year after I got promoted to level four, which I did for three seasons, before a promotion at work meant I couldn’t commit the time needed to be a level four referee, so I dropped back down to level five. It was then I also started to officiate women’s games. Then during my retirement, I decided to get back to the level that I was at before and also pursue promotion on the women’s pathway.

I like the buzz of refereeing, the challenge, and being involved in the game. On Saturdays, it’s at the county level in the local leagues, so the teams who win promotion will be promoted to a senior league at the semi-pro level. I’m currently a 3W referee on the FA Women’s National League and a 2W assistant referee on the FA Women’s Championship to try to get my promotion so I can do the middle at that level and assist in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League.

When I started watching my son referee and watching what he had to do, it gave me just a different perspective of the game I had never appreciated or considered before. How much knowledge they needed to have, fitness levels so that they are close to the action to sell their decisions, their communication skills, and how they remain calm whilst having to manage highly emotive players and managers.  

Becoming a referee has allowed me to walk out on the pitch and still feel involved in football such as the atmosphere, being amongst the players, the comical comments, and witnessing at close hand an amazing piece of skill, a fair tackle, fantastic save, and of course a great goal. Although you are the decision-maker, I appreciate the technical ability of other players, especially as someone who used to play football himself. I like that part of refereeing. I also like the fitness side of it. I probably run more now as a referee than I did as a player!

Unfortunately, there is a culture of abuse in football and I have witnessed parents and managers fighting and making referees cry. All forms of abuse must be eradicated to respect the game. I think it can be achieved if we go to the root cause, which I see as clubs, managers, and parents and guardians setting the standards on what behaviour is acceptable. When a young player witnesses their manager, mum, dad, grandad etc. shouting and screaming at referees and other parents, that is learned behaviour. They will continue the behaviour witnessed as they get older because their role models, the adults, act and behave irresponsibly and make it acceptable in football. Through better education and clubs taking responsibility for who they have managing, coaching, and representing their clubs, I feel we can easily change that culture. 

I still find it difficult going to watch my son referee when I hear the abuse and comments directed at him just because of a football match. He is my son first and a referee second. I’m sure this must be the same for any parent or guardian including those who have a son or daughter in the professional game.

17 Nov 2021 0:42

Respect the Ref

From the warm-up to the final whistle, see the game from your ref’s perspective

I used to manage my son’s team, plus the local school team and the school district team, and I used to get the parents together at the start of the season and ask them not to coach or shout at their child, the referee or argue with other parents.  I wanted their football education to be in a safe and enjoyable environment. If I saw a manager, parent or supporter from the other team getting overly emotive, I would remind the other manager of our safeguarding responsibilities towards children and they would often say ‘fair enough you are right’.

Luckily the parents of my teams bought into the safe environment ethos and I think the children loved the idea of their parents just going to football and letting them play rather than shouting and telling them what to do throughout the game.

Refereeing or coaching a football team is about managing people and for me with my Fire Service background, where I was a watch manager and in charge of 12 firefighters every day, where we would attend life-threatening and sometimes very traumatic incidents, going out onto a football pitch and having to deal with a couple of decisions that people are not happy with, I didn’t find that very hard to be honest.

I am fortunate enough to have those life skills but those 14-year-olds who start their referee journey don’t always have those lived experiences yet and people need to appreciate this. But in saying that, I do believe every individual brings a skill they possess to their refereeing, be it as a carer at home, those who have part-time jobs, head person or prefects at school, those who are with St John Ambulance and the Territorial Army. They have leadership skills that I try to tap into on the FA referee course to say ‘right we can use these skills in your role as a referee because you are used to communicating with people, you are used to dealing with situations in highly emotive situations so what you have already are fantastic people skills and you can use those qualities’. 

Then it is a case of helping them learn the Laws of the Game and being in the right place on the pitch so that they can explain, educate and sell their decisions to the players, managers, and supporters.

Refereeing is very similar to any job where you need to get out and learn your trade. It is an ever learning and developing role where you need to build up your experience. I feel Oscar Wilde summed up the art of refereeing perfectly when he quoted: ‘Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes'.

So, if you are interested in taking up refereeing and not afraid of making mistakes, I would say, no matter what age you are, give it a try. If anyone would like to discuss further or even if you need support, then feel free to contact me via the FA.