The Story of a Referee: Scott Jackson

We follow the trials and tribulations of the individuals and group of officials who uphold the FA’s values of respect and sportsmanship, as well as the Laws of the Game that govern our great game. From his biggest fan to the many friendships that he has made along the way, and even his choice of boots, Navy FA Level 2B panel referee Scott Jackson is our next featured referee.

Having started refereeing in 2011, Scott Jackson (pictured centre) is a Level 2B referee affiliated to the Navy FA, currently plying his trade as the man in the middle for National League North and South matches, and even as a fourth official on the English Football League (EFL).

My refereeing journey started in 2008 whilst I was on the Royal Navy Physical Training Instructors course at HMS Temeraire, in Portsmouth. The small group of us who undertook the course did so as part of our professional development as a Navy Physical Training Instructor. I never intended to use my refereeing ‘qualification’ whatsoever upon passing in 2008. To progress as a Navy Physical Training Instructor, it was made compulsory to upgrade an officiating qualification in one chosen sport, in which I explored which sport would be the easiest route and subsequently chose football. To progress from a trainee referee to Level 7, I simply had to complete my first six matches around the Naval base. Upon completing the six games, in my head, I had no intention to referee a game of football ever again!

Playing five-a-side daily and often training together in the gym, a colleague at HMS Drake (in Plymouth) called Jeff ‘Soapy’ Watson came into the office and informed me that he ran a local six-a-side Monday night league at Brickfields Astroturf. Despite stressing that I didn’t have the vaguest idea about what I should do, Soapy asked if I could take on the reigns in his absence one evening. He gave me a bag of balls, whistle and a set of yellow and red cards, which I coincidentally still use to this day. Increasingly, Jeff seemed unavailable to run his Monday night league. I enjoyed building bridges with players and a Wednesday night league was soon set-up, which I was landed with the task of managing. In his fine Plymothian accent, a certain player – who could often be a pain – asked: “ere ref, what level do you ref at?” I replied by explaining that I was only officiating in this midweek league. The player was pleasantly surprised, truly believing that I refereed at a higher level than the level he played at on a weekend. The conversation progressed and the player asked me to ring the local referee appointments officer. I did and soon enough, I was appointed to run the line and assist a very experienced referee, Trevor Walker, for a local game. Unfortunately, refereeing stalwart Trevor is no longer with us. He was a pleasure to be around both socially and in a football setting.

With the game looming, I rang Jeff and asked to borrow his refereeing kit in order to fulfil the fixture. Assisting him as the only assistant, I enjoyed watching Trevor’s strong decision making from start to finish. We returned to the changing room after the final whistle and I can safely say that I had been bitten by the refereeing ‘bug’.

Just as I was ‘bit’, I was in a liminal space as I was boxing locally in Plymouth. With the games coming thick and fast, the bug that I had been bitten by was becoming somewhat of a nasty infection, which I felt as though I couldn’t fight. Bizarrely, if I wasn’t out on the pitch, I wasn’t happy! Five weeks after that first bite, I contacted the Royal Navy’s senior referee Dave McNamara to discuss about progression as a professional referee and combining this with serving in the Military and working in civilian football. Always striving for better in life, at this point, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of the world-renowned, Howard Webb. At that moment, Dave brought me back down to earth to explain the difficulties and timeline for getting to the top of the English game.

Each game at grassroots level began with a trawl of the pitch for any stray lumps of dog excrement, before trying to persuade players to remove their wedding rings and change the colour of their sock tape and undershorts. Covering up to five games each week just to get my game count in to be promoted through the levels on the refereeing ladder, I was refereeing a variety of football, including Saturday men’s leagues, academy and Military football. I progressed extremely fast through the levels, but it required significant hard work and dedication.

In 2013, I made the jump up to become a Level 4 Supply League ref on the South West Peninsula League, which is the first stage of semi-professional football. My coach at Level 4 was Tom Sampson, a top bloke who kept my feet firmly on the ground and was not afraid to give me a stern talking to when I could have improved my game. A game at Torpoint comes to mind!

After one season on the Supply League I was promoted again, becoming a match official at Contributory League level. At this level, I would referee on the Western, Southern Division One and Southern League, as well as running the line on the National League North/South. Personally, this was a major coup, and I felt privileged to have reached this level. However, this was to be the biggest learning curve of my refereeing career. Within my first year of being a Level 3 referee, I was under the watchful eye of refereeing coach, Dave Brammer. Dave is a former Premier League assistant referee and was very supportive in my debut season at Level 3. At the end of the season, I was in a good position in the merit table with club marks. My technical assessments were abysmal, meaning I was not technically ready for this level of the game – I recognised this as a clear weak point in my own refereeing. To the football eye, and evident by the club marks, I was a good referee yet by the letter of the law, I wasn’t.

Professional Game Match Official observer and former Football League linesman, Richard Melinn, then took over as my new mentor from Dave. To progress further, Richard was a perfect fit. He brought me on leaps and bounds before handing over to the ever-critical and diverse coaching remit of Martin Cassidy. Martin has totally changed my mindset and outlook on the game. It’s safe to say that this three-way combination or three-pronged attack, in the form of mentors Dave, Richard and Martin, has developed my refereeing and personality both on and off-the-pitch.

After taking charge of the Southern League South and West play-off final between Salisbury FC and Tiverton Town at the end of the 2016-17 season, I stepped up as a Level 2B specialist referee. This was a steeper learning curve and means I can referee on the National League North and South and act as the fourth official for EFL matches. I continued to work with my mentor and developed well in my first year as a Level 2B official. Requiring knee surgery for Patella Tendinopathy, I was side-lined for eight weeks, which really hampered my season. The season passed with no stand-out appointments, minus the Royal Navy Cup final at Yeovilton between 42 Commando and HMS Collingwood.

Never content with what I already have, I applied for the Referee Development Officer position at the Royal Navy FA in 2018. I was successfully voted in amongst a strong group of candidates. Even now, I am still learning the ropes and I make it my intention to give the next crop of Navy refs the same opportunities and support that I have received in my journey.

Favourite Ref
Pierluigi Collina – who I did once meet in a restaurant in Cyprus whilst on a family holiday as a child.

Best Friends in Refereeing
Phil Eddie, James Durkin, Martin Underhay, Lee Dudman, Dave McNamara, Adam Penwell and Charles Breakspear

Whistle of choice
Fox 40

Chosen Watch
Polar M200

Current Boots
Nike ID Mercurial – all black

Biggest Fan?
My Wife

I should take this opportunity to thank my wife, first and foremost, who is my inspiration and for some unknown reason comes to as many games as possible. Her ground count would put many groundhoppers to shame! Without the support from home, refereeing can be a lonely place. Having Clare’s support makes the job slightly easier. Afterall, she could quite easily send me off, if required! I would also like to extend a thank you to my mentors along the years; Tom Sampson, Dave Brammer, Richard Melinn and Martin Cassidy.

Picture: Simon Howe

We look forward to following the progress of Scott Jackson as he continues to climb the refereeing ladder. If you are a football referee or coach and would like to tell us your perspective and the challenges of the job, get in touch.

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