iCanRef: Garreth Rhodes
Tell us about how and why you got involved in refereeing?
Coming from a football orientated family I was always around football from a very early age and spent most weekends watching football. I would be either watching a game involving my dad or we’d be watching it on the TV. If I wasn’t watching it, I was playing it. The passion of the game became an addiction and after starting to play locally I was selected to train with first Leeds United boys followed by York City boys and finally Doncaster Rovers boys. At 16, I was selected to play for the WRCFA Under 18s.
Unfortunately, like many dreams of the younger generation of becoming a professional footballer - I didn’t make it into the professional game but continued to play at a respectable level for Tadcaster Albion and Selby Town in the Northern Counties East League.
In 2008 – playing 5-a-side with Selby Fire Brigade, I injured my ankle. This kept me out of football for 6 months. Having missed playing the game I loved, I tried to play in a preseason game only for my ankle to fail on me again. It was then I decided to stop playing but stay in the game in any way I could.
I registered onto a referee course at York College October 2008. First Saturday in November that year, I did my first game in the York Saturday League - Melbourne Vs Barmby Moor. It was a baptism of fire because in the game I had to show 6 yellow and 3 red cards.
I completed that season in the York League. The football passion had turned into a referee passion and found myself doing as most referees do - a game Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning finishing off on a Sunday afternoon.
What do you enjoy about refereeing?
Becoming a referee meant I was still involved in the game I loved. It was a way of giving something back to the sport and at the same time I was keeping fit and earning a bit of extra money.
The real reward came at the end of every game, knowing I’d given my all and worked to the best of my ability. I always hoped comments walking off the field were always positive and if they weren’t, then I had to work on their criticism to make myself better.
Who are your role models in refereeing?
In the early days of refereeing I joined Barkston Ash Referees Association and found their support superb and a great help. Whether it was having Frank Holleran or Bill Reay coming to watch me or going to watch Ian Smellie or John Key (who were steady level 4 referees) they gave me a goal to aim for.
I was lucky to be accepted onto the WRCFA Referee School of Excellence lead by Bobby and Andy Madley. The training and materials covered on the SOE were first class and really helped me progress as a referee for the three seasons I was there. I still now call / text Andy now for advice.
Since becoming a referee and sat watching a game of football, I seem to watch more of the referee than the game. This is to hopefully pick up positive or negative actions that will work for me in my games.
What are your greatest achievements in refereeing and why?
Every promotion is an achievement. When I set out, I wanted to get to level 4 and referee games with assistants. I was extremely fortunate that the WRCFA selected me to go for a triple jump very early in my refereeing career and after my first full season of being alone in the middle, I went from level 7 to 4 and refereed on the West Yorkshire League.
My greatest achievement to date was being promoted to Panel Select referee from 2A in 2018. This allows me to referee at venues all over the country whilst experiencing many new grounds over the past 18 months.
I’m in my 4th season now acting as a Football League 4th Official and visiting new grounds has been a real highlight in my refereeing career. Being part of a team in front of thousands of supporters can be surreal but once the whistle has blown, its 90 minutes of football that hopefully I can help the team bring the game home to a safe conclusion.
What is your best memory of refereeing?
My best memory in refereeing is definitely last season when I was selected to referee the WRCFA Senior County Cup Final.
Getting any final at any level must be a goal for referees at the beginning of any season but to achieve my own counties senior final was a moment to be proud of and one I will always remember.
I’ve also been fortunate to go to America and Spain through refereeing which was an amazing experience.
What are your goals in the sport?
As I have eluded to earlier, my goal when I set out on my refereeing journey was to achieve level 4 but here I am, a Panel Select referee, one place on the pyramid from refereeing in the Football League. When I sat in York College doing my referee course if someone had said in 12 years’ time this is where I was going to be, I would have laughed at their joke… It is real and with lots of hard work, determination and support from a great family – I can honestly say my aim is to be promoted again and referee on the Football League.
What are the biggest obstacles you have faced in refereeing?
The biggest obstacle I’ve faced in refereeing is myself…. I am very self-critical and like every referee out there will make some incorrect decisions. There have been times when I’ve had a run of games and would get numerous decisions incorrect and this would play on my mind for days after the game. The problem with that is if you had a game a few days after getting a major decision wrong - then it would cast doubt going into next game and the next big decision you make. To overcome this, I’ve tried to learn to park that decision before looking at your next appointment. A lot easier said than done though.
What advice would you give to people wishing to get involved in refereeing?
I really do wish more players would get into refereeing after finishing playing either through age or injury. The game gives us so much entertainment, passion and thrills so why not continue that and give the game something back. Each match needs a referee so why not let that be you. It’s a great way to keep active too.
You never know how far you can go in the game. I am very fortunate to get to the position I have through hard work, dedication and commitment and know that not everyone can give up their time but if you could give a couple of hours a weekend or every other weekend – take the course you will not regret it.
The pathways now available to referees for all ages and abilities is amazing. The support mechanisms available from your local Referees Association, WRCFA to PGMOL in the professional game makes sure you have all the help and support you’ll need along your pathway.
Could you follow in Garreth's footsteps? Check out West Riding FA's upcoming courses