iCanRef: Fotios Skoutas
Tell us about how and why you got involved in refereeing?
I was born, grew up and lived in Greece until late 2019.
I started my refereeing journey back in 2013, at the age of 26.
During that summer, a friend of mine called and told me: "There is a referee course, do you fancy it?"
I thought, after having played football for almost 10 years at amateur level in my local County's leagues, why not to try it at least?
Maybe in this way, I could get involved with football in a professional level, since my childhood dreams to become a professional football player never came true!
I passed the course and started refereeing for my local County's (Chalkidiki) Leagues.
I achieved a promotion throughout the following years but at the age of 32, back in 2019, due to an age limit rule which didn't allow me to be eligible for promotion from the current level at the time to the next one, my chances to promote in higher levels came to an end.
That was one of the most important reasons to grab my bag, book a one-way ticket to England and here I am!
Where, at least, age-limit rules will not be an obstacle to my dreams.
What level referee are you and where do you officiate?
When I settled to Leeds, I registered with West Riding County FA and after one and a half season (Covid meanwhile) as a Level 5 referee, I achieved a promotion to Level 4, where I currently officiate in Northern East Counties and West Yorkshire League.
What do you enjoy about refereeing?
I think that, what I really enjoy about refereeing is that I understand myself even better as time passes and I learn every time new things about my personality.
It works like a self-mirror, if that makes sense.
A referee has to make decisions most times in a split second, deal with his self-control, deal with 22 other personalities and many more outside of the field of play and the list still goes on.
Refereeing is a smaller scale of our society.
The way you react and deal with challenges as a referee, actually depicts the way you act in your everyday life and vice versa, in my opinion.
I've always enjoyed learning how I react under pressure and how I manage with, sometimes, unexpected challenges.
The reward is that through this self-critical procedure, I usually find the mental balance I need to move on and improve myself where it needs to.
What are your greatest achievements in refereeing and why?
Greatest achievement in refereeing back to Greece I would consider the day I officiated as a referee my local County's Senior Cup Final, back in 2018.
Here in Leeds, I would say the day I took part as a liner in West Riding's Challenge Trophy Cup's Final at Fleet Lane.
The most important of all, till now of course, is my promotion to level 4, especially throughout those challenging times we all have experienced the past few years.
But, the best is yet to come!
What is your best memory of refereeing?
It's always been and will be forever, that first day ever I stood in the middle of the pitch for an amateur league's game, with everyone waiting for that first whistle of the game, which would be for me my first whistle of my refereeing journey in general.
It made me feel like, ok buddy, there you are, here is the step from theory to practice, there's no way back, let's do it!
Who are your role models in refereeing?
There have been, and I'm sure there will be in the future, many referees who had an impact on my progress with either way or another each of them.
Starting with those for whom I've always found some time to watch and enjoy their games on TV, referees like Björn Kuipers, Mateu Lahoz, Felix Brych, Anastasios Sidiropoulos or the British ones Michael Oliver and Anthony Taylor.
Such referees' careers and achievements can always inspire anyone.
On a Saturday afternoon, when watching Premier League with a couple of friends back to Greece the previous decade, I always remember looking for Jonathan Moss' fixtures or Bobby Madley's ones. So, probably fate brought me to the last one's coaching group a few years later!
Talking about my last three years in UK, there are some people who play an important role to my progress.
First of all, Mark Haywood who was the person that responded to my first email to the West Riding County FA when I first settled to Leeds, and has always been there to help me.
At the same time, I am glad to be part of County's Core Programme for a third consecutive year, where referee coaches like Sam Barrott, Madley brothers, David Richardson and Ian Johnston do a brilliant job to pass to the next generations of referees all those elements we need to improve ourselves.
Last but not least, I am grateful to be mentored by John Byrne, a person who helped me a lot, and still does, with the transition from a different cultural approach of football (which I came from) to the British one.
But, the real role models most times may be found among the people you walk out there and work with on a Saturday afternoon or a Tuesday evening.
People who are passionate about refereeing, work hard to improve themselves and give to everyone the biggest smile of theirs because they enjoy what they are doing.
Finally, important to refer the massive support I get from my wife, with whom we both moved from Greece to Leeds.
Also, the support from my parents, friends and especially my brother who officiates as well in Greece, in the third division of the country.
What are the biggest obstacles you have faced in refereeing and how have you overcome them?
After a whole decade in refereeing, I've come to a realization that my biggest obstacle is, most times, myself.
It's all about how quickly I "recover" after a not so satisfying performance with incorrect decisions or after a good one followed maybe with good observer's mark.
In that last tricky occasion, I sometimes used to stay more than I should to the good impressions rather than focus on the weaknesses that still exist and need to be improved.
Experience now helps me find that balance in myself and be mentally strong enough to keep those specific elements I need from each occasion and move on.
What are your goals for the future?
Well, having moved to this country and being part of football here is a huge achievement itself for me, whose every single aspect I really aim to enjoy the following years.
Dreaming to reach the top levels? I definitely do!
But, dreams without little goals at a time, will remain unfulfilled ones.
Technically, chasing for promotions to higher levels will always be the greatest goal of mine.
But speaking for now, every day is a new challenge.
A high priority goal has to do with improvement in different areas like for example fitness, Laws of the Game knowledge and deeper cultural knowledge of British football.
My current goal is a promotion to level 3.
So, step by step, goal by goal and maybe one day dreams come true!
What advice would you give to people thinking about getting involved in refereeing?
"Reach what you can't".
That's my piece of advice.
A quote I borrow from Nikos Kazantzakis, last century's Greek author.
Whatever it is that makes you grab your referee bag and go for your next game again and again, then trust it!
It means that you believe in your efforts, your expectations from yourself, even in your own mistakes.
But, refereeing looks like more than a marathon rather than a 100m sprint.
Be grateful for this journey.
Be humble and listen to those people who will offer their opinion to you.
And eventually, you'll get what you deserve.
And you will reach whatever you still can't imagine!