Meet Jack Fagg, 29 years old, Membership Sales Advisor with Active Life Ltd and Step 1 Assistant Referee. Jack has been passionate about football since his younger years as a player which has developed into his adult years.
One of Jack's most memorable moments was as an 8-year-old boy. It was October 2001, and England needed a point to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea. He was on holiday with his family in Greece, watching the game in a beach bar. It was the 93rd minute, and England was losing 2-1. He recalls how he felt deflated watching the game as football was his life, and it was the first World Cup he truly remembers. Then, David Beckham stepped up and curled a free-kick into the top left corner from near on 30 yards, and all the English supporters in this bar celebrated on the beach. It was brilliant!
But why did he choose to step into refereeing?
"At the age of 18, I'd struggled to make the step between youth and men's football. With not being blessed with height or presence, I found myself getting bumped about with the men and lost some of the enjoyment. I still wanted to be a part of the game and embarked on the referee course. I have to give credit here to Gary Allen and Mike Marsh. Gary was a Level 5 County Referee and a very close family friend; he got me on to the course and assisted with my first few fixtures. He was the Canterbury and District Referee Secretary at this stage. Mike was a Level 4 Supply League Referee and my boss. Many a Monday morning was spent with a coffee discussing his game from the weekend. He then invited me along to one of his games, which gave me a taste of what officiating was like.
"Officiating allows me to continue to be a part of the game. My love for the game is still as high as ever, so being an official and supporting the delivery of the game is fantastic. Secondly, I am fortunate enough to officiate at National League standard, one step below the Football League. As such, I am one promotion away from the professional levels of football in England, and therefore my officiating is now a side career."
Like many referees, Jack has faced challenges and difficult situations in his refereeing career but his strong decision making, empathy and understanding of the Laws of the Game have enabled him to overcome them.
"When I first started officiating, the challenge I had was looking so young, and as such, the men thought they'd be able to bully me into making decisions. The only way I could overcome this was to show them that I was strong in my decisions, unbiased, knew the Laws of the Game and could control a football match to the best of my ability. It took a while, as you see different teams for the first few months of your officiating journey, but in time you see the same clubs again, and they have respect for you. I also found clubs talk to one another, and after some time, I'd turn up, and the club would say to me, 'Oh, your Jack, other clubs have said good things about you.' This then filled me with confidence that I was doing well.
"When officiating, I feel it is vital to strike the balance of stern but fair and banter with the players on the field of play. If you can show some empathy towards a situation and use a common-sense approach, players will support you and assist with a situation that could be difficult. The biggest area I had to improve was dealing with conflict with managers. In the beginning, I was very abrupt and short with managers as I didn't want them to feel they could bully me into making decisions. Over time, I learned that it was better to be honest and approachable. Sometimes it is better to state you think you have got something wrong because most managers expect you to try and argue you were correct. This immediately calms the managers as they can't be angry with you when you admit you think you made a mistake."
Since starting his refereeing journey, Jack has enjoyed many career highlights. He has officiated for Gillingham, Charlton, Reading, Millwall, QPR, Brighton and West Ham United. Jack has also officiated in four Kent FA County Cup Finals; once as a Referee, twice as an Assistant Referee and once as a Fourth Official. He has represented Kent FA in Portugal at the Iber Cup and this current season, Jack has also been an Assistant Referee 1st Round Proper FA Cup - Boreham Wood v Eastleigh and FA Vase Semi-Final - Littlehampton Town Fc v Loughborough Students.
Jack is enjoying a fantastic refereeing career that goes from strength to strength, so what advice would Jack give you to anyone considering taking up the whistle?
"I remember attending my first ever FA conference, Neale Barry (Head of Refereeing at the FA) opened the day, and his opening sentence stuck with me: How many of you in this room will play in an FA Cup final? But I guarantee a percentage of you in here shall officiate one. It stuck with me because he had a valid point...I had finished my playing days only two years ago, and I was never going to play in an FA Cup Final, but now with the right direction and guidance, I could officiate an FA Cup Final. It's a great feeling stepping out over the white line at 3pm on a Saturday, and it allows you to forget everything else going on and have a purpose to focus on. It keeps you fit; it brings in extra money from your normal work, but most importantly, it gives you a second family. Some of my closest friends and people I talk to daily are from the officiating world, and without stepping on this journey, I'd have never met them."