Turning Back Time with A World-Class Referee
Longtime referee Keith Hackett on his career, from humble beginning walking to the pitch to establishing what it means to be a great referee … on either side of the Atlantic.
I started my refereeing career in 1960 after studying the Laws of the Game and passing an examination conducted by the Football Association. Laws of the Game are available to download.
I was captain of a local grassroots club and I had been selected to attend the Referees course with no real intention of becoming an active referee.
The aim of the club was to have at least one player fully aware of the laws of the game and I was happy to volunteer. Little did I realise that this decision would impact on my life.
I passed the examination and was now a qualified CLASS THREE referee allowed to officiate local junior and school football.
My first game took place at Intake School football field between Hillsborough Boys Club and Sheffield United Juniors.
My challenge was to apply the law and to manage the players with the objective of everyone enjoying their participation in the game. I recall walking to the middle of the field and blowing my whistle for the first time, calling both captains to shake hands and then at my next signal for the game to commence.
When I blew the whistle to end the game a number of players ran to shake my hand and thanked me for my efforts.
The coaches of both teams were also complimentary and encouraged me to continue officiating and wished me well for the future.
The coach of Sheffield United Juniors had a son who was a Football League referee so his praise was very welcome and a big boost to my confidence.
One year later I had officiated my 100th game, sometimes refereeing three or four games over a weekend and then games in mid-week.
I was seventeen years old so did not own a car. This meant I had to rely on Bus and tram to get to the ground.
Often I would walk several miles to get to the ground where the game would be played.
I had to face many challenges not covered in the laws of the game.
I refereed England Deaf vs Scotland Deaf where the players were unable to hear the whistle so when I wanted to make a decision I had to wave a flag and amazingly the players stopped playing immediately.
With no car, on occasions I was leaving home at 10 am in order to ensure that I was at the ground of the game with plenty of time to spare before kick off.
I was promoted to a Class three referee after two seasons and was now able to officiate senior amateur football.
Three years after starting my refereeing career I was promoted to a CLASS ONE referee which allowed me then to officiate any game in senior football.
I was also promoted to the Northern Premier League where players were regarded has semi-professional. Yes they were getting paid for playing at the weekend whilst doing a job in industry during the week.
In one of my early games, I was appointed to officiate Northwich Victoria vs Wigan Athletic Club. On the way to the game I was involved in a car crash and after the local garage pulled out a rather dented car bumper travelled on to the game.
I was a salesman at this time and represented a garage door company travelling around the Yorkshire Region in a company car, I used all my spare time however to train and officiate games
Twelve years after starting my refereeing career, I was promoted to the English Professional Football League after serving a long apprenticeship.
I remember walking out with the roar of a jet overhead, the ground directly on the flight path to Manchester Airport. Stockport County vs Northampton Town was a game that I thoroughly enjoyed and stays in my memory forever having served a long apprenticeship.
I had officiated over a thousand games, gaining a great deal of experience and preparing me well to become one of the youngest referees promoted to the professional level.
In 1979, I was the Senior Assistant Referee (Linesman) at the Football Association Challenge Cup Final at Wembley stadium between Arsenal and Manchester United.
In 1981, I became the youngest referee given the unique honour of officiating the 100th Football Association Challenge Cup Final between Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester City.
The winning goal was scored by Argentinian Ricky Villa one of the first imported overseas players into the English game.
The same year I was promoted to the FIFA International panel and was invited to be a Guest Referee on the North American Soccer League (NASL).
My first NASL game was New York Cosmos vs. Vancouver in Giants Stadium.
When I blew the whistle I was looking towards the famous Carlos Alberto who a few years earlier had lifted the World Cup has the Brazil Captain.
The NASL allowed me to referee thirty games in an eight week period and it was a fantastic experience.
With over thirty thousand referees, and a lot of dedication, I had moved through the pyramid system of the English game to reach the International level.
The structure of refereeing has over the years gone through a number of changes and with the introduction of additional tiers to the pyramid referees are given much more coaching and instruction and this has resulted in an acceleration up the ladder of a number of outstanding referees, Michael Oliver the current top referee been a prime example.
After eight years of officiating he was promoted to the FIFA Referees Panel a clear signal that he has the potential, like Howard Webb, who I also coached to be a potential referee for a future World Cup Final.
So, back in 1960, little did I expect to Referee on the English Premier League, be appointed a FIFA International referee, Referee the opening game of the 1988 European Championships, stand under the Olympic Flag in Seoul and officiate Germany v Brazil, referee the 100th FA Cup Final and officiate in over fifty countries.
Many of the processes that I put in place when I was the boss of the PGMOL have produced POSITIVE RESULTS and I travel the world advising Federations on their training programs.
The DNA of the English Referee
Keith Hackett is the author of the new You Are the Ref 300 Footballing Conundrums, the You Are the Ref, the Ultimate Illustrated Guide to the Laws of Football and the You Are the Umpire. The amazing illustrations are by Paul Trevillion.
You Are The Ref is a cult classic comic strip in England. SoccerToday is thrilled to bring this to our American soccer audience and share these stunning portraits of soccer stars from all eras. For anyone who has ever questioned a ref’s eyesight or grappled with a clearly ‘wrong’ call, now it is your turn!
Hackett started officiating on the sidelines in the 1960s in England and is considered one of the top 100 referees of all time in a list maintained by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS).
A FIFA referee, Hackett has had the honor of refereeing at some of the most important soccer matches in history including the FA Cup Final at Wembley, European Championships as well as countless EPL games of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, QPR, West Ham United as well as at the Olympics.