Getting to Know A World-Class Referee
Longtime referee Keith Hackett on why he loves soccer, his most controversial call, what he would do differently — he would have quit and refereed the UEFA Cup Final and why he is called the EPL whistleblower.
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.
SoccerToday spoke with Hackett to get more on his background, what he thinks about playmakers and making it as a top pro:
Diane Scavuzzo: After watching hundreds of pro soccer players on the field, what do you think it takes to make it as a top pro?Keith Hackett: Dedication towards training and developing their skill sets is clearly evident when you see a top professional soccer player in action.
They have great vision and read and anticipate the play. George Best, Landon Donavan, Bobby Charlton, Carlos Alberto, Maradona, Platini, to name a few – these are some of the World Class players that I have officiated.
I would have loved to have officiated Messi, Ronaldo, and Pele.
Diane Scavuzzo: If you look back, when did your passion for soccer start? What inspired you?
Keith Hackett: My dad on a Saturday afternoon would take me and my older brother to watch games at Hillsborough the home of Sheffield Wednesday. We would walk from home to the ground a distance of about two miles.
In 1979 I was appointed to referee Liverpool FC vs Arsenal FC in an FA Cup Semi Final at Hillsborough where I had spent my informative years watching professional games. Sadly, my father was no longer alive. So I drove my car to where I used to live, parked it up and walked two miles to the ground, chatting to many spectators on the way who gave me their best wishes.
Diane Scavuzzo: What would you tell your younger self to do differently?
Keith Hackett: When I was appointed to Referee the UEFA Cup Final I had to inform them that I could not officiate this game because I could not get permission to have three days leave from my employer.
I would have told my younger self to resign my Directorship and officiate the game.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why do you do what you do?
Keith Hackett: I am passionate about the game and live in the City of Sheffield where we have the Worlds Oldest Football Club (Sheffield Club) and the oldest football ground (Hallam FC).
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?
Keith Hackett: I would love to have been in a position to receive the guidance from a Sports Scientist, Sports Psychologist, and nutritionist when I was young. I know this would have made me a better referee.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why are you called the EPL whistleblower?
Keith Hackett: I have attempted to produce honest and transparent performance reports on match officials to enable stakeholders in the game to have a better understanding of the role of the referee and the difficulties they face and the skill sets that are required.
Diane Scavuzzo: What was the most controversial call you ever made?
Keith Hackett: I was officiating a Football Association Challenge Cup semi-final and sent off West Ham United player Tony Gayle for the denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Three days prior to this game English referees were advised of a change of interpretation of the criteria.
No one bothered to communicate the change to the stakeholders in the game and could not understand why I had given this player a red card. From this experience, I said that I would always work to educate players, coaches, managers about law changes.
My involvement with artist Paul Trevillion on our well known comic strip You Are The Ref in England’s The Guardian newspaper plus the You Are The Ref books, lectures and media interviews has helped this process. Now I have a blog as well.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is your favorite soccer team? Who do you root for behind closed doors?
Keith Hackett: That’s Easy … Sheffield Wednesday and Penistone Church.
Diane Scavuzzo: How would you describe a playmaker? Are they born or made?
Keith Hackett: A playmaker is “Special” and it is my belief that they develop their skill sets through practice.
And yes, I do believe that practice can aid perfection. Experience plays a big part in a performance.
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!
According to David James, “Anyone who loves the game knows You Are The Ref. Paul Trevillion’s brilliant art has been around for generations!”