By James Grayson (Twitter: @jamesAgrayson)
Photo courtesy of Arthur Haigh of White Rose PhotographyWith no Premier League game to officiate, Wakefield-based Select Group referee Robert Madley stepped into the breach to take charge of Shaw Lane Aquaforce’s Toolstation NCEL Division One clash with Pontefract Collieries last week.
Madley had a ‘free’ Saturday as he was due to act as the Fourth Official in the following day’s televised encounter between Norwich City and Chelsea.
As the NCEL were struggling for officials for their Saturday fixture list, Madley put his name forward and looking back on the 1-1 draw, he told Sports Performer: “I absolutely loved it and for me that’s what football is all about. It is about grassroots. It is people turning out for their local club and giving their all.
“I started in the Wakefield League and then went as an assistant in the Northern Counties so I have a real affinity to the Counties and I’m glad to be able to help out in any way I can.
“It is about giving back and I don’t think there is any referee who gets past a level and sees themselves as too good to referee that level.
“If I’m being honest it was the hardest game of football that I’ve certainly refereed this season and probably the hardest I have done for a couple of seasons.
“That’s because of the endeavour of the players and the meat in every single tackle and again we didn’t have microphones and, this might sound silly, talking to assistants constantly without microphones is something I’m not used to any more.
“It was a great experience for me to go back and sometimes it is games like that that keep your feet on the ground and make you realise how lucky you are week-in-week-out to referee the football you do.
“We had four yellows, but it wasn’t a charity game, it was a game where I had to referee in the manner I would expect if I went to watch and assess a level four referee.”
27-year-old Madley was appointed to the Select Group Referees list in the summer after taking charge of his first Premier League game in April 2013 when West Brom travelled to Southampton.
But, that does not mean his refereeing success has gone to his head as he was keen to avoid a red carpet treatment and did not want any fanfare.
“The teams were good and I made it clear to the teams when we turned up that I wanted it to be simply a referee turning up,” he said.
“I didn’t want anything different. I didn’t use microphones, I didn’t wear a badge. I didn’t do anything like that because the important thing for that game was Shaw Lane and Pontefract were fighting for three points.
“It is irrelevance who is refereeing as far as I’m concerned. The important thing is the teams.”
Madley did have some small problems to overcome during the game and he said: “It was a little bit of culture shock simply because the expectation of what a foul is, is different at different levels of football.
“I gave a free kick early on for what would be expected to be given as a foul on the Premier League and 22 players looked at me and said ‘eh, what have you given ref?’”
“It is a little more physical at this level and they accept a little more physical contact and again at this level it is slightly different as they want the little pushes in the back and the little niggles.
“The higher up you go they’re not so bothered about that so getting used to it in the first five or ten minutes and trying to gage the expectations of the players was quite a difficult thing to do.”
His appointment was after NCEL chairman Dave Morrall spoke to the West Riding County, where Madley works as a Referee’s Development Officer to tell them the league was struggling for officials.
That’s when Madley put his hand up and he said: “Dave Morrall from the Northern Counties East League contacted the County FA to say there was a shortage of referees throughout the season for various reasons.
“Because the County Cups and FA competitions were taking place at the same time, he said he was struggling for referees and referees of the appropriate level for that weekend.
“With me being fourth official on the Sunday and having no game on the Saturday I offered my services to Dave as a referee.
“I think he was a little surprised and thought I was joking, but I’ve got a good relationship with Dave and consider him a friend so he probably took it as half been serious.
“But, as far as I’m concerned it’s a game of football
“They (my bosses) were fine about it because I would have done a training session anyway on the Saturday because we don’t sit around on a Saturday (when we haven’t got a game) and wrap ourselves in cotton wool.”
The final question, would he referee again in the NCEL on a free weekend?
“I think I would do it again in the future and I think for every referee who has a free weekend, no matter if you’re a Premier League referee or not, we should be putting ourselves out there,” he added.
“If leagues are struggling and local leagues on a Sunday are struggling, it doesn’t matter what level referee you are, you’re a referee at the end of the day and if you can cover a game that wouldn’t be staffed by a qualified ref then why not put your services out there?”