“Belief, trust and focus” – referee Kevin Friend on what it takes to reach the top
“It was tough, it was hard. It's never easy to get to the top.”
Kevin Friend, a Premier League referee, had a long and arduous journey to reach the pinnacle of refereeing. The official has risen up the footballing ladder, starting out with Sunday morning games and working his way up to Wembley finals and European ties.
FCV Academy students will undergo a somewhat similar process in their bid to make the grade as a professional footballer. It's not simply a case of turning up and everything will fall at your feet – something the official testifies to.
“It was tough, it was hard,” Friend said whilst on a recent visit to Borderville to talk to the FCV players.
“As a referee in England, it's never easy to get to the top of the tree because there are so many stages you've got to go into.
“But one of the biggest things I learned is that I had to have belief in myself, trust in my own ability, and know that I was actually a decent referee and just focus on that.
“I always give 100 per cent in each game, and make sure that I do the right things off the pitch to make myself best prepared. Because I'm competing against other referees – some of whom are my mates – I want to make sure that I'm at least one per cent better than them.
“Hopefully, the players can take that on board. They're vying for contracts themselves in future years with professional clubs, semi-professional clubs, and it's up to them to make sure they achieve that.
“If they work hard, I'm sure they will achieve it. But they have to make sure they're doing enough on and off the pitch, and learn what they could do more and where they can work harder to reap the benefits later on.”
And what if a career in football doesn't quite work out? Friend sees no reason why the young players can't remain in the game, and believes the allure of becoming a professional referee is growing.
In England, there are now two tiers of professional referees. Friend is part of the Select Group who primarily operate in the Premier League. This season, a Select Group 2 was introduced to referee in the Championship, and the 45-year-old believes we may see that extended in years to come.
There are often calls for ex-players to go into refereeing, with Steve Baines the only notable name to make it in both careers, and Friend does think it's a good idea for players who understand the game to try their hand with the whistle.
“I've done a few of these talks before, and it's an educational process for the players to understand why we do what we do, and it gives them a little bit more of an insight into refereeing.
“If they choose not to go down the footballing path, then there's another pathway for them to go down and stay in football. Refereeing is a good career.
“You can referee in tandem with playing football at a lower level, and then you can make a decision. If you think you're good enough then you can say 'I can actually make it as a referee now' and go from there.”