Billy Wootten MASTHEAD

Referee Spotlight: Billy Wootten

Billy Wotten talks building confidence, breaking stereotypes, Brighton RA and more

In this month’s Referee Spotlight, in association with REFSIX, we spoke to 18-year-old, Sussex RA-FA Youth Council member, Billy Wootten.

Since starting to referee aged 14, Billy has had quite the journey and is now making a name for himself after recently gaining promotion to Level 6.

Like many teenagers, Billy wanted to start making some money, and for him refereeing made perfect sense.

“After turning 14 everyone was getting to a stage of trying to get some cash in and I decided to go with refereeing. 

“It was a way of keeping active whilst working at the same time, but I didn't know anyone in the game or anything like that before, so it was sort of a bit of an unknown going into it. But as soon as I did the course everyone there was very welcoming and helpful.

“That’s why I just thought I might as well try refereeing because it pays better than a paper round and I’d earn my money back I spent to do the course in the first few games anyway.”

For a 14-year-old, coming out of his shell, it was the perfect way for Billy to build up confidence which can be really important leaving school. This is an aspect that has been game-changing for him.

“At first, I just wanted to gain more confidence. I was a small lad at my age and just wanted to gain confidence from the initial five games.

“I did the course at Eastbourne Borough. Alex Bradley was on there who ended up being my coach for the Development Group and then also Jacob Miles and Darren Eaton.  

 “When you go on the pitch and you’re the man they look at to make the decisions, that is a lot of pressure to start with. So, I had to gain the confidence to make the decisions and do these procedures and make sure I was doing the best that I could.” 

Billy Wootten Action Shot 4

Photo credit: Andrew Hazelden

"You're the man they look at to make decisions"

The thought of becoming a referee can be quite daunting, but it’s not something Billy has had many qualms about and has taken it in his stride.

“You’ve got to ignore the negativity to start with and just focus on developing and get on with the game. I just wanted to gain the respect from the parents and the players, make a few quick decisions, use my authority correctly and they will trust you straight away. 

“You always get those games where maybe a select few might want to just cause a problem but I think most of the time they just want the best for their kid. 

“Then as soon as you have a sensible chat with them and calm down the situation it tends to ease.”

The attitude Billy has is treating every game the same and acting professional no matter the environment. This has influenced his attempts to break the stereotypes in grassroots. 

“I think there has been this preconception of a typical Sunday League referee and I wanted to get rid of that stereotype and show that young people can do it.

“Especially when I was 14/15 and doing under-11s and 12s I was probably a similar size to the players! There was probably that preconception there of me that I’m a young referee that doesn’t know what he’s doing.

“But as soon as they can see that I do have an idea of what I’m doing I feel quite happy about that and I like the challenge of winning them over to begin with.

“I hold high standards for myself, so if I've had a bad game, I'll question why I've had a bad game, and sometimes I do look back at it. 

“I have got to remember though that it’s not always that serious and I shouldn't take it to heart, but it's sort of good that I have that passion about it. I want to do well and excel in it.”

The professionalism that Billy has developed can be put down to a number of things; one of them being his approach to being observed. 

“Whenever an observer comes and watches you, you learn a lot about yourself as a referee. When I get the observation through, I don’t focus on what I’ve done well I look at what I can do better because I think that’s the point of it. 

“The observations so far have always been productive and complimentary then it tells you what you can do better and goes into the nitty gritty stuff. 

“At least one of your first games is observed so the support is always there, and they’ll be able to tell whether you’re ready or not. 

“I try and go into every game the same whether there’s observers there or not because if you have the same team the week after being assessed and you drop your levels, straight away inconsistencies will come to the surface.” 

Billy Wootten Action Shot 12

Photo credit: Andrew Hazelden

Billy says he holds "high standards" for himself.

A key thing for Billy in his development has been joining the Brighton RA which has seen him go from strength to strength. 

"I'm a member of the Brighton RA and attending their meetings every month and having Tim Robinson (Premier League Referee) there a few times is so inspiring, and we keep in contact here and there.

“I can message him about training plans and how the seasons going, so I look up to him and he’s accessible which I think is quite good.

“It’s just good to have the support from a variety of referees and you’ve got the chairman Ash [Slaughter] who used to line on the football league. 

“But then there’s people at your level so you can go to the meetings and discuss different issues from your games and how to deal with it and it gives you a lot more experience. 

“They bring in a variety of guest speakers and people from The FA and it just really helps being around other people the same age and level as you. 

“It can sometimes seem like a hobby that you do on your own, but this allows me to connect with so many different people and gain good mates from it.”

Another great support mechanism for Billy has been the Sussex RA-FA Youth Council, of which he is now an integral part of the team.

“I always did the Sussex RA-FA Youth Council events and always found them really informative. Then Red [Egan], the Chairman, asked me one day if I wanted to join the Youth Council.

“It’s a brilliant opportunity because it’s giving back to the game with referees starting out, helping them and putting them on the right path.” 

Most importantly it’s an opportunity for Billy to connect with people on the same level and age as him, something which has made him realise that refereeing isn’t a lonely hobby after all. 

“In the Youth Council you have all different levels ranging from 7 even up to 3 with Conall [Bartlett] in there. 

“It’s good because you always get the experience from them and talk to them if you’ve had a bad game and generally any tips or tricks that you can pick up. 

“People like Conall show that it can definitely be done if your good enough and get to that high level. It pushes you to be the best that you can to try and get to that point."

Billy Wootten SOCIAL

Photo credit: Andrew Hazelden

“It’s a brilliant opportunity because it’s giving back to the game with referees starting out"

Something that we ourselves will be promoting soon is the upcoming Sussex RA-FA Youth Council online event which includes guest speakers and activities. Speaking of the event, Billy said: “We have an event online in February with Tim Robinson and Andy Bennett. Any referee can come on and join and the fact it’s online and not in Lancing will hopefully mean we get a bigger turnout. 

“They’ll be there to answer any questions and go through a few sessions and a few ice breakers to get everyone involved. 

“I think the presentations they’ve led before have been really good and certainly beneficial for me and definitely a good learning experience for anyone who joins.”

There’s a level head on Billy’s shoulders and following his promotion to Level 6, he speaks of his high ambitions whilst keeping it realistic for now. 

“It was very pleasing [Level 6 promotion], and it was a long time coming because of the pandemic. I was obviously very pleased because I thought I’d worked hard enough to get it.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen this year with the promotion scheme, but I’ll be going for Level 5. I’m hoping when the season restarts, I can push on and hopefully achieve it. 

“It can happen where you see referees and just think ‘that’s their level’, and I do think I may reach a stage and think  ‘that is my level’, but I just want to keep going until I find where that is.

“Even if that is only another level up or the level I’m at now, I will still enjoy refereeing because that’s just what I like to do. 

“The end goal and aspiration will always be the Football League and that’s the dream. Whether I make it that far or not isn’t down to me it’s down to a point where I am competing with other people.

“I obviously aspire to get to the highest level but if that’s not the case I certainly won’t stop what I’m doing.” 

Billy is a frequent user of REFSIX, our new official refereeing partners, and he explains to us first-hand the benefits it has had on his game: “I started using REFSIX about two years ago when I first got my Apple Watch and it came up as a recommended app. 

“I love technology and I’m a massive fan of the benefits it gives you, like the in-depth data and the heat map and things like that. 

“As soon as I realised I could get that for every game I thought I could really use it to my advantage. I know if my positioning is right, how fit or unfit I am and just thought it was a really good tool and I no longer have to use a notepad!

“It just makes things a lot quicker, you don’t have to worry about timings and things like that, you can note cards a lot easier. 

“You have a free trial that you can access and see all the features like your heart rate and see how calm you were in certain moments and even if you’re not tech savvy, the free trial means you can at least give it a go.”

It is clear from his mentality that Billy is someone always trying to improve and one of the ways he has been doing that has been transitioning as an assistant referee. 

“I line on the Southern Combination Football League often enough on midweek evenings and sometimes on a Saturday and it’s always a good learning experience doing that. 

“I always enjoy lining the Premier Division games because your put with good experienced Level 4s who, themselves, are lining to Level 3s so you can really learn from that. 

“Mainly though I just think the teamwork part of it is really good. I believe it’s important not just in refereeing but as a skill in life to trust people and have good teamwork.”

Billy Wootten Action Shot 11

Photo credit: Andrew Hazelden

Billy says he "always enjoys lining Premier Division games" 

Away from the playing side of things, Billy is someone very much active on social media and this is also something that can have negative connotations which Billy hopes can change. 

“Social media can be challenging and luckily, I haven’t experienced any negativity yet! I have seen it second hand what can happen to you if you’re exposed to the wrong people. 

“You definitely have to watch what you say nowadays. Things can spring up from five or ten years ago that you’ve forgotten you even said and come back to haunt you. 

“It’s a harsh world social media because people will always find a way of holding someone accountable and certainly as a referee you need to keep your nose clean.

“I have actually received a bit of positivity from my refereeing on social media and it was surprising because it doesn’t normally happen. 

“It was refreshing to see clubs recognising referees, not just as that man in the middle wearing black, but that they are people doing a good job.

“It was nice to get that, and I think more referees should get that.”

Lastly, Billy offered some advice for anybody thinking of becoming a referee: “Definitely give it a go. For me, as I said, it gave me a lot more confidence and a lot more self-esteem. It gives you the opportunity to know how to control yourself and discipline yourself as you’ve got to set an example to the other players on the pitch.”

For more information about refereeing in Sussex please contact:

T: 01903 768573

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