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Referee Spotlight: Dave Jackson

Dave Jackson talks 45-years in refereeing, inspirations, and reflects on his career

In this month’s Referee Spotlight, in association with REFSIX, we spoke to former referee, and current observer, Dave Jackson. 

A refereeing journey that spans across 45-years, Dave has had quite the career, learning the ways of the whistle in Surrey, to tutoring what he describes as “probably most of Sussex referees”.

It was as a teacher where the refereeing journey first started for Dave, and for that, we need to go all the way back to the 1970’s.

“I was a not very good footballer! I played in the Brighton league with Boys Brigade Old Boys. When I was 18 though I went to train as a teacher in two subjects, P.E. and Maths. I became a P.E. teacher for a short period of time and when I was at college my interest in all sports took off. 

“I started refereeing unqualified which is where my interest kind of started. I changed jobs and moved to Croydon and wasn’t enjoying playing football anymore. So, in 1976, I decided to go on a referee training course.

“That’ll be 45 years ago it started for me this summer. I thoroughly enjoyed the course I was well taught, and I started my refereeing up in Croydon. It was a very hot summer in 1976 which some may remember! Because of that football didn’t actually start until the end of September. 

“I did my course in Croydon under a chap called Ray Hearn which was all classroom based. On the eighth week we took an exam, and it was a good course.

“There was a referee called Roy Capey who was on the Football League and came along to share his experience which was really inspiring. 

“I enjoyed that first season so much and actually got a lining role on a Junior Cup Final. I went for a promotion, and in those days it was just Levels 3 to 1 and I went from a 3 to a 2 the following season.”

Dave Jackson Tutor
Dave Jackson's refereeing career started because he says, “I was a not very good footballer!"

Dave was, of course, a Sussex-man and it wasn’t long before he would make the decision to return. From a refereeing perspective, this is where his long career was to take off.

“As much as we loved it in Croydon, me and my wife, at heart we were Brightonians, so we looked for work back in Sussex. 

“I managed to secure a job at Varndean School in Brighton. I lost a bit of a year where I’ve moved and transferred and in Sussex it was a completely different system to what Surrey was!

“You didn’t apply for promotion here, you were observed. It took me a little bit of time for me to go from a 2 to a 1 and right place at the right time probably had something to do with it. 

“I was appointed on what was then the Sussex County League Division 2 Cup Final which was at Burgess Hill. After the game, Peter Bentley spoke to me asking about my refereeing and what level I was etc. and the long and short of it was that three weeks later I was then put on to the County League. 

“I was refereeing the County League then lining on the Isthmian League, so I was the basically the equivalent of a Level 4 now. I carried on refereeing all the way to the age of 65, but my mind was wanting my body to be somewhere that it couldn’t quite get to anymore!”

During this time Dave wasn’t happy to just do his officiating and leave it at that, he has also been involved in the training and tutoring of some of Sussex’s best officials today. 

“I’ve been involved in all sorts of other things during my time refereeing. In the mid-80s, David King who was training officer for Brighton Referees Association (RA), agreed that I could help him out with the training. 

“He took me along for one course, which included a certain Darren Eaton, and then I ended up taking full control of training for Brighton RA, training an awful lot of people!

“When I stepped down from my main role as a teacher in 2005 I then did the full FA Tutor training and became a fully qualified FA Tutor. 

“Paul Saunders (Sussex County FA Projects Manager) then got me involved in the Referee Academy and I saw some great people come through there and refereeing at a much better level than I refereed at!

“One thing I am happy about is getting involved in the introduction of practical referee training. Before then, Referees just sat in a classroom for eight weeks like they were at school.

“I’m now still doing observing on the Southern Combination Football League which I do think I will continue, especially as this has been the quietest season I can remember, so I’m chomping at the bit!

“I stepped down from tutoring recently. The nature of the training has changed, and I’ve decided it’s time to let the youngsters get on with it.”

It’s incredible that Dave has stayed in refereeing as long as he has. 45-years is quite a remarkable landmark to achieve, so what is Dave’s secret for staying in the game for so long?

“When I started refereeing, I found that that I was just trying to make the players happy, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I wasn’t applying the laws of the game, but I did have a degree of empathy. 

“I also applied my teaching experience in terms of sorting out certain situations where I would try and talk out scenarios rather than punish them.

“The responses I got made me stick with a certain style which I don’t think changed much over the years! The laws have changed a lot and I’ve had to adapt in a sensible manner, I officiated at a higher level than I ever played at and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

“I’ve been called all sorts of names in my time! Luckily ‘smiler’ was the most common. I’ve been told that I referee like a headmaster which I thought ‘well that’s good cause I am one!’

“There’s just something about turning up on a Saturday and a team saying ‘oh good we’ve got you today’ that makes you realise you’ve been doing something right.

“There’s a saying that goes ‘you don’t referee to get fit, you get fit to referee,’ my physical well-being was definitely a big factor as well as gaining the respect of players.

“I think if you manage to communicate with players rather than dictate to them, then they respect that. There’s only been one occasion where I thought about packing it in, but I was immediately supported through it, which again is what’s so great about referee associations.

“With RA’s you’re there to support your colleagues, and they are there to support you, it can be a lonely game refereeing, there’s no one out there cheering you on!”

Dave Jackson Speaking
“I think if you manage to communicate with players rather than dictate to them, then they respect that."

The support Dave mentions is a key factor, he believes, in why referees stay in the game: “If you work at refereeing it’s not as lonely a task as it seems. You can’t have a game of football without us and I liked to remind players of that when I could!

“Young referees like Billy Wootten have developed a lot because they have joined an RA. The meetings have developed an awful lot now, they aren’t formal sit-down meetings anymore, you get a lot from them.

“Refereeing isn’t for everybody but there’s a lot of people who are good referees but just don’t stick at it and I don’t envy Paul Jeffery’s (Sussex County FA Operations Manager) job!

“I’m a fairly self-confident person as many know, I’m sure I’ve made the right choices in refereeing in terms of the paths I’ve gone down.”

A big thing also for Dave in his officiating journey has been an endless list of people he can look up to. He tells us he can “name all kinds of people” who have helped him along the way but that they’ve all had their own impact.

“I ran the line to a young Gary Willard (former FIFA and Premier League referee) when he was 18, and he’s always had an influence on me because of the manner in which he refereed and the success he went on to have. 

“Martin Bodenham (former FIFA and Premier League referee) was another one I looked up to. I was refereeing a game at Stanmer Park in Brighton on a Saturday afternoon and none other than Martin Bodenham was there watching. He didn’t have a game that Saturday so decided to go watch a few local games and came and spoke to me. That’s the sort of thing that gives you a big boost.

“I try and apply that with my observations now, in terms of if I see that referee has done well I’ll make it clear and if I see them struggling, I’ll be constructive and give tips but ultimately, keep them in the game.

“But then there’s also people I’ve trained, some of which, work or have worked, for the Sussex County FA. Both the Paul’s, Saunders and Jeffers, Jacob Miles and also Ash Slaughter. I can remember all three of them in a classroom in front of me and now they all share the same passion I have, developing referees.

“There’s so many I could mention that have been part of the academy and that I’ve trained and it’s when you see them in the street, say hello, and you realise what a community you’re part of.” 

There’s laughter from Dave when talking of retirement from refereeing stating, “Jeffers won’t let me!” But nonetheless it’s a career that he can be immensely proud of.

Dave Jackson Award
Dave Jackson being presented the Grassroots Match Official of the Year award by Martin Bodenham.

As the conversation draws to a close, Dave shares some wisdom for any aspiring officials in Sussex: “Give it a go. It keeps you involved in football if you don’t want to play and certainly in my case it got me even more involved with the training and tutoring route I’ve taken. I encourage any referee to join an RA and also to get a mentor.

“Every game is different, and you’ll learn something from all of them. If you don’t think you have and you’ve been perfect, you may as well put your boots in the corner and pack it in!

Reflecting on his own career Dave expressed his desire to continue: “The one thing I look back on is that the support now available, certainly wasn’t there when I started out and if I had some of that support maybe I could have taken it a bit further! That said, I have had 45 fantastic years in refereeing, and long may it continue; I’m going to get to 50 years one way or another!”

Our Football Operations Manager, Paul Jeffery had this to say about Dave: “I first met Dave 32 years ago, in a classroom, on a refereeing course. He was an inspiration to me from the start and has continued to be so to this day. 

“He was also my mentor when I became an FA Tutor and Observer. It's fair to say that if you asked a Sussex referee if they know Dave, you would struggle to find one to say no! 

“We talk about our 'referee family', and Dave has definitely become a life-long friend, through our love of the beautiful game. He may be taking a step back, but he will never escape me!”

For more information about refereeing in Sussex please contact:

T: 01903 768573
E: Referees@SussexFA.com

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