Referee Spotlight: Joel Lamping
In the next of our Referee Spotlight series, in association with REFSIX, we spoke to Joel Lamping, following his recent promotion to Level 3.
“I have conversations with managers now after games, especially if it's been recorded, and I tell them if I've genuinely made a mistake, I will call you and apologise.”
There’s no sugar-coating from Joel, in what was an extremely honest account of his refereeing journey so far. He’s risen up the ranks well and now looks ahead to an exciting season at Level 3 for the first time.
Joel picked up the whistle at the age of 15 whilst playing for ASC Strikers and looking for extra income. He’s glad in the end that he didn’t choose a paper round.
“My step-dad, Del Tobias, was saying about paper round to start with, and it just didn’t interest me. Then he mentioned refereeing and I was thinking maybe paper round is a good idea!
“Del was running ASC Strikers and decided to fund it for me, pay for my course, everything, and obviously you do all your games for them afterwards to cover all the fees.
“I can't thank Del enough for what he's done for me, he's my boss now at work so it's fair to say we have our ups and downs, but he's made me the man I am today.
“I actually did a course with a friend called James Lee, just an old school friend of mine and we did it at Hove Fire station. Mr Jeffrey, Paul Jeffery, took it, fantastic guy, he's always been there for me as well, special shout out to Jeffers.
“He ran the course and there were times, don't get me wrong, it was a Friday night, I've had a long day at college and thinking last thing I want to do is listen to this man.
“It's crazy to think now about how long ago it was and I remember, Alex Bradley's younger brother, Ollie was on the course, I'm sure.”
It can be a lot of responsibility to take on your shoulders as a teenager becoming a referee but Joel tells us of how he settled in.
“I got a lot of praise from parents, I wouldn’t quite say the same now, but you get a lot of praise and as a young referee, because they can see you're trying to work hard.
“I'd always say I was quite an approachable person, therefore, when players come and talk to me or managers ask questions, as long as it was in a professional way, I basically decided to just work with what they were trying to say and explain to the best of my ability.
“By all means, I've made a lot of mistakes, but then I think you have to go far in life with anything, not just refereeing and I worked my way up from there.
“After the praise I received, I thought to myself, ‘you know what you're doing alright here!’ I was never going get anywhere playing, I love football, I loved playing it.”
Football was a big part of Joel’s life from a playing perspective, but it came a time where he had a tough decision to make.
“I still play five-a-side just with mates, but for me it was basically a choice I decided when I was 17, when I was actually getting observed by Duncan Brooker.
“He’s done my line the last few years as well, what a great bloke, he's always been close, I used to go to school with his son. He basically said, ‘if you want go forward with refereeing mate, then you can have to make a decision. I hate to say it!’
“It was a tough few months, I must say, and a tough season, thinking that I love playing, have done it for all these years and then you make a big decision, which I did, and I haven't looked back since really because I now officiate a level I could never have played at.”
Joel doesn’t pretend refereeing was an easy ride for him to begin with but has come a long way since being in the park as a 15-year-old.
“I think I think it's fair to say there was challenges. I mean the club really looked after me, I must say, they gave me all the younger ages to start with, refereeing like under-10s, under-11s most weeks and it was quite straightforward to begin with.
“After about six weeks and I owed them 12 to 15 games something like that, I started to get like the under-12s under-13s and that's where it did get a bit more challenging.
“When you get some managers or some players seeing that you’re a young referee, the first thing a lot of them might think is the potential to gain a bit of an advantage if they get in my head, which sometimes is the case!
“It got really tough, there were times I’m thinking of, ‘why am I doing this? I didn’t sign myself up for this!’ I kept going at it because I thought, you know what you're doing alright, you’re not doing a bad job and even if it's just one person I've never met before comes up to me after and thanks me, that’s what I remembered.
“When players have a go, I don’t take it personally because I know they just care about the result and they want to win, that’s football.”
What started as a paper-round alternative for Joel, turned in to something much bigger.
“At first I didn’t envisage staying long in refereeing. When I turned 18 I started realising I could do this properly, but I never thought I’d get to where I am now at Level 3.
“I just thought it would be good to go for promotion and when you get to go to different places, even as a local lad, still at school, I loved going over to Brighton or to Wish Park in Hove, but when you get to men’s football it becomes a bit scarier!”
One thing that can be quite daunting as you rise the ranks, is the introduction to open-age football, something which Joel believes was the making of him.
“It’s a transitional period going to men’s football it’s almost like you’re starting again because I remember when I started refereeing there was always a fear of booking someone, am I going to show the right card, am I going to give it to the right person, and that all came back when I went to the men’s game.
“It's the same as anything though like starting a new job, you know you’ve got to do your first phone call which you think is going to be horrendous, but it actually turns out alright.
“You become mentally tougher because you’re often the youngest person on that pitch but you’re in charge and responsible for everyone!
“There have been some great guys in my career so far, really supportive ones, and any comment I get like ‘good job ref’ or ‘keep going’ I never expected to hear it and it gives you a boost.
“That’s the sort of things I remember as opposed to people having a go or saying something that they may or may not apologise for later.”
What’s more, Joel peaks about how his response to tough situations has changed over the years.
“As a young lad who took them to heart, I dished cards out a lot more. I was very card-happy because I just used to think well you can’t talk to me like that and because I didn’t have much experience I didn’t have many management skills.
“Now that I coach as well, I’ve developed those skills a bit more but it’s tough because kids look up to you but these older players don’t always take kindly to it!
“But with more experience now I know to use my voice, use my skills, use the step process and when you communicate in the right way, it’s so effective.
“Getting to know people helps, even just getting to the game early and speaking to players, coaches etc. you gain a little bit more respect for each other. You know they’re there to do their job and they know you’re there to do yours.”
Those that go far in refereeing, tend to have good support around them, for Joel it has been a huge part of his rise.
“The big thing for me in terms of a support network, especially recently, has been FA CORE, and I'm fortunate to have Ash Slaughter as my coach.
“I can't even put it into words how effective Ash has been for me, he's there for me outside refereeing as well and we have a close relationship. He knows my family; he knows I'm a young dad and he's always been there for me even at the hardest times.
“Before that, I had Mike Ryan who I still keep in touch with as well, but it's just nice to have these guys who will support me and there's no way I'd be where I am without them.
“I can be on a two-hour journey home and whether it was a good day at the office or a bad one, they will always be there and be honest with me.
“It's good to have relationships with different coaches because you're always going to get different advice and a different input, they all look at things differently.
“You take some things, but you'll always look at things differently because they weren't in your shoes during the game. But most bits they tell me, I'll know it's good advice.”
After several promotions, Joel really started to notice the difference in quality of football he was officiating, something he has taken in his stride.
“The level of football has obviously gone up and up and up since I first got promoted. It's more enjoyable to referee as you go up because it's taken more seriously. The higher you go you start to notice those changes and how much more serious or competitive it is.
“Your name gets out there a lot more as well; I was up in London for an event at Selhurst Park recently with my coaching, talking to a referee called Jordan, one of my young players had a go at him and I told the kiddy off.
“So, I started talking to the ref and we were chatting about our journeys as referees, and he recognised me.
“There's been a lot of great highlights for me, last season running the line on Worthing vs. Bognor was a great experience in front of 2,400. Even some pre-season games which, some say they don't matter but to me there as important when your preparing.
“Getting to know guys in the professional game, and them asking me to come be fourth official, I was at Crawley vs. QPR the other day which was nice.
“It shows you what's there for the taking, seeing that level and it gives you the motivation to keep taking it further even just doing a pre-season game at that level.
“Promotions are obviously big deals and getting to Level 3 was huge but to be able to work in front of a big crowd, with good referees, they are the things I remember.”
Aside from tough situations that Joel has touched on, importantly he talks about the scenarios he has learnt from the most.
“The times I've really learnt from are situations where I've just not given myself time to think. When I rush decisions, like giving a penalty that wasn't or whether I've given wrong information to a manager, I know I've just not given myself time to process the situation.
“This is where Ash has had such an impact on me because he will say what he used to be like and how he'll tell me how he reacted to that.
“I know now that when I rush into decisions and it's led to an incorrect outcome, that then has an effect on the whole game. Yes managers have got angry with me, but rightly so because I've cost their team.
“Sometimes as a referee you have to take it on the chin when you mess up. Players are exactly the same when they make a mistake, they have to put their hands up.
“The best way I react to mistakes now, is that I do put my hands up and admit it because I think players and staff appreciate that.
“I have conversations with managers now after games, especially if it's been recorded, and I tell them if I've genuinely made a mistake, I will call you and apologise.
“They don't always show appreciation at the time when you admit mistakes but that's because their frustrated. Later on, in the season when they see you, often reflect on it differently.”
Joel mentioned before about his experience as an assistant referee, but which does he prefer?
“I enjoy all aspects of refereeing; I'd be lying if I said I didn't. I enjoyed doing the line a lot last season and I think that's because I was doing it on the Isthmian League.
“It's no disrespect to the County League because I love refereeing County League games. But doing the line on a Worthing game or a Lewes game, you're working in front of really good crowds.
“It's obviously a higher standard of football, a lot of players there that have previously been in the pro game, and it just feels a bit more surreal at times.
“So, I enjoyed the line more last season but I'll be interested to see how I feel after my first season as a Level 3 because obviously I'll now be refereeing what I was on the line for last season. Equally though I'll now be on the line in the National League South so I've stepped up in that sense as well.
“Whether I see myself going down that route of solely being an assistant, I don't know at this stage. For me, at the moment, it's a case of no matter what role I've got that day, I'm so focused on doing my job properly, so I can see myself going down either route.
“The support I've got from the guys around me, I know they will support me either way, but I'm not going to say what I'm better at because I'll just say neither!”
The introduction of larger crowds would have been one of the biggest changes for Joel, since moving to open-age football, and he tells us what that feeling was like.
“The first big crowd I officiated to, I walked out thinking right I've really earnt this, I hear all the fans clapping and screaming thinking it's for me but in reality they don't care about me at all!
“I'm nervous before every game as well though, because you want to do your very best and make sure you do the right things and to do that for 90 minutes is hard work.
“The physical and mental demands are high, you're talking to people, you're talking to yourself, you're continuously doing something it never stops.
“Crowds added a bit more pressure, but it wasn't something I panicked about because it was honestly something I looked forward to.”
Joel can look head now to what is a very exciting season for him, stepping up to Level 3, he recounts to us the feeling of when he was told.
“I'd just finished a session at work in Eastbourne, I walked up the stairs checking my emails and it just popped up. I couldn't believe it, I had some of my staff with me and they know how much it means to me, they all ran and jumped on me!
“It didn't feel real at first because I wasn't telling myself I'd got it, I knew I'd worked hard and given absolutely everything, so that was all I could do.
“You're not guaranteed anything in life but what you are guaranteed is that if you work hard, it might not always be what you expected but it'll be something you deserve.
“I spent the next hour calling my mum, calling Ash, and it was an emotional day. I felt on top of the world if I'm being honest!”
Joel is also and avid user of our sponsors REFSIX and believes it’s something all grassroots officials should utilise.
“REFSIX is class and has had a big impact on me. It gives me the opportunity to reflect on my performance a bit more and it's an easy tool because it's very quick to use.
“I would strongly recommend it, the main reason I use it is to track my distance running. I can look at the parts of the game where I worked harder than others.”
If you’re someone looking to get into refereeing, there’s not many better than Joel to inspire you to do so. He is as honest as they come about the challenges it brings but the rewards you gain in the process.
Lastly, he gave his own advice to those aspiring referees: “100% you should do it, it's a great job! When you see it from the outside people ask you how you deal with it etc. but your oblivious to it, you're so focused on the game you don't notice someone having a go.
“Just take a risk and see if you enjoy it, it might not work for you but at least you've given it a go! It's like trying a new food, just pick up the whistle and you will either enjoy it or you won't.”
For more information about refereeing in Sussex please contact:
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