Daniel D'Urso HERO

Referee Spotlight: Daniel D’Urso

This year’s Sussex Transport Senior Cup Final referee talks the National League, growing up in a refereeing family, and professional goals!

In this instalment of our Referee Spotlight series, sponsored by REFSIX, we spoke to the latest match official to referee the Sussex Transport Senior Cup Final, Daniel D’Urso. 

For Daniel D’Urso, son of former Premier League and FIFA referee, Andy D’Urso, taking up the whistle was far from an inevitability, especially when, as a child, you’re understandably keener on playing rather than officiating.

“Like most referees, I am really just a failed footballer at heart!” laughs D’Urso, “I did play a fair bit growing up in Essex, for teams like Forest Glade, often as a left-back or left wing, taking full advantage of being left footed.

“However, whilst I wasn’t a great player, I was hampered by the fact that the manager's son happened to play in the same position as me, so five minutes at the end of a game was normally the best I could hope for, not that I’m still bitter or anything!”

At 14-years-old D’Urso was already looking to get more involved in the game, and understandably, having seen his father in the middle of the park in some of the country’s most famous stadiums, refereeing seemed like the natural next step.

“Travelling and following dad was a real privilege as a child, and of course at that age you don’t really appreciate the challenges and the more serious elements of being a referee, you’re just enjoying it all in blissful ignorance,” said D’Urso.

“But then as I got older, and moved up through school, things did get a bit more difficult, especially coming in on a Monday morning, when kids would be coming up to you saying ‘your dad screwed my team over etc.’

“Looking back though, you learn that kids are kids, and overall, it was still an incredible experience to have, so when I was old enough to want to earn a bit of pocket money, I knew I wanted to start refereeing.

“Mum was a bit apprehensive when I told her, knowing what dad went through over his career and the challenges a career in refereeing can bring, but dad straight away just said ‘great I’ll help where I can’ and he went and made the introduced to the Essex County FA, and got me booked on the course, and then I was away.”

A two-day intensive course later, and D’Urso was set to take charge of his first game, and looking back, he’s keen to stress the benefits of doing the course at the age he did.

“The course prepared me, not just to start refereeing, but it helped begin to instil me with life skills I could take with me, such as dealing with difficult situations and just being able to cope in those high pressure environments,” said D’Urso.

“As for my first game, I was nervous, as any referee is when they’re starting out, and then add into the mix the fact my dad came along, the pressure was really amped up!

“At that level refereeing at grassroots, you're on your own, so it was daunting, and those same feelings never really leave you, whenever you’re getting ready to make another step up the pyramid.”

Daniel D'Urso officiating in the Third Round of the Sussex Transport Senior Cup last season

Daniel D'Urso takes charge of the Sussex Transport Senior Cup Third Round tie between Crawley Down Gatwick and Hastings United

After a few years earning his stripes refereeing youth games and learning to weather the storm of sometimes overzealous parents on the sidelines, the 16-year-old D’Urso began refereeing men’s football.

“I think I was mostly ready for it, but then again, you’re never really ready until you actually do it,” said D’Urso, “you throw yourself in the deep end and it’s sink or swim really, with you, effectively still a child, having to manage and assert authority over 22 fully grown men.

“It’s then a situation where you have to ask yourself how you’re going to approach this and what tools you have at your disposal, and for me I looked to use my personality to get on their level, and in terms of a character-building experience, it’s right up there.”

As the years of officiating went by, the promotions began to come for D’Urso, but upon reflection, there’s a tinge of regret that refereeing, and his pursuit of promotions, wasn’t given his full attention.

“I’ve refereed every season since I was 14-years-old, but with the benefit of hindsight, the only regret I have from my career is not putting myself forward for promotions sooner,” said D’Urso.

“In my late teens and into my twenties, the focus was things such as getting through university and life beyond that, and now in my mid-thirties, whilst I’m far from old, I am somewhat older than you’d expect a Level 3 referee to be.

“Refereeing is definitely something you have to be committed to, with the demands of the modern game meaning you have to eat well and train properly, and over the last few years I’ve been able to give it that level of attention, but let’s be frank, refereeing at this level is a second job, especially when things like travel are factored in.

“But whilst spinning all those plates can be a challenge, as a career, it’s so rewarding, and that’s why for me the goal has always been to get in a position where I can hand in my notice and make officiating my full-time job, regardless of what level that might be at.”

The rewards from being a part of the world of refereeing of course also extend off the pitch to the wide network of supportive fellow officials.

Indeed, in the eyes of D’Urso, nobody better encapsulated that mantra than the late Gary Willard, one of the finest match officials Sussex has ever produced, who sadly passed away in May 2024.

“When I moved down to Sussex a few years ago, it was Gary who my dad told me straight away to reach out to when it came to helping me get set up as an official in the county,” said D’Urso.

“After speaking to him, he very kindly invited me to a join the Referee Development Group, and through that group, I’ve met at least 10 to 15 close friends, with a handful of those being my best mates, such as the likes of Jon Wilks, Alex Bradley, Conall Bartlett, Nick Blogg and Tom Price, to name just a few…

“Without that support from Gary, I never would have settled so easily into life down here, and by extension, had the refereeing career I’m having right now, so that’s something I’ll always be grateful to him for.”

Referee Daniel D'Urso shows Horsham's Danny Barker a yellow card in the Sussex Transport Senior Cup Final

Refereeing the Sussex Transport Senior Cup Final, Daniel D'Urso shows Horsham's Danny Barker a yellow card

On the pitch, D’Urso was now a regular fixture in the National League, both as a fourth official and on the line.

Yet that steady progress was about to be, almost literally, stopped in its tracks, after D’Urso, running the line in a match between Southend United and Barnet, had to suffer the nightmare of an injury mid-game.

“In terms of low points in my career, that is certainly up there for sure,” he said, “it was just one of those where I was running and, my ankle just gave way, and I felt a horrible pop, and before I knew it was on the ground and my ankle was starting to swell to the size of a volleyball!

“Of course, I couldn’t even stand, let alone walk, so I had to be wheeled back down the tunnel, while a good 4,000 fans chanted ‘lino in a wheelchair’ as I was taken away.

“Cut to the hospital some hours later, and I remember lying in the bed, still in all my refereeing kit I should add, and watching it blow up on the various WhatsApp groups I’m in with other officials, and the likes of John [Wilks] expressing sympathy with the poor ref.

“Well that came to an end pretty quickly when he and the rest of them found out it was me, because as soon as the word got out the sympathy dried up and, shock horror, it was the funniest thing in the world, which looking back now, yeah I get.”

Last December of course wasn’t all bad for D’Urso, with news of his mid-season promotion to the National Group of Assistant Referees arriving in his inbox, along with his appointment to referee the Sussex Transport Senior Cup Final between Hastings United and Horsham at the Amex Stadium.

“It was a huge surprise to get the appointment to be completely honest,” said D’Urso, “I’d been lucky enough to be the fourth official in a few of the semi-finals over the last couple of seasons, which had been great experiences themselves, but I didn’t think I was anywhere close to being given the final.

“I can remember the nerves for the game, because it was the first time I’d refereed such a big occasion, and in front of a crowd of that size, but also mixed in with that was just the excitement to be a part of it all.

“In the weeks before when I was preparing, all I could think about was not getting injured! The paranoia around staying fit was on another level, as in just this season alone, as successful as it’s been, I’ve had three separate injuries that have kept me out.

“But of course, I needn’t have worried about any of that, and with the game itself, from our perspective as officials, it couldn’t have gone any better, because, at the end of the day, it was the players who decided who lifted that trophy, not us, and that’s all you can hope for as a referee.”

Daniel D'Urso is presented with his medal at the Sussex Transport Senior Cup Final by our Chair, Thura KT Win

Following the Sussex Transport Senior Cup Final, Daniel D'Urso and his fellow officials are presented with their medals by our Chair, Thura KT Win

The occasion also gave D’Urso the chance to start repaying his dad for all those years of not only taking him to games as a child but following him up and down the country on his refereeing journey.

“It made a nice change, with him being the one looked after in hospitality along with my mum, and being able to relax and watch the game with me in the middle,” said D’Urso, “so hopefully it’s the first of many more such occasions to come.”

Be it the Sussex Transport Senior Cup Final or a National League game, D’Urso is also a keen user of our sponsor REFSIX in all his games.

“For me I’m all for anything that can make the job of officials easier, and REFSIX’s app does that in spades,” he said, “I’m useless with maths, so having the various clocks to help in that sense has been a real lifesaver since I started using it a few seasons back.

“I always recommend it to officials at any level, because over the course of the season, it more than pays for itself.”

With D’Urso now a fully established member of the Sussex refereeing community, he’s well aware that he's now moving into the stage of his career, where he becomes less of the mentee and more the mentor for the next generation of referees in the county.

“I recently actually had a chat with Dave Phillips, who of course runs the Centre of Refereeing Excellence (CORE) for the south, and I told him that I would potentially be interested in becoming a coach sometime in the future,” said D’Urso.

“I’m in a fortunate position where I’m able to give back to the refereeing community in Sussex, and one way of doing that is giving advice and help where I can.

“To anyone who is thinking about taking up refereeing, I always say go for it, because even though officiating is becoming more and more of a young person’s game, you’re never too old to get involved, especially if you might have just retired from playing, but still want to stay involved in the game.

“If you are a young person who’s just taken it up though, my advice is always give 100% to it now, because if you train hard and put in the work off the pitch, refereeing can take you on the most incredible journey, and I promise you, you won’t regret it!”

For more information about refereeing in Sussex please contact:

T: 01903 768573
E: Referees@SussexFA.com

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