I recently arrived home from the officiating at The Dallas Cup, USA – a truly incredible experience.
I was one of a team of 8 officials selected; five of whom as supply league referees representing the FA from across the country and three from the Professional Game Match Officials (PGMOL).
Whilst there, we were all fortunate to be hosted by American families in a lovely area of Dallas called Lake Highlands. My homestays, George and Debby Kondrach, simply couldn’t do enough to make me feel welcome and comfortable. This was the case for all the homestays, amazing considering they open their doors to accommodate English officials each year! For those that don’t know me, I love sampling new foods, and George and Debby took this to the extreme, giving me the chance to sample some classic American staples, true Tex-Mex but notably delightful smoked Texas BBQ beef brisket – something I don’t believe is replicated with such quality anywhere in the UK as what I tasted.
After a lengthy flight from Heathrow, we met up with all the families at (very conveniently for me) the Kondrach’s who hosted us all for the evening with a wonderful meal, as we all got to know each other. With a time difference of minus 6 hours, I think we were all glad to eventually retire to bed that night, happy in the knowledge we had an excellent group to spend our time with!
Sleep didn’t last long though with a 6am wake up call for a high-intensity training session, prepared by current Panel-Select referee Leigh Doughty, truly kicking the flight out of our systems! I certainly underestimated the effects such a flight would have on our systems! Later, we took the opportunity to do some sightseeing, including an intriguing visit to the JFK Museum, before dodging traffic for a photo on the spot he was shot!
After a similar pattern for a few days building memories, Saturday night presented the FIFA Reception – a great chance to mingle and converse with match officials from across the globe, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and CONCACAF just to name a few.
I was delighted to be appointed an as AR for the opening fixture of the tournament, FC Dallas vs Villareal, in the magnificent Cotton Bowl Stadium. The venue was originally built in the 1930’s and has been expanded and refurbed, a host stadium to the 1994 World Cup, with a spectacular capacity of 92,100 – higher than any stadia in England! James Oldham was the referee, and this initial insight into how the PGMOL guys operate was great, with a fantastic team performance to showcase English officials.
Monday saw me with my first middle! The game was between Club Mana of Mexico and Houston Dynamos of America. It was an interesting challenge with two completely contrasting styles of football expected, with a language barrier between myself and a Chinese assistant and different Canadian intricacies to being an assistant. The high heat and humidity added to the challenge, with both teams under pressure to open their tournaments well. My post-match de-brief by FA coach George McCaffery was positive and beneficial, with areas to experiment and think through with my next Under-17’s middle the following day, and I was happy with my performance.
Overall, my games followed a similar portrait to this, some challenging games with positive feedback and some excellent tips to further build upon, which I look forward to continuing to implement now I’m back home and into next season!
Our group bonded exceptionally well, and Monday night saw us meet one of the homestays for a coaching session originally led by Steve Dunn, Panel Select Referee coach for the PGMOL. We started by each openly discussing one area of our games that we believed could do with developing, and it was great just to see how much we could all learn from each other as a group of 8 referees, with some wise insights from Steve. We ran out of time before Steve could do his main intended session!
This theme continued throughout the tournament – for me, I learnt more discussing various topics and through other people’s games than I probably did during my own matches. It was great having the chance to watch Neil Hair, Football League referee, in action, demonstrating excellent presence, and how clear Leigh and James’ communication/game management was, as well as critiquing games with Steve, George and the guys. I’m aiming to build these as much as possible in to my game going forward, and seeing what impact these skills will have on me. Hopefully Neil is joined by Leigh and James on the Football League next year, and I look forward to watching them in action next season.
I’m truly thankful for the opportunity, with uncountable memories, and thoroughly enjoyed making friendships which will hopefully live on now we’ve returned home. I’ve returned as a better referee, but also a better person, and feel truly motivated to push on and achieve what I desire.