I’ve just got back from Hong Kong, and it might seem strange to be relating to you that my trip left me encouraged when it comes to the future of elite refereeing in this country!
The chief reason for my optimism stems from having been lucky enough to spend time with two lads whose names you will be familiar with while I was out there covering the Asia Trophy, the final of which featured Liverpool and Leicester City from the Premier League.
I’m talking about Lancastrian Paul Tierney and the FIFA Elite member from the other side of the Pennines, Bobby Madeley, as well as their assistants, with whom I got talking during our free time.
I was very much struck by the work ethic of these lads as well as the sense that they by no means feel they have cracked it in the kind of company they are truly gratified to be a part of.
It brought home to me the long road that lies ahead for Chris Kavanagh, who is the latest to find himself promoted to the top tier, and I am just hoping he avoids the pitfalls that some referees have been unable to avoid in the past.
We have seen at least a couple fall into that yo-yo category sometimes used to describe clubs relegated and promoted by turns, without ever establishing themselves at one level or another.
Others, when they have been pigeon-holed as having reached some kind of pinnacle, might have found it lonely at the top and let that affect their handling of games.
From Poll to Webb to Clattenburg, if you ask me, all had their moments where it looked like a temporary loss of control may have been the result of trying to live up to their status.
That’s pure speculation on my part, but going back to my day, I well remember captaining Middlesbrough when one day we faced Arsenal and myself and Tony Adams agreed we were not going along with the ego of someone who had perhaps forgotten momentarily that he was there to help create the spectacle and not be the spectacle himself.
Uriah Rennie liked to stride down the tunnel as both teams awaited his appearance before leading the way out in front of all the supporters.
Well, on this occasion me and Tony agreed we were not going to give him the pleasure, and off we set with Uriah breaking into a trot behind us, bellowing “wait for me”!
Uriah, who really was a top ref by the way, was one who elected to get himself an agent. Now, I’m not saying that’s always a problem and I’m the first to advocate anyone maximising their earning potential, as there are not many of us putting up their hand to work for free!
The problem only comes when you have a whole bunch of other issues that all come to a head at once and you have left yourself wide open to the accusation of chasing commercial opportunities instead of prioritising what you are supposedly best at.
Of course, there can be any number of variables thrown at officials both experienced and inexperienced, but the danger remains clear for any new kid on the block too keen to make a statement without grounding themselves and remembering the art of letting a game breathe without appearing to invite controversy or confrontation.
Instead of looking for some meteoric rise on a graph, if you like, let’s look for a really steady first season instead.
Michael Oliver is another great example of someone you don’t feel thinks that he is obliged to assert his authority, go pointing fingers or flashing cards for the sake of it. The minimum of fuss really is the way to go.
If Chris can follow that path as well as the example of these two very humble guys in Tierney and Madeley, who convinced me they never stop looking to improve, he won’t go far wrong and I wish him all the best.