After being released from Port Vale in 2013, former player Joshua Crofts chose to focus on his career as a national sales manager but also continued playing at semi-professional in the hope of it turning into something more. In 2019, a PFA invitation to join the Player To Referee Pathway, a joint initiative between the players’ union, The FA and PGMOL, reignited the dream of a career in football, and since qualifying, Joshua has gone from strength to strength. Now a referee for EFL academy games, we caught up with Joshua to hear more about his unconventional return to the game.
Joshua, lots of former players who want to stay in football lean towards coaching, what made you want to become a referee?
I feel at home on the pitch, so I think refereeing just suits me better. As a referee, you’re still involved in the matchday experience. With coaching, you’re involved throughout the week but on gameday you’re very much on the side-lines and not actively on the field of play. I like the idea that I can still be involved in the game and stay a part of the experience after playing for so many years.
What has your player to referee journey been like?
I first took an interest in refereeing at a PFA careers event when I was in the youth team at Port Vale, so when I had the opportunity to train as a referee years later, it seemed like a no brainer. The pathway involves various courses, starting with a two-day intensive qualification course at Loughborough University, where we were taught the basics of refereeing, got to try refereeing first-hand and learned more about the laws of game, and it got me hooked. By the end of the first course, I was ready to referee grassroots games, but I also attended some training days at Warwick University to further my development so I could learn how to referee higher level matches.
You’re now refereeing academy matches, what’s it been like to be back on the pitch in a different role?
It’s been very different but there are lots of positives. I’m currently refereeing League One and League Two under-18 games, and it’s quite nice to be back in that environment. As a ref, you’re very much on the other side, and I hold my hands up, I’ve been one of those players who has given the referee grief in the past, and sometimes you do think ‘why put yourself through that pressure?’ However, you play an important role - a match can’t start without a referee. I think to be a referee you’ve got to be quite resilient. At the end of the day, you’re managing 22 people on the pitch, plus managers, coaches and your own team of assistant referees, so it’s quite a big responsibility.
What kind of support have you had on your refereeing journey?
Richard Jobson from the PFA, Daniel Meeson and Adam Kenton from The FA, Chris Foy from PGMOL and former ref Dave Horlick are all within my support network, so if I have anything to discuss, I can always pick up the phone and speak to those guys - they’re always there. They check in with me, come and watch me for support and give me development notes to review how games have gone. They’re hoping programmes like this can get more players interested in becoming referees because it’s a great way for ex-players who want to stay in football, especially those who drop out of the game early.
What’s next for your refereeing career?
At the moment, I’m taking every game as it comes so I can improve and take it as far as I can. My ultimate goal is to become a full-time referee, but I appreciate that’s a long way off! There’s lots of great referees out there who have been doing this since they were teens, so they have a massive head start, but I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself. From the feedback that I’ve got, I believe I’m doing quite well, so there’s nothing to say that I can’t continue with it!
I don’t think many players can imagine themselves as refs, but the Player To Referee Pathway really opens the door and gives players with talent another opportunity to stay in the game, so I would definitely recommend it. I think any opportunities the PFA put out for players are worth considering as a back-up plan, because they could lead to a good career in the football industry when you stop playing.
Find out more
Do you have what it takes to become a referee? If you’re interested in learning more about one of the most important roles in football, contact Richard Jobson for more information about signing up for the Player To Referee Pathway.
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