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Singapore's Most Successful Assistant Referee Was Once a Referee Critic

Date: 
Wed, 15 Feb 2017

Singapore's Most Successful Assistant Referee Was Once a Referee Critic 

By Alvin Tham

Singapore is known for producing some top class referees over the years, with Govindasamy “George” Suppiah (the first Asian to officiate at a World Cup finals) and Shamsul Maidin (the first Singaporean to officiate more than one match at a World Cup finals) being the names that spring to mind for most local football fans. However, we also produce quality assistant referees, one of whom is Jeffrey Goh, who recently retired and was recognised for his achievements on Friday night when President of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Provisional Council Lim Kia Tong presented a well-deserved memento award to the four-time S.League Assistant Referee of the Year.


A Referee Critic

An avid Sunday league player, Jeffrey Goh was like any other football fan who loved to criticise match officials on their bad decisions. It was one such encounter with a referee after a match – when the official told Jeffrey that refereeing was not an easy job – that he decided to prove the referee wrong by studying the laws of the game.

Spurred by the motivation to better understand the beautiful game in order to back up his criticism of referees, Jeffrey ended up taking a refereeing course conducted by the FAS in 1997.

Initially, Jeffrey has had no intention to pursue top-level refereeing, but the camaraderie of his course-mates pushed him on to complete the entire referee training cycle, and the more opportunities he was given to officiate in matches, the more he was hooked to improving himself as a referee.

It was also during the course, when Jeffrey had the chance to officiate in friendly matches as practical sessions, that he finally conceded referees have a much tougher job than most football fans would think. He said: “There are several situations during a match that the referees are simply not in a good position to view certain situations, and to have to make decisions on the spot can be extremely difficult.”

Jeffrey paid tribute to Mr P. T. Murthi, then FAS’ Referee Executive, for giving him ample refereeing opportunities early in his refereeing career after he was registered as a Class 3 referee. He explained how his sales job at the time gave him flexibility to take on more matches during weekdays, saying: “I was holding a sales job back then and since games were usually held from 5pm to 7pm, I was mostly able to officiate in matches.

He once again stressed the difficulty of the referee’s task, saying: “When you officiate the game, you will realise the difficulties of a referee. As a young Class 3 referee at the time, I try to learn from the senior referees who seemed to handle matches easily and professionally. Visva (current FAS head of referees) was still an active referee back then and he was one of those senior referees I learnt from. I got tips and advice from them, and gradually I got better at the job.”

 

The road to elite refereeing

The early training would prove to be useful in his refereeing career. Three years after he became a Class 3 referee, he officiated in his first S.League match as a Class 1 referee. Jeffrey explained the rigours of the climb towards elite refereeing, saying: “The process (to becoming an elite referee) was long and arduous as referee assessors monitor your every game and even if you pass their assessments, you have to pass your fitness test. The route to becoming a top class referee is not easy.”

Jeffrey would go on to officiate both as a Referee and Assistant Referee in the S.League until 2005. He also became a FIFA Futsal Referee in 2002, and officiated in international futsal tournaments such as the Asian Futsal Championship in 2005 and the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Futsal Championship in 2003. By the end of 2005, Jeffrey decided to specialise in becoming an Assistant Referee, and he was registered as a FIFA Assistant Referee in 2006 for his consistently good performances.

Although he was allowed to continue as Referee for S.League matches, he chose not to in order to focus on becoming a competent Assistant Referee. However, he saw his days as a Referee as a good experience in shaping his refereeing career. “Four years (2002 to 2006) of being an Referee in the S.League certainly made me a better Assistant Referee,” he affirmed.

In the same year, before Shamsul Maidin went on to officiate at the World Cup in Germany, Jeffrey worked with Shamsul as one of his two assistants, learning from Asia’s then top referee (Shamsul was AFC Referee of the Year in 2005 and 2006), for the Japan vs Ecuador international friendly match held in Oita Stadium. Jeffrey also worked with Shamsul in the Qatar League for two years after that, continuing his refereeing education at the highest level.

 

The pinnacle of Jeffrey’s refereeing career

Although Jeffrey readily admits 2008 was his best year in refereeing achievements – he was the Assistant Referee in the AFC Champions League Final first leg between Gamba Osaka and Adelaide United held in Osaka and in the AFF Suzuki Cup Final between Vietnam and Thailand held in Hanoi – his career pinnacle would be going to the World Cup 2010 in South Africa as reserve Assistant Referee. Although his team was not selected due to the large intake of referees for that edition, Jeffrey thoroughly enjoyed his experience at the World Cup.

He said: “Watching the first World Cup 2010 match in Johannesburg was a dream come true for me. The crowds at the World Cup would actually cheer for the referees instead of jeering at them. Everything feels like a carnival.”

He would go on to serve as the 5th official for some of the first round matches. He explained the role only exists in certain competitions like the World Cup, saying: “The 5th official is the standby referee to replace any one of the four match officials. He will sit in the stands and be involved in the game by accompanying the 4th official in ensuring everything is in order. But he will not influence any decisions for the game, and he would only give advice when he is asked.”

Retiring after many illustrious achievements during his 20-year refereeing career, Jeffrey has expressed an interest to stay in the game and inspire the future generation of referees. He said: “I really appreciate the FAS for giving me this award. I think my 20 years in football is not just my effort, but everybody's efforts. Everybody supported each other, but I just had more opportunities to let me perform which was why I had to make sure I didn't let anyone down.”

 

Advice for budding referees

Remaining humble despite his many accolades, he gave his advice to budding referees: “If you are given the opportunity, just grab it and do your best – you never know what could happen. That’s what I did and look what happened.”

FAS President Lim Kia Tong described Jeffrey as “dignified”, and thanked him for serving football for 20 years.

Jeffrey now hopes to become a referee assessor, and the FAS wishes him well on all his future endeavours.

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