“The whistle gives you energy, especially if you command respect”
The low wooden accommodation is somewhat hidden and anonymous, there in the sports park Voorland, just behind the football club building of the football association GeuzenMiddenmeer. You have to go around it to find the door. There is a light box above the door with the letters SVA.
Amsterdam Referee Association. You just need to know.
It’s a happy place indoors, with a high density of referees. It’s practice night, the referees are training outside. And the canteen near the bar will be vacated because the centenary of the SVA will be celebrated here on Sunday. On March 12, 1923, the association was founded in Café Restaurant Doorn on Rembrandtplein.
Conflict of interest
“The VAS has proven its necessity over the past hundred years,” says chairman Peter de Waard (44). The construction and engineering project manager has been a referee for nearly thirty years and is currently a referee in the Saturday Football Premier League.
“And in 2023, the referees’ association will still play an important role. We defend the interests of every referee at all levels, that is the main objective. Whistling is an individual hobby. And that’s why it’s fantastic that you can train with us, for example, twice a week. But, and this is at least as important, here you can keep your knowledge of the rules up to date, and also share your experiences with colleagues and there is support if something goes wrong.
(We’ll leave the latter undiscussed tonight for fun, which, to be clear, doesn’t mean it’s denied.)
One of those colleagues is 22-year-old Ramon Glebbeek. And just to dispel a stubborn misunderstanding that surrounds football referees: it was not a failed footballer who then began to whistle. “When I was fifteen, I became champion with my RKDES team. Then I started whistling, then I stopped at my peak, haha.
As is so often the case, Glebbeek, an everyday growth marketer, once wondered if he wanted to referee a student competition. He immediately liked it.
“What do I like about it?” That you are in charge of 22 footballers and you have to let them have fun. Have fun playing football. And if you can chat with the players after a fierce and thrilling regional derby, then I had a great afternoon.
He now whistles in Sunday football’s Fourth Division, as well as the Eredivisie Under-16s, which are the youth sides of professional football organisations. “I sometimes rejected a goal from the home club on a Thursday evening during a relegation match. Yeah, and then you see the audience screaming with mugs of beer in their hands… Exciting, but if you’re strong, not much happens.
Ton Wassenberg also agrees with the latter. The 61-year-old garage business owner is a referee for Category A youth football. He became a referee through his two footballing sons. “I have the dominance. You achieve this by radiating certainty. Even if you don’t feel so sure at all.”
He says it with a smile. “I really enjoy managing such a competition. I have three principles when I whistle: you have to know the rules of the game, you have to know how to apply them correctly and you have to convey them convincingly.
It sounds simple, but there is more to it. “The time when you could do it from the central circle as a referee is of course over. We run about ten kilometers per game, because we want to follow the game closely. That’s what the And here at SVA we also talk about the rules of the game and all their interpretations.
With pens, he explains a situation in which it is a “new situation” after a deliberately or unintentionally headed ball from a defender. The way Wassenberg moves the pens on the table shows that this self-confidence is good. “I prefer to play a big game with two competing teams on an equal footing. Then the level doesn’t even matter anymore.
Just poke. Is the referee an endangered species?
“We have around 150 members aged between 16 and 86,” explains Peter de Waard. “This makes us one of the top five referee associations in the Netherlands. Of course, I think everyone who whistles should become a member of an umpire association. The complicity is great. I am part of a board of directors with an average age of thirty years. It gives a new perspective on things. Is everything still fine, can’t it be better? I can say that I dusted things off quite a bit.
The SVA has a social function and is also a meeting place. In addition to technical evenings on the rules of the game, meetings on resilience, nutrition and cooperation with club assistant referees are also organised. “We really are there for each other.”
And there is always an increase in young members. Moreover, according to De Waard, the SVA is a reasonable reflection of society in terms of orientation, color and origin. “Unfortunately, only three female referees are members. Yes, it is little. And we hope for more, especially now that women’s and women’s football has grown tremendously in recent years. Fortunately, we have role models like Shona Shukrula and Lizzy van der Helm. And Franca Overtoom will be active as an assistant referee at the upcoming Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The referees arrive in dribs and drabs after their training. De Waard will make them coffee. He wants to say one more thing. “Everyone should try once. Whistling energizes you, especially when commanding respect. And with enough dedication, you can also make a decent career. Really, whistling is more fun than you think.
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