Premier League referee Roger East joins a long and distinguished list of officials from England’s top flight to officiate at the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens as the former timber merchant returns to the city having worked as an assistant referee during the Asia Trophy in 2007.
How did you start refereeing and why?
A referee one day said ‘you have a lot to say for yourself, you should be a referee’. So I started refereeing simply because I wanted to referee in a higher standard than I could play, officiate at the best grounds I could and to give something back to the game I love, and of course take the comment of a lot to say seriously and use it to my advantage! Initially officiating at grassroots level was tough and certainly character building, but each step up the ladder made the effort worthwhile and more enjoyable.
How did your career start to develop?
After qualifying in 1986, I carried on playing and officiating for a few years. In 1993 I decided refereeing was the sporting path I wanted to pursue. After two years in the Wessex league, six years in the Southern League, I was all of a sudden officiating in the Football League as an assistant and refereeing at National League level which is our division five. In 2004 I had my first taste of international football in Cork, Ireland and went on to officiate internationally for four years. In 2007 I stopped being an assistant and became a Football League referee, and made it back to the Premier League in 2012. I have now completed over 60 games at this level.
When did being a professional referee become an option?
Interesting that I was never considering becoming a professional referee as I had worked in my family business, which was a timber merchants, for over 30 years and just presumed that is where I would always be. In 2012/13 I was given a part-time contract, which suited me perfectly. However, I was given a full-time contract for the last three seasons and could not be happier. There was never really an option, it just happened naturally, but goodness, I am very proud to be a professional referee in the Premier League.
Why did you make the decision to join the professional ranks?
This was very tough, do you stick with safe family business? Or do you have the job you are passionate about? I decided you are only able to have one opportunity in life and must take it with two hands. I am lucky that in my life I have two jobs I simply love. To referee was not really a decision as I had to take the opportunity to officiate at the likes of Wembley, Old Trafford, The Etihad, Emirates and the list goes on, unbelievable! Tough decision, of course not, there was only going to be one!
What has been your highlight so far of your career?
As an assistant this would be the FA Cup final in 2004 and as a referee to officiate at Wembley twice in two weeks with the FA Vase final in 2012 followed by the League One play-off final between Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United which ended in a penalty shootout. The feeling of walking out at Wembley with the ball under your arm, blowing the whistle and running around was a childhood dream come true. The ambition to referee abroad after doing it on the line, will be met in the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens, so in May I will add another highlight to my career.
How do you see the role of additional referees behind the goal in improving the game?
I had finished my international career when this was first introduced, so I have not experienced this system. My Premier League colleagues are all very much in favour of this system, but my feelings are that in England it would not be introduced because we have the Premier League, Championship, League One and League Two which are all big leagues in their own right, and the amount of officials required would be inhibitive of the system. With video technology arriving, the need for additional referees in my opinion would not be as important.
How do you see the role of the video referee in improving the game?
As a professional referee you are devastated when you have made a mistake on a Saturday. The opportunity to take away an obvious error can only be good for the referee, the teams and the game in general. The improvement of public opinion of a referee can only be enhanced if we make fewer mistakes, and the ones we do make be rectified quickly. The quickly aspect is essential for the excitement and speed of the game, there must be minimal delay of the game as this would be a disaster for the Premier League that is known for its excitement and integrity of competition worldwide.
What are your favourite games to referee?
In an ideal world the best games to referee are free flowing, attractive football, plenty of goals, advantages and excitement, but above all after the game not to be remembered as the referee. The saying ‘a good referee is not noticed’ for me is very true. If all games were of this nature it would be fantastic, but if this was not the case a local derby with passion, or an exciting cup match with a Premier League side and lower league team is a great option. This season I refereed Tottenham Hotspur against Wycombe Wanderers in the FA Cup, the game ended 4-3 and was a fantastic game to referee.
How much are you looking forward to Hong Kong this year?
This is a fantastic opportunity for me after the Asia Trophy in Hong Kong in 2007 as an assistant referee. I am really looking forward to coming back as a referee. Hong Kong is a fantastic place to visit and the facilities where the competition will be held are unbelievable. To travel abroad has always been a passion of mine, different cultures, not to mention the different restaurants!
What do you know about the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens?
The competition has a very good reputation as a well-run tournament, giving the opportunity to younger professionals to play alongside experienced players and coaches representing their respective clubs. The venue is fantastic, an iconic place. All my colleagues who have had the pleasure of officiating have only nice things to say about the organisation and competition in general. I am sure this year will be no exception. One fact I have noticed is the Hong Kong Football Club was founded in 1886 the same year as the East family business, so that impressed me.
The HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens also has a Masters Tournament, what do you expect from that?
Masters football is very popular in England and I am sure it will be no different in Hong Kong. The public are very keen on seeing their heroes of yesteryear as I am sure it reminds them of their youth. From experience the Masters are always very competitive, because you never lose the competitive edge to your character. As the oldest referee in the Premier League I should be in a very good position to say that! In summary, I expect the Masters to be the part of the competition that could be the most challenging to me as a referee.