Interview with #RYG17 mentor Farai Hallam
Kick It Out is hosting its seventh annual Raise Your Game national conference on Monday 24 April at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, providing a unique opportunity for individuals looking to break into the football industry.
Supported by the Premier League, the mentoring event will welcome over 300 mentees to the Woolwich Suite as they seek advice from experienced mentors to learn more about careers within the sport.
Ahead of the conference, Kick It Out spoke to Farai Hallam, Senior Referee Officer at The Football Association and former player at Stevenage Football Club, who will be mentoring in the referees category, about his role, the benefits of refereeing and the value of Raise Your Game.
After spending seven months playing full-time in the south of Spain following his release by Stevenage in 2012, Farai Hallam was at a crossroads.
“I ended up coming home and the reality was I was either going to go to America and play soccer there on a university scholarship for four years, or the option came up for an apprenticeship at The Football Association. I looked at pursuing both and eventually was fortunate enough to be offered a position by The FA.”
Despite having limited experience as a referee – he started by overseeing Stevenage academy games – Farai was eager to progress and just over three years later, he is hoping to reach Level 4 in time for the new season.
He encourages young people aspiring to be professional footballers to consider getting their referee qualification.
“There’s more than one reason why you should while you’re still playing. Just because you take a referee’s course, doesn’t mean you have to stop playing – especially if you’re playing at a high level,” he explained.
“Not only will it make you more aware, it will definitely make you a better player because when you’ve got an understanding of the laws of the game, you’ve got a better understanding of what referees are looking for. There is more to football than just playing.”
Farai added: “But it’s also an exit strategy – whether you fall out of love with playing, whether you suffer a number of injuries, whether you get to the point where you can’t commit to a first XI, or whether you’re looking for a life beyond playing, it’s a very viable option.”
Part of Farai’s role as a Senior Referee Officer sees him manage the relationship between match officials and National League clubs, but one of his key areas of work is to support referee development pathways through the FA’s Centre of Refereeing Excellence (FA CORE).
In recent months, Kick It Out have worked closely with The FA and the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), to examine what more can be done to ensure those development pathways are available to people from BAME backgrounds.
Farai believes that the current set-up does not prevent anyone from becoming a referee and progressing through system, but recognises that there is a ‘cultural change’ that is needed to develop a more diverse pool of referees.
“Whatever your ethnicity, gender, sexuality and background, when you come into refereeing, you just want to be treated as a referee. As a fact, refereeing is for anyone and everyone. If you are a good referee, you are good referee – no matter who you are, no matter what you look like. There may be a perception out there it isn’t like that, but that’s up to us to change.
“The event we did at Leyton Orient was fantastic because we went out into the community, engaged with people who are actually out there refereeing, week in, week out. The more we can do that, the better – it puts a face to The FA, it puts a face to refereeing. People will see that and say you know what, they were just like me five or 10 years ago, there’s no difference between us.”
He continued: “Once you get into refereeing, you really do feel a sense of belonging and it’s just about getting people in. That’s something we need to work on as a national governing body but also something that culturally throughout the country we can try and influence as well.”
Turning his attention to Raise Your Game, Farai hailed the opportunities available on the day and emphasised how important it was for mentees to make the most of the event.
“The experience, the knowledge and the contacts that are in that room on that day – it’s second to none. Any person looking to get involved in football should be a sponge on that day; there’s so much you can take away, so much you can learn. Thousands and thousands of people would give their right arm to be involved in it.
“I left last year and I was motivated and inspired. It was a sense of reality for me, these young men and women – similar to myself a few years ago – are so enthusiastic to get into football and to make a difference.
He concluded: “If someone asked me whether Raise Your Game worth it, I’d say there’s no better opportunity to go out and learn. Even if nothing directly comes from it, you’re learning things that not many other people have the opportunity to learn.”