Referee in Focus – Strebre Delovski

Strebre Delovski has been a Hyundai A-League referee since 2005 and a FIFA listed referee since 2009. In addition to a host of international matches, Strebre refereed the 2010 Hyundai A-League Grand Final between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC. He shares some of his insights on being an elite referee in the Hyundai A-League.

How did you become involved in refereeing?

At the age of 15, a friend of mine recommended that I do the referees course. At this stage, I started playing senior football which allowed me to referee junior football on a Saturday morning and pick up extra pocket money. At age 18, knowing I wasn’t going to be playing representative football, I decided to hang up the goal keeping gloves and pursue a career in refereeing.

Can you describe a week in the life of an A-League referee?

A week in the life of an A-League referee requires a lot of sacrifice and dedication. For the majority of the panel, the week consists of working Monday to Friday, physical training 3-4 times per week, a teleconference on a Monday night to review incidents, participating in a wellbeing program, reviewing heart rate data, self-assessment and then officiating in an A-League match on the weekend. The week doesn’t allow for much time to be spent with family and friends. 

What do you do to keep a balance between your personal, professional and refereeing life?

Refereeing at the highest level would not be possible without the strong support of my employer and family. Trying to juggle refereeing with work and family is difficult and can become very stressful. I put in a lot of extra hours at work to prepare for any upcoming international appointments which usually requires 4-5 days annual leave at a time. When I am at home, I try to spend as much time as possible with my family and friends. Spending time at the beach with my wife and kids, eating out with the family or just going for a bike ride helps me relax and recharge the batteries.

What match or moment stands out as a highlight in your refereeing career?

I have been fortunate enough to be involved in many special matches over my 25 years of refereeing both in Australia and overseas but the match that stands out the most is refereeing the 2010 grand final between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC. This was an intense match played in front of 45,000 spectators, with a penalty shootout to decide the winner. Something that I will never forget.

2010 Grand Final captains

How do you keep focused during a match and not let emotions influence decisions?

Personally, I like to break the game down into 10-15 minute periods and set small goals along the way. Teamwork and communication with the other match officials is also very important in staying focused. I often remind myself and the other match officials that the next period is crucial and full concentration is required. Football is a very emotional sport and as referees, we need to have good football knowledge to understand these emotions. When emotions run high, it is very important that the referee remains calm and confident. This allows for better decision making and demonstrates that the referee is in control.

In your opinion, what has been the biggest change in football in recent years?

The speed of the game has definitely been the biggest change for me. These days, players are much quicker, stronger and fitter which allows teams to transition very quickly. The ball can end up from one end of the field to the other in a very short space of time. Therefore, referees need to be extremely fit and quick but also need to have a good football understanding to be able to anticipate play and adjust their position accordingly to adjudicate on incidents.

What is the key to building positive relationships with players and coaches?

I believe communication with players and managers off the pitch is just as important as communication on the pitch. Talking to players and coaches before the game, at half time or after the game helps build rapport and shows the human side of the referee. This ultimately leads to the referee gaining respect and generally promotes positive behaviour on the pitch.

What do you consider to be the most important characteristic of an elite referee?

There are many characteristics of an elite referee such as integrity, reliability, common sense and confidence but the most important for me is communication. Good communication skills are important in any field of human activity but perhaps even more so in refereeing. Referees need to try to establish good channels of communication with players and coaches alike to gain respect. Respect is earned, not demanded. Effective communication both on and off the pitch is a key ingredient to a successful match.