FA Cup Honour for Gary Beswick
Durham FA referee Gary Beswick will walk out for the second time as an FA Cup Final Assistant Referee at Wembley this Saturday 1st August 2020.
Gary took the time to chat with RDO Alex Clark to discuss this unique appointment, officiating during lockdown and how he got into refereeing.
Alex: Gary, first of all congratulations on another FA Cup Final appointment, can you sum up how you felt on receiving the news, especially considering you have already officiated an FA Cup Final before?
Gary: Well I’m obviously delighted first and foremost to be considered once more for what normally is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a referee or assistant for the small number of people who actually achieve it. To be considered for The Heads Up FA Cup Final again alongside Anthony Taylor (who did it with me in 2017) and Adam Nunn, who are my regular team both domestically and in UEFA/FIFA is beyond anything you could wish for. I’m delighted to represent not just myself, but my family and all my colleagues and friends from my roots in Durham FA, and all of the leagues I have officiated on coming through. It’s a great honour and creating this little bit of history represents our area appropriately for the standard of officials we produce in Durham.
Alex: Obviously it is an unprecedented situation that we are in and this has meant several changes taking place. What changes will you have to make to your pre match routine this time around compared to your previous FA Cup final?
Gary: These are strange times indeed, the world has been turned upside down and football at all levels has felt the full impact of this. Normally in the life of an official appointed to the FA Cup final you would attend the Referees Association Eve of Final Rally with partners alongside us the evening before the game then afterwards go for a meal as a team looked after by the FA. On the day of the game the time is yours to prepare but friends and family would be in attendance at the ground so lots of organising to do. On this occasion with the current situation in the world, there is nothing planned the evening before the game, we will drive our own cars to Wembley individually and partners/family will not be with us. We will also drive straight home from the stadium after the game which will feel very strange. In terms of training preparation everything will remain the same albeit it not in a public gym, all training is home based at the moment so utilising local parks or in some cases our adapted garages for a gym.
Alex: The obvious change during the game is that there are no spectators allowed at Wembley on Saturday. However, you have now officiated in several Premier League games during the lockdown period, how have you found this behind closed doors experience and have there been any challenges or advantages to doing games behind closed doors?
Gary: Spectators are such an important part of the game, things are simply not the same without them. That said we are professionals just like the players, we have a job to do and we must find a way to maintain our focus and high performance levels. Luckily for us as a team we officiated the Champions League round of 16 second leg PSG v Borussia Dortmund in March as our last game before suspension of football and that evening there was no crowd in the stadium as France made the decision to play any games behind closed doors due to the growing pandemic. This experience helped us be ready for Project Restart and the feelings and emotions involved of what may feel like a reserve game with nobody watching but still being shown live around the world and the intensity of the game being largely unchanged in a crucial match. You hear everything in these environments, every kick of the ball, clash of shin pads and voices. It is about tuning your brain to focus on what you need to achieve and not let the environment affect your mentality.
Alex: You are once again working with Anthony Taylor, the same referee on the 2017 FA Cup Final, how big a part do you think teamwork will play on the day and what tips would you provide for referees coming through to build a good team relationship on the day of a game?
Gary: Anthony is a great referee and on top of it a great guy and we have a great team ethic between all three of us. We utilise the use of the communication kits well to ensure the smoothest of teamwork and that visually we are always coming to the most appropriate decision. As all elite teams operate in any sport, decisive decision making is essential, opinions and appreciation of each other’s roles and the challenges posed by those roles are considered. Honest appraisal of situations is very important to improve as there is always room to improve. A top assistant referee not only needs to be accurate but they need to be able to adapt their approach to support the referee as we are there to assist first and foremost. My advice for building good relations for any referee or assistant, whatever the role you are, is to be clear what you expect of each other, do what is right to support each other and keep an open mind to other’s suggestions or ideas. Always make your colleagues feel like they want to work with you again the week after.
Alex: VAR will of course be in implementation for Saturday’s game. With the implementation of VAR in the Premier League this season, has this caused any changes to your thought processes in making decisions as an assistant referee such as a delayed flag for offside?
Gary: VAR is relatively new to English football having almost completed it’s first full season. Our colleagues in the VAR Hub in Stockley Park (near Heathrow airport) are team mates and there to help us bring the game to a successful conclusion. We have communication with them over our communication kits when appropriate to check incidents based on the protocol in place. It is very important that our thought process remains the same as we still must come to a decision on the field before the VAR can consider it’s involvement. Of course it is very important for us to describe what we have seen and why we have came to a decision to help this process. In England we currently do not delay the raising of our flag for offsides in goal scoring situations, the referee in this instance will delay their whistle to allow the play to complete and then will give offside as the decision on field. This allows the VAR to review this decision should a goal be scored. Offside position is something VAR can prove with the technology available, offside offence can sometimes be subjective so our description on the field is important to the VAR.
Alex: Officiating in an FA Cup Final is no fluke and takes years of hard work and dedication, could you give our referees an insight into how you got involved in refereeing, any setbacks you have faced and how you deal with these setbacks?
Gary: I started refereeing in 1996 and refereed my first game which was a Teesside Junior Alliance u10’s game in tracksuit bottoms with an old referee shirt my dad had used when he was once a referee, I was 19 and didn’t want to go full kit for my first game! I officiated my first adult game on the Hartlepool Church League later that season and continued in that league along with the Hartlepool Sunday League. I decided in my first full season to get experience as an assistant referee working on the Wearside League to learn how to be an assistant and learn from more senior referees who I would be working with. Despite achieving my first county promotion in the first full year refereeing it took me 4 years to achieve what would now be Level 4. My club marks held me back despite my assessor marks being good. I didn’t do enough probably to build relations with clubs and you have to look at yourself sometimes rather than feel unlucky. After this I progressed as a referee through the Wearside League, Northern League and eventually became a Panel 2B referee. At this point I had also progressed through the ranks as an assistant referee to be on the Premier League. I had to make a choice, referee or assist. I chose the option of trying to achieve FIFA as an assistant and reluctantly gave up the whistle. Set backs and difficult decisions are part of success in any walk of life, always let the dust and emotion settle from a situation and look at things with fresh eyes and ask “what could I do differently” or “what would someone else do if they were me” thinking of someone you hold in high regard. Also seek advice by speaking to others who can help you. It’s quite appropriate for the final to be called The Heads Up FA Cup Final this year as it highlights mental health and need to use support networks to talk about feelings and emotions. If something is bothering you or if you have a tough life decision to make, talk about it to someone, it helps a lot.
Alex: In order to ensure that you are up with demands of the game, and in top condition ahead of the game what will your training programme look like in the week leading up to the big day?
Gary: We have sports scientists supplying our daily training plan, we have heart rate monitors and GPS devices for us to submit data to them to analyse our training and tailor this appropriately to ensure we are in the best condition, both in terms of fitness but also recovery. As an assistant our training plans can slightly differ to that of a referees. For us it is about agility, changing direction at pace, sidestepping and sprints from a standing start alongside aerobic fitness. My plan for the week will be as follows:-
Monday – (After final Premier League game on Sunday) light recovery session 25 mins medium intensity jogging followed by stretching.
Tuesday – Rest day
Wednesday – High intensity aerobic fitness, pitch based
Thursday – Strength and conditioning
Friday – small speed/sprint session
Alex: What advice would you provide to referees who are looking to improve as an assistant referee?
Gary: Being an assistant is split into 2 categories for me. Accuracy/technical and Assistance. Positioning for an assistant is crucial for decision making, using the pitch or something far side of the pitch to ensure you remain in line with 2nd last defender and constantly readjusting every second takes concentration alongside your other duties, but get this wrong and you will struggle to be accurate. Thinking outside of the box, fight for your position, fight for the viewing angle, sometimes this means taking 2 or 3 steps backwards from the touchline (when safe to do so) to create better angles to either see a challenge or see the ball, you can’t look in two places at once so using your peripheral vision means creating the most optimal angle. Being brave is also a key attribute as an assistant, often being brave is not raising the flag as it means benefit of the doubt, sometimes the hardest thing is not to raise the flag. Look the part, look fast, look alert, look smart, sell yourself well, it all adds up to credibility subconsciously to others. Assisting the referee is the adaptability part, when I gave pre match instructions to my assistants I asked them to consider “sweeping up” anything that I had missed, in other words, make sure I have missed it before you go knee jerk into giving it. Sometimes a subjective decision should be left to the referee to judge if they are in a position to do so, judging credible area and when the referee needs help is a key attribute of a good assistant but one thing is for sure, give yourself thinking time, you have longer than you realise.
Alex: If you could provide one bit of advice to anyone looking to take up the whistle, what would it be?
Gary: Refereeing is not for everyone, I didn’t think it was for me. I gave it a go and never expected to do many games. I had no expectations. It put me out of my comfort zone at first, people looking to you to make decisions. Most decisions are not contested and people accept your decisions, this grows your confidence. You quickly adapt and then start to enjoy it, it becomes a challenge, it becomes an enjoyable sense of achievement after a game. Refereeing and football has given me so much richness of experience in life and changed me as a person. It can challenge you at times but it can grow you as a person. From personal experience what I have been lucky enough to achieve I always thought happened to other people and not someone like me. It is now my job and I travel the world working with great people. My advice would be simply this. Work hard, strive to improve, never give up, be a role model to others and believe in yourself but don’t forget to enjoy it with a smile on your face.
Alex: Gary, thanks for taking the time to chat and share with us your thoughts ahead of the game.
All at Durham FA wish Gary the very best of luck in the game and we will be cheering him on.
If you have been inspired to get involved in refereeing please contact RDO Alex Clark on Alex.Clark@DurhamFA.com or 0191 3872929 (opt 2, opt 6)