A nine-year-old goalkeeper from Colebrook Royals Under 9s in Chigwell could be Essex’s first notional Referee Course booking for 2023!
Following a peculiar scenario, Essex County FA Welfare Officer Helen Hever attended a Royals training session on Saturday 12th May to present a special gift to the youngster.
Helen had recently been in touch with Colebrook after it had been spotted on Twitter that Harrison had been refereeing an inter-club friendly for boys aged five and six. She explained: "It was such a sensitive situation! We were delighted that he enjoyed this experience.”
“However, we did need to share with his club that, while we certainly would not want to discourage Harrison from refereeing in the future, the minimum age for officiating is actually 14. We knew this was a young festival, with younger players, and there would have been adults nearby.”
“For safeguarding reasons, no matter what the age group of players would be, 14 years of age is the minimum for a referee. We contacted the club to make them aware - with our fingers crossed that Harrison wasn’t too disappointed - and we hoped he'd continue to feel that refereeing is something that interests him in the future."
The correspondence was forwarded to Adam, Harrison's father who, coincidentally, has refereed in Essex since 1990 when he qualified as the county’s youngest referee on his 14th birthday! He responded: "Harrison has a huge zest for football, as boys of that age do, and he watches me referee games at the club, too.”
“He had a genuine interest in learning the laws of the game. An inter-club friendly game was arranged between two of our Under 6s' Development Teams who are beginning their football journey, including his brother.”
“With the best of intentions, I let him referee. As I know most of the boys' parents well, some of whom are family and close friends, I explained how Harrison wanted to try the experience. All of the parents thought it was a great idea, and were extremely supportive in helping him, too."
"As a qualified coach and referee, I stood alongside Harrison to ensure his welfare and safety, as well as that of the boys playing. Harrison did fantastically well, and our parents all commented how well he had done, as did the boys. It was a fantastic showcase for the club to have our older boys helping the younger age groups and being such good role models."
Helen was keen not to let this opportunity pass without some kind of positive outcome, so she worked on an idea and, with the support of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the County FA were fortunate to receive a shirt signed by some of the Premier League’s match officials.
She continued: "Following our communication with Adam, I felt that this endeavour should be recognised in some way. It was great to work with the professional game, highlighting and recognising a young person’s keenness to, one day, look at a career in refereeing."
“Obviously we were unable to welcome Harrison onto a Referees Workshop for a few more years but, by way of keeping his interest in refereeing, we had pleasure in obtaining the shirt for him! It was presented to Harrison by former Tottenham Hotspur player, David Kerslake."
Adam reacted: "I am really jealous of Harrison! I understand the concerns and appreciate the age for qualifying as a referee, and that he cannot be involved in refereeing officially until this point. I now appreciate he cannot do so informally either so, for now, he will have to wait! However, hopefully on his 14th birthday, he can be in contact again and join the refereeing family officially!"
Harrison has been a Leyton Orient season ticket holder since the age of two, and his favourite player is Macauley Bonne. He claims Michael Oliver is the Premier League referee he looks up to most and he also likes to watch Real Madrid and Juventus play.
Keen to progress in the refereeing trade, he enjoys observing his father during matches, but he can also be his harshest critic! Harrison explained: “I like seeing my dad refereeing and it looked fun. I like being near the action and being in charge made me feel proud. I’d like to do a referee course when I can. My dad is a good referee but he makes mistakes - even the best referees do!”
If you’re aged 14+ and would like to find out more about becoming a referee, visit the 'Referees' section above, follow @EssexCountyFA on Twitter and search for ‘EssexFootball’ on Facebook.