Adekola Adeyemi

Essex County FA Celebrate Grassroots Volunteers For #BlackHistoryMonth

Essex Referee Talks About His Story of Becoming a Match Official


As October is #BlackHistoryMonth, we are highlighting some of the amazing work that goes on in our grassroots community. Our first story celebrates the journey of referee, Adekola Adeyemi.

We spoke to one of our Level 4 (Step 5 & 6) referees, Adekola Adeyemi, about his journey in becoming a referee, focusing on development, the barriers and challenges he has faced, his sporting heroes and lots more!

The Beginning

“Back in 2015, I was working with a friend of mine, Gary Telling, who would always tell me about him refereeing and the games which he had refereed every weekend, as well as how much he enjoyed those games and refereeing in general. Gary suggested to me that I should give it a go, so I did. I very quickly got the bug, and I haven’t looked back ever since.”

“I have to say the most enjoyable aspect of being a referee is, I would say is the personal conversations, the quick exchanges as well as the banter. Back when I was playing, I remember feeling as if referees wouldn’t listen to the players, so when I referee, I always try to be as open as possible, explain decisions and answer any questions which the players or managers may have, where possible.”

“I have to say, I have been very lucky as I have never had or experiences any barriers to my refereeing and have felt very supported through my time as a referee both by Essex County FA and The FA as well as other fellow referees.”

“I started my refereeing journey in 2015, refereeing in the Southend Borough & District Combination (SB&DC) on Saturdays and the Southend & District Junior Sunday League. The SB&DC was a real eye-opener and I learnt so much, such as having to check the pitch for dog poo and even refereeing a game without nets in the goal! During my time on the league, the way I communicated with teams and people really developed. This is where I gained promotion to Level 6 (County) referee after a few seasons.”

Progression & Development

“Once I became a Level 6 referee, I felt it was time to see if I could up my game, so I moved onto the Prokit UK Essex Olympian Football League (EOFL) on a Saturday, and the Eastern Junior Alliance on a Sunday. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the EOFL and after receiving good feedback from the clubs that I had refereed in the lower divisions; I was given appointments with neutral assistant referees in the Premier Division.”

“I have to say that this was a real joy as I was working with other referees to ensure the smooth running of the game, as well as helping and advising younger and less experienced referees. Whilst I was on the league, I was given games that were high pressured, such as relegation scraps or top of the table clashes. While here, I was advised by other referees that I should go for promotion again, this time achieving promotion to a Level 5 (Senior County) referee.”

“After receiving promotion to Level 5, and loving life there for a few seasons, I felt it was time to challenge myself again and seek promotion to Level 4. By now my older brother had flown through the levels and was also seeking promotion to Level 4, so the race was on between us!”

The Journey So Far

“In the 2021/22 season I started splitting my time between refereeing on the EOFL and acting as an assistant referee on the Essex Senior League, as well as officiating on the Isthmian Development League too. Whilst going for promotion to Level 4, I was given several opportunities to officiate my first games at Step 5, which gave me a small but excellent insight into what life as a Level 4 referee would be like.”

“Fast-forward to this season, and three months into my first season as a Level 4 referee, I am loving it. It’s a challenge but who doesn’t like a challenge. I’ve been given my first appointments in the middle on The FA Youth Cup and The FA Vase, as well as working with referees who are Level 3 (Step 3 & 4), where I’ve been able to learn massive amounts of knowledge and insight from them. I am hoping that this good start to the season can continue.”

Adekola Adeyemi

Football’s Meaning & Heroes

“I absolutely love it (refereeing)! I’ve played, I’ve coached and now I referee. I love football so much that in my spare time I even play Football Manager. It’s also always been a way for me and my three brothers to come together, whether it’s playing ‘headers and volleys’ in the park or arguing over whose team is going to finish higher in the Premier League. I find it to be a great leveller and a way for everybody to discuss the game and share their opinions from different perspectives.”

“As a huge Chelsea fan, I would have to say Didier Drogba. I think his story and achievements are incredible, with him turning pro at 21, to then winning the Champions League at 34 after being written off, I think shows that anything is achievable and possible. That is not even mentioning his off-field achievements, it’s so hard to not be inspired by that.”

Advice for Others

“I think it is important to bear in mind that grassroots football is not the Premier League. These referees are not Pierluigi Collina, Howard Webb or Uriah Rennie and we don’t have VAR or goal-line technology. This isn’t our full-time job and most of the time we are out on the Field of Play on our own.”

“We can and do make mistakes, and if we give a goal-kick instead of a corner, it isn’t the end of the world and the game isn’t ruined or spoiled because of it. I do feel that currently whilst out refereeing or watching grassroots games that there is a mentality whereby everyone feels as if they have a right to tell the referee how they feel and sometimes even go as far as abusing them, which is something that we don’t want within the game and want to eradicate this where we can.”

“The best piece of advice that I can give is simple. Give it a go, refereeing is so much fun. You will learn so much along the way and will always adapt and change as your refereeing journey develops. How I officiate a game now is completely different to how a refereed a few seasons ago, which I think shows that you are always developing through things you might have tried yourself, or something that a fellow refereeing colleague may point out or do.”

“I have learnt so much, such as how to act in different scenarios and how to communicate with players and staff, which I think are skills that not only help you with refereeing, but also in life and day to day scenarios in general.” 

Future Ambitions

“This is my first season at Level 4 referee, and I am absolutely loving it. My overall aim of refereeing is to be the best referee that I can be and see where that takes me on my refereeing journey. Watch this space!”

This #BlackHistoryMonth, @EssexLibraries have put together a list of recommendations to help learn from the past and improve for the future. Check out the options for both adults and childrenTo help celebrate #BlackHistoryMonth, events in Essex can be found on the Essex Cultural Diversity Project website. Find out more about #BlackHistoryMonth here.

If you would like to get involved in refereeing, please click here.