US SoccerUS Soccer

The Best Seat in the House

RESOURCE CENTER - March 4, 2004

As part of our continuing effort to service and educate our membership, each Thursday the U.S. Soccer Communications Center will send out an informative article from one of its departments. Once a week, you will receive an article/paper/essay in your inbox that will hopefully enhance your enjoyment and knowledge of the game of soccer - on and off the field.

This month U.S. Soccer’s Director of Advanced and International Referee Development Esse Baharmast talks about how he and two other American international referees began their career and what benefits they have reaped.

Baharmast was the first American to referee two games at the World Cup in France in 1998. In a game between Norway and Brazil he was widely criticized for a penalty kick call, but then later celebrated when a photographers’ photos showed the shirt-pulling that the TV cameras had not picked up. One year prior to being named the 1997 MLS Referee of the Year, he refereed the U.S. Open Cup, MLS and A-League Finals as well as the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996.

The Best Seat in the House
By Esse Baharmast

Some of the top referees in the United States ended up there by chance. After getting started in a variety of ways, the referees climbed the ladder of officiating and have found themselves in the middle of some of the top sporting events around the world while reaping the fringe benefits of the job.

Paul Tamberino, MLS Referee of the Year for four consecutive years from 1998-2001, literally got thrown out of a game and into refereeing. In one of his matches he did not like the refereeing and said to a teammate: “On any given day, I am better than this guy.” The referee heard Tamberino’s comment and sent him off - and that event led him to take the referee course and prove his words. In addition to his MLS and international record, he is the only person to both take part in a McGuire Cup Final as a player and a referee.

Brian Hall, who was rated among the top referees at the FIFA World Cup 2002 in Korea/Japan, was a goalkeeper in his younger days. It was the color of his goalkeeper shirt that caused him to be recruited as a referee. At the time, it was customary for goalkeepers and referees to wear black. After playing a game in goal, the referee for the next game did not show up. Hall found himself pushed into the referee’s role because he had the right color shirt. When he found out that he would actually get paid a few dollars and could afford paying for his movie tickets he was hooked.

Sandra Hunt began her officiating career in a similar manner to Tamberino. She was a goalkeeper through high school and played center midfield in college. After college, she played in a women's league in Seattle. During one of her games, a referee’s calls were leaving both teams – and particularly Hunt – extremely frustrated. She said to one of her teammates that she could do a better job "with one eye closed and jumping up and down on one foot."  The referee overheard her comments and challenged her to give it a try. In the days following that game, she was encouraged by her family to it a try. Hunt took the entry level referee course and soon found out that being a referee wasn't as easy as she thought it would be, but she enjoyed the challenge.

Since taking up the challenge put to her that day on the field as a player, Hunt has traveled worldwide, taking part in two FIFA Women’s World Cups, the Olympic Women’s Football Tournament and numerous other international tournaments. Hunt says that officiating internationally affords her the opportunity not only to  travel, but also to meet terrific people and to take part in top-level games.

In my case, it was a broken tibia and fibula endured in a match that sidelined me from playing for a while, and landed me on a course of events that I would have never dreamed. While recovering from the injury, I was asked to help a local youth league that needed referees. What started out in as a temporary fix for playing led me to participation in great events such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. These are events that I would have never been able to reach as a player.

Many referees that I have met found themselves in refereeing because somebody forced them to take a course, or they thought this may be a chance to make a few extra dollars. Very few have made the move after contemplating that refereeing would be a way to enjoy some of the great games and moments. Having the best seat in the house is one of the rewards that we realize later. Refereeing is a vehicle that has taken many of us to the highest level and keeps us involved in the game for many years.

The only regret that I hear from most referees is that they with they would have started earlier. They say that refereeing has given them far more satisfaction than they ever imagined. The benefits have a greater reach than just the game, as the skill set can be applied to day to day life. Refereeing teaches us to communicate with other people, who at times may be very emotional. We have learned to be able to make a split second decision and live with the consequences of that decision. There is a constant learning process to come back from difficult games, improve from the previous game and constantly trying to improve. It takes perseverance to reach the highest level, and the game keeps a sense of humility in perspective. We constantly work with others and knowing that our success is contingent on getting our teammates to give  all they have.

The intensity, drama and creativity of the 90 minutes of a soccer game teach us to deal with all life’s heartbreaks and pleasures. It gives us a way to stay involved in the game that we love and to share in the emotion, imagination, energy and pure delight that the players bring to the game.

Future referees who decide to join this group may be making travel arrangements to have the best seat in the house for future World Cups. While this goal is lofty, it is not the most important reason to be a referee. We are all referees because we are participating day in and day out in games that have World Cup significance to the participants.

For more information on the U.S. Soccer Referee Department or information on how to become a soccer referee, contact Carol McGuire at 312-528-1241 or or visit