Professional Referee Organization (PRO) General Manager Peter Walton had a relatively late start on the officiating side. It was not until Walton was 25 when he took on that role on a local basis in England.
He had played soccer on a semi-professional level, but having gotten married and purchasing a house, Walton said he did not have the time to devote to the sport the way he had as a player. Walton was not sure where he wanted to focus career-wise, however.
â€œSomebody said that I should referee a football match, and my first words were, â€œYouâ€™ve got to be joking. Who wants to become a referee?â€™â€ Walton said. â€œBut I took the exam, I passed, and when I stepped onto the field, my passion for the game told me that I was going to remain a referee. With a little bit of luck, I managed to go through the pyramid in place at the moment. But I had no idea when I first started. I had no aspirations on becoming a referee.â€
Waltonâ€™s soccer connectivity is not surprising. He has a 23-year-old daughter who coaches 6- to 11-year-olds back in England. And his father took him to soccer games on a regular basis and stood on the sidelines.
â€œThey didnâ€™t have seats in those days, so I took a box with me to stand on and see the game,â€ Walton said.
The area where Walton flourished within the sport was the officiating profession, where he sustained the mental capacity and accuracy needed at the English Premier League level.
â€œThere is excessive pressure on a match for referees that you wonâ€™t find in other walks of life,â€ Walton said. â€œIt is not often where you have your work analyzed by most of the world. It is unfortunate. In order to block things out, mentally you have to be strong, and weâ€™re going to help with that going forward [at PRO]. There will be a program created with a psychiatrist to give referees support and elements of a positive nature that can turn away the negative nature of the profession. Iâ€™ve embraced that working in the EPL, where you had 70,000 Manchester United supporters seeking a penalty kick.â€
Walton has made his share of big calls throughout his officiating career, and one of the first that comes to his mind was in the 2008 FA Cup. Walton called a handball on Tottenham Hotspurâ€™s Michael Dawson in the 67th minute that led to a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty kick goal to take a 2-1 lead and ultimately a 3-1 victory.
â€œAmong the 76,000 fans, the players and managers, there were really only three people who knew it was a handball: Dawson, Wayne Rooney â€“ who appealed for the handball â€“ and me,â€ Walton said. â€œI was right behind the play at the time and I blew my whistle instantaneously. Dawson looked around with an apologetic smile and I sent Dawson off. At the time it was a huge call, and it was proven on TV. In fairness, every call that you make as an official could be a big call if you get it wrong. In officiating you try to reduce the impact that you have on a game.â€
Walton went viral on YouTube last year when he officiated a Premier League match between Birmingham and Everton at Goodison Park. In the 40th minute of the match, Birminghamâ€™s Jordan Mutch was booked by Walton. The only problem was Walton did not have his cards on him, so it required a bit of quick thinking while maintaining his composure.
â€œIn my pre-match makeup I always put my yellow card in the left pocket and the red card in the right pocket,â€ Walton said. â€œIâ€™ve always done that, because â€œRâ€ equals right. Whenever you are cautioning a player or sending them off, itâ€™s important to make eye contact with them and not fish around your uniform to look for the card. In this instance, I looked in my left pocket and realized that I left it in the dressing room table. I said to Jordan, â€˜If I find the card, Iâ€™ll caution you.â€™ And he said, â€˜Câ€™mon Pete, get the card!â€™ So instead I just pulled nothing out and raised my hand. I was thinking naively that nobody would see it, but itâ€™s been on worldwide TV. After the game I had some operational advice by my coach to never do it again.
â€œThe day after, my daughter phoned me and said, â€˜Dad, have you seen the action on the TV?â€™ I had not, and she told me to have a look on YouTube. So at 10:30 the next morning, it received 108,000 hits and realized then that my mistake had been aired.â€
It was a moment that Walton has turned into a positive when speaking or teaching about his profession.
â€œOn the field itself, how would you react there?â€ Walton said. â€œWill you stand there and wonder what am I going to do next? Fortunately I had the foresight to move on. I learned from it, and Iâ€™m able to tell others that I have had a horrible experience. But I took it on the chin and used it as a positive.â€