As part of a series called ‘Changing The Game’, we’ve spoken to Lincolnshire Referee – Richard Gutsell – about his journey through grassroots football, and his experience and commitment to ensuring football is a safe, enjoyable, and inclusive space for all.
In 2015, Richard was the manager for a Lincolnshire village football team. The requirement then was to have completed the 'Recognised Referee' course to be able to step in where required in case a referee was not available. This was the start of his refereeing journey where he'd be regularly covering matches, even after the team folded as players got older and moved on.
Having completed the Lincolnshire FA referee training course, he formally qualified as a referee in the summer of 2021.
"I remember telling Michael Brader at the end of the course that I only intended to referee once over the weekend, he said 'trust me, you will do more'. Well, he was right! I loved refereeing and was regularly doing 3 matches a weekend - thankfully I have a very supportive wife!" Richard tells us.
"For the 2021/22 season, I predominantly refereed on the Peterborough District Junior Football League & Lincolnshire Women & Girls Football League which already kept me busy until February 2022, when Jordan Mason put a shout out looking for referees for the 'Ability Counts' football league at the LNER stadium in Lincoln. I was intrigued, and once I knew more, I jumped at the chance."
Richard has openly spoken to us about what he personally has got out of Refereeing on the Ability Counts League.
"Whilst I thoroughly enjoy Refereeing non-disability football, the 'Ability Counts League' brought so much more personal reward for me and really made me feel that I was giving something back, whilst supporting and encouraging the teams - plus I felt really appreciated. The players had varying disability levels, but played with so much more passion and determination, not letting their disabilities stand in the way of their love of football. The league met once a month to play 10 minute matches against the rest of their group."
As interest began to grow for the league and more referee's became involved, we at Lincolnshire FA needed to train the skills necessary for officiating in the disability pathway and so hosted a very well attended training session called 'Refereeing Disabled Football'.
"We learnt about the disability football landscape, communication skills, appropriate terminology, and welfare considerations and opportunities".
There are over 11.5 million disabled people in England (14 million in the UK), of which over 150,000 play some form of football at least once a month. In England, there are over 1,950 affiliated teams, 37 disability county leagues, 6 impairment specific national leagues and 9 national disability squads.
Richard has come a long way since taking his first steps into officiating Disability Football, having recently been a Referee at the FA Disability Cup.
"During the training and in a conversation with Jordan, I asked about officiating more inclusion football and he put me in touch with Cerebral Palsy Football, and there my inclusion refereeing journey continued during 2022/23. Similar to Ability Counts, the CP leagues meet monthly but in Northampton & Sheffield due to the number of teams coming from all over the country.
The season culminates in the end of year Cup Final and the FA Disability Cup weekend, which is held at the home of football - St Georges Park! In my first season, I was lucky enough to be selected as 3rd official in the televised cup final. The experience of being an official at St George's Park is something special with two exceptional CP football teams, which this year were Norwich City and North East & Yorkshire."
Following this fantastic experience, Richard was asked if he'd recommend other Referees taking up the opportunity to officiate on disability football leagues, to which he said: "There are so many different types of inclusion football and disability leagues that are so very important to these communities and could do with support. Refereeing this format of the game gives you a real sense of purpose, and you truly feel included and part of the wide community family. I would encourage any referee to offer their support where they can. You will be surprised just how many leagues and teams are involved."
Lincolnshire FA commends Richard for his commitment to inclusion and to supporting the disability pathway, as well as his attitude towards ensuring the game is truly for all.
To begin your Refereeing journey, click here
For more information on the Disability Football pathway, click here
To sign up for the next free 'Refereeing Disability Football' workshop, click here
To be one of the first to receive the latest grassroots football news from Lincolnshire, and to receive exclusive offers and discounts from Lincolnshire FA partners – click here