2020 will be a year for us all to remember for sure. Be it good or bad, we will certainly remember it.
But one person will certainly look back on the year as a memorable one as he becomes the first man from Cork to take up the position as president of the Irish Soccer Referees Society.
Farranree man Willie Long was recently elected to the role and he is looking forward to taking up his position in early September.
“It is such an honour and a privilege to be elected president and I cannot wait to get started,” said Long.
“I was honestly taken back when the general secretary, TJ Grant, rang me to give me the news.”
Having progressed through the referees ranks at a young age where he learnt his trade in the then Farranree Street Leagues, which culminated in 13 years of League of Ireland level and some big European nights in Ajax, Barcelona, and Parma, Long has some fantastic memories in which he hopes many new current referees will experience.
“I started a long time ago refereeing in the street leagues in Farranree.
“I went from running teams, marking pitches, refereeing matches and they were great times.
“I began in the schoolboys league and I honestly think it’s the best football in the world.
“I have great memories of all the games and people that I have met throughout the years.
“When I knew I was leaving schoolboys football, I went on my bike to watch referees like Denis Collins RIP, Seán Ware, Eddie Mullins and John Spillane to see how they refereed the game and it served me well.
“After 10 years in the Cork Schoolboys League I went on to the Cork AUL and then MSL.
“I was then promoted to the League of Ireland panel and then on the FIFA panel. Being involved with some great games all over the world and in Ireland was a fabulous experience and such an enjoyable career where I met fabulous people.”
As well as refereeing, Long also held many positions, including, chairman, secretary, PRO and treasurer of the ISRS committee and the Cork branch.
His new role as president will see Long put his own stamp no doubt on what he feels can improve refereeing in the country and here are just some of the factors he hopes to develop.
“I will be the first president from Cork and that will be a great honour for me and my branch and I intend to do everyone proud.
“We have over 1,400 members and 26 branches from Donegal to Waterford.
“The ISRS has an officer board of six from Wexford, Mayo, Dublin, Meath, Roscommon and Wicklow, which is great, because we have a good mix from all over Ireland.
“One of my aims is to see more females in refereeing and also on committees.
“We do not have one female on any branch committee in Ireland. When I take over in September, I plan to change that.
“I will be inviting two females to come to ISRS meetings to advise and help me change this.
“Refereeing has changed so much and to be honest the organisation will have a lot of work to do in the next few years."
“The game is a lot faster and grounds are getting better but the problem is we are very short of referees.
“Some referees are officiating at three games at the weekend. That is not fair on the clubs and the referees.
“I would love to see summer football as it has proven to be a great success in Mayo and Kildare/Laois.
“Currently, we have too many games cancelled over the weather in Ireland.
“The game will improve, the refereeing will improve, and also teams will have more time to use good grounds.
“At the moment, ladies football and schoolboys football must wait for a ground to become available.
“That’s not good enough. Getting more referees and females involved is important. As we go through these difficult times, it’s important to reflect on our lifestyles.
“A lot of people are out of work, and more people are walking and keeping fit.
“Maybe while people are getting fitter, they may feel up to taking up refereeing as it would get them fit and above all be very good for the mind and the soul.
“We have seen it over the past six weeks how our country has changed in their attitudes towards each other.
“Hopefully people will also change in their attitudes to life and referees.”
Refereeing has played a huge role in the person Long is today, and he recommends that anyone wanting to stay involved in the game in some capacity, refereeing would be a great choice.
“Refereeing has brought me so much joy over the years. Meeting friends for life and creating fantastic memories that will live with me forever. My advice for anyone wanting to know if they would make a good referee.
“I believe you need to have a thick neck, be fit, know the laws of the game inside out and try and get the crucial decisions right.
“I know supporters of football love their club, but they must understand we are only human.
“But likewise, referees must also understand that they must give a 100% when they referee and to be fit and fair.
“It can be a fantastic career and a great hobby. I loved every minute of it and I cannot wait to begin the new chapter as president.”