FINDING a hobby outside of work is always important. When you decide to dedicate so much of your time to that hobby, then that usually means you enjoy it a lot.
Football has been a massive part of Alan Belmajdoub’s life since his childhood days in Ballinhassig and although he took over the family business at Mr Bell's Food Providers, that hasn’t stopped Alan in pursuing his love for the sport where he has enjoyed many different roles.
From player to coach and now referee the 37-year-old father of two from Douglas is enjoying his best period ever in the game and here he tells us what football means to him.
“I have loved football from an early age and always knew I’d stay involved with the game for as long as I could,” said Alan.
“While living in Ballinhassig, I began my playing career at underage level with both Ballinhassig and Wilton United. I started playing centre-half, and at the age of 16 I moved to goal for Ballinhassig senior team.
"I then moved to Cork City underage followed by Cobh Ramblers U21s. In 2002 I attended the soccer academy in Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa where I spent three years. Here, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to train with Cork City's first-team keepers.
“After a break of five years from all football, during which I explored other sporting endeavors, I rejoined Wilton reunited. The following year I was privileged to be selected, and play for, the Oscar Traynor team.
"At this time I was now living in Douglas, Douglas Hall was my next team until once again I was enticed to return to Wilton where I played until the age of 32 before retiring, to pursue other roles within the game."
Coaching was the next pathway for him.
“I coached the Cork Schoolboys U15s team with David Moore and was then delighted to have been invited to undertake goalkeeping coaching, with Cork City's Academy U17s. I enjoyed the coaching roles but wanted a change.
“From all the experiences I had gathered from playing and coaching, I was primed to explore the game from a referee's perspective.
"I can see the game through the eyes of the players and the coaches when refereeing. I currently coach in the schoolboys league and I am loving it. My first game as a referee was in January of 2020.
"I decided to become a referee to keep fit, stay involved and of course, I love football, so there is no better view than to watch a match than from the middle. It's an enormous help to have played the game for so long, and obviously, to have completed my coaching badges, but it's all about gaining experience and being allocated games.
"The Cork Referees Society are very helpful and informative. If you have any queries, issues or just need advice on anything they are very supportive and accessible. The Referees Society also assign mentors to new referees when starting out.
"Both Denis Cronin and Chris Sheehan have always made themselves available to me with advice, whenever I need it.”
There was a shortage of referees over the past 24 months but thankfully this has started to ease. What has surprised me though is the amount of coaches who have made the switch. However refereeing can be less stressful than coaching, it's less time-consuming and is a paid role.
That’s good news for all us football lovers because as we know, without referees, no games can be played.
“My time coaching was really enjoyable, however, it did demand a lot of commitment. With a young family and a business to run, I felt refereeing would be a better option. I have no plan to return to coaching because thankfully Refereeing is definitely my most enjoyable role within the game to date.”
The current UEFA C licence holder is thrilled to be able to juggle family life, work and sport but stresses the importance of the support from his wife Laura Jane.
“It’s great that I am privileged enough to juggle all the things I love in life. My family, work and sport mean so much to me and it’s great that I get to enjoy all three. There was a time when I thought I would have to take a step back at sport but thankfully that wasn’t the case.
"I had considered taking a break from all aspects of football however within three weeks from the end of the season, I had registered to do the referee course! This course had previously appealed to me when I was 25.
"Back then, Eddie McNally asked if I had any interest in signing up, but the timing wasn't right as unfortunately, each course I had booked was cancelled due to low numbers. I finally got to undertake the course in November 2019 and I am so glad to finally be in this position.
"It's a fantastic way to keep in touch with the game and stay active when retired from playing.
“Football is a great escape from work and I feel very lucky to have a great wife in Laura-Jane, who always accommodates me with my games and is very supportive of me. It can take some juggling and help from family at times when both of us work."
They have two children, Jenny (5) and Ethan, who is almost eight months old.
"Jenny started Disney Soccer in October and enjoys watching games with me on TV and playing ball in the garden. I must admit that at times, she can be more interested in what colour jersey I wear at my games! It was a lovely experience to take her to buy her first pair of football boots.
"Hopefully, Ethan will grow to love the game as much as I do too with Laura-Jane cheering from the sidelines. We may even have more than one referee in the family, in time.”