Former Premier League referee Keith Hackett tells Non-League Daily of his experiences watching non-league officials this season.

I have had the pleasure of watching several non-league games this season and I am hackettpleased to say I have on many occasions been thoroughly entertained.

The banter in the crowd with the odd friendly comment directed to a player often draws a response.

Sadly there is no longer a connection between those watching and those playing at the elite level of the game.

We see players arriving at stadiums in designer suits stepping off the team bus wearing sunglasses and headgear listening to the latest records.

Not even a smile to those fans who have waited sometimes for up to an hour to get a glimpse of the players.

For around a fiver to see 90 minutes of competitive football at non-league level is real value for money and I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

At halftime I join the queue and have an enjoyable hot drink and if I am feeling peckish pie and peas.

I have over several seasons been impressed with many of the refereeing performances and there is no doubt that the standards of fitness of our match officials is much better than in my day.

The players themselves are fit and games are played at a good pace.

I am becoming a regular visitor to Penistone Church who are currently enjoying the top spot in the Toolstation North Eastern Counties League Division One a club with close connections to John Stones.

I also watch games at Stockbridge Park Steels the club where Premier League favourite Jamie Vardy played.

My main focus is always on the match officials and I have witnessed several good performances.

The referees who have performed well use their fitness to good effect achieving close proximity to play that enhances the accuracy of their decision-making.

However there is a worrying trend of failing to differentiate between a careless challenge punished by a free kick only and a reckless challenge where the sanction should be a free kick and a yellow card.

I am often witnessing players receiving a yellow card for a careless challenge, which if the offence is not stopping a promising attack is incorrect application of the laws of the game.

In addition I would like to see some of the referees at this level look to improve their communication skills, particularly with the players.

A smile at the appropriate time can often take the heat out of any conflict situation.

There is no doubt that there is a pool of young ambitious referees at this level who with appropriate coaching can advance their career to the upper echelons of the game.

The game at this level is in a good place and don’t forget if you want to enjoy a game close up then please pay a visit to your local non-league club.

Keith Hackett

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