The story is tried and true: Young player watches World Cup. Young player is dazzled by the skills and talent on show. Young player dreams of reaching the same stage.
The FIFA World Cup in 2002 in Japan and Korea brought together some of the biggest names to ever grace a football pitch: Spanish attacking visionary Raul, Brazilian goal-machine Ronaldo and French artist Zinedine Zidane to name just a few.
But here’s where Nick Waldron’s story veers away from the worn path.
The then 19- year-old wasn’t focussed on the mesmeric movements of the world’s greatest players but instead – with injury beginning to impact his own playing ambitions – the contribution of Paul Smith, New Zealand’s own FIFA assistant referee.
AUDIO – Nick Waldron interview
“I’d had a couple of knee operations so my playing days were coming towards an end and I saw Paul attending the tournament and thought; that’s a great way to stay involved in the game I love,” FIFA referee Waldron said.
After the tournament, taken out by a Brazilian side which included the legendary likes of Roberto Carlos, Kaka and Cafu, Waldron got in touch with Auckland Football and made his first steps on a new journey.
“I started off refereeing on the Conference level and quickly progressed up to the Northern League level and I think I did a Premier match within the first year or two. It was a quick transition to men’s football. Lots of players have a generally good understanding of the laws and it was a good way to stay involved and keep participating as the third team on the pitch.”
From those early years, Waldron has moved along the New Zealand Football Referee Pathway having taken full advantage of a myriad of development programmes which the now 32-year-old official says have born huge opportunity.
“I’ve travelled around the world to places in Europe and Oceania to referee. I’ve gone to the States twice so it’s opened many doors. It’s been a fantastic journey so far.
“They send us off to the Dallas Cup to get a bit more exposure to refereeing South American and different teams. We don’t see a lot of those sort of players in New Zealand. I’ve also gone off to UEFA and the networks over there. I’ve attended UEFA’s Centre of Refereeing of Excellence which is in Switzerland – that was another great experience working with top officials in Europe.
“New Zealand Football has a great relationship with the PGMOL which is the professional body which manages the Premier League referees in England so we do exchanges over there as well which has been great.”
Waldron, who juggles his refereeing commitments with his fulltime role as an accountant says the returns of those football experiences have spilled over into his life away from the game – not only for his benefit but also those around him.
“One of the biggest challenges in life is communicating in general – communicating at work, communicating with your family, communicating with my wife. Football has really worked on my skills to communicate and managing players in situations on the pitch – that’s all transferable into the work place and into life in general.”
Having seen via Smith’s achievement in 2002, and more recently the achievements of Peter O’Leary and Mike Hester on the World Cup stage, Waldron – who has served as a reserve referee in the A-League this year – says he began to chart an early course towards the top of the game and 2015 is set to propel him closer to reaching his long-held goals.
“I think I was lucky to start young enough to set ambitious goals like attending a World Cup, an Olympics or an age-group World Cup. So that was something I always had in the back of my mind. Once I took it up, I was really enjoying it, it was going well and I was progressing and it’s all there now.
“It’s basically a year-round process for us now. We’re coming towards the end of the A-League and the ASB Premiership and then we’re moving into the Oceania Champions League and I’ve also been fortunate to have been appointed as a support referee to the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand so that’s a great honour.
“The second half of 2015 it just continues; there is the South Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea so there is potential to be attending that and ultimately it would be great to get to the U-17 World Cup in Chile – that’s what on the horizon this year.”
With all those top-level events on Waldron’s agenda, the background work referees do in honing their craft becomes even more important and Waldron says the support network is firmly in place to give the men and women in the middle the tools they need to manage the best around.
“We are constantly reviewing a lot of footage and watching games. The A-League has a good process where there is a review of match incidents during the week so there is constant up-skilling in that regard. In terms of training, we train as a unit and it’s really good. We often get 15 at our training sessions and it’s a good way to communicate and network but also really focus on up-skilling and improve our fitness with our dedicated trainer.”
Looking back, Waldron says one of the key ingredients in his rise is no different than the recipe to producing talented players up and down the country: minutes logged.
“I think when you start out it’s really important to do as many games as you can. There’s nothing like experience. When you have a situation that comes up and it’s the first time that situation has come up, you deal with it.
“As you grow and as you learn and become more experienced, those new situations become less and less so you can deal with them better than you did last time.
“It’s all learning. Listen to people but be your own referee. Don’t try to follow or mimic other officials.
“Everyone has their own style.”
Be it Raul, Ronaldo, Zidane or Paul Smith.
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