We can all relate to former referee, Willie Long when he states, “Football was massive in my young days, playing football on the road at night led to a few of us then starting the street leagues, running different teams and refereeing it, we loved it.”
“We played in O’Leary’s Field and it was all we wanted to do every day of the week,” said Willie.
Most of us would associate refereeing with former players and those of a certain age but the age of referees is dropping and a younger batch are getting involved which is great for football going forward.
Willie Long also started young and went on to have a huge career in the game.
“I started serious refereeing in the Cork Schoolboys League (CSL) at the age of 19 and I was a member of the Cork Amateur Referees (we got no fee,) we had about 20 members at the time nd I refereed for 10 years in that league again loving every minute of it.
“After 10 years, I went on to referee in youth football, Cork AUL (Athletic Union League) and the MSL (Munster Senior League and I had a great career and a very rewarding one.
I was promoted on to the League of Ireland Panel at the age of 34 and spent 13 years on it along with five years on the FIFA panel.
“When I knew I was leaving schoolboys football, I went on my bike to watch referees like Denis Collins RIP, Sean Ware, Eddie Mullins and John Spillane to see how they refereed the game and it served me well.
“I was involved in a lot of games in the MSL and the Cork AUL but one game that comes to mind was Rockmount v St Marys in a play off for the MSL Senior Division which was watched by a great crowd and it was a fantastic game.
“I had some very big high profile games in the League of Ireland and was assistant referee in eight semi-finals of the FAI Senior Cup and also two FAI Senior Cup finals,” commented Willie.
His performances as a referee didn’t go unnoticed and and his time on the FIFA Pnel took Willie to some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
“I was all over Europe and a few games stick out for me and they were Ajax, Parma, Rosenburg and Barcelona.
“You could never imagine officiating at this level but I got the chance and I have fantastic memories from it.
“My advice is to have a thick neck, be fit, know the laws of the game inside out and try and get the crucial decisions right.
“I am retired now for the past eight years but am still involved in committees and refereeing and football has been a huge part of my life,” concluded Willie.
Willie Long was talking to Paul Hogan for Cork Sports News.