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Alex Gillett, Kevin Tennent

A Life Between The Lines: The Mysterious World of Football Referees

Drawing upon the archives of football referees, the English Football Association, and FIFA (The Fédération Internationale de Football Association) dating from the 1890s until the 1960s, we explore the working lives of match officials during the ‘golden era’ of English football. We report on their working conditions, experiences, motivations, and shed light as to their influence on creating and developing sport’s governing institutions as well as the laws of the game. Our work is therefore positioned at the interface between the Centre for the Study of Working Lives and the Centre of Global Business and Institutions.

We show that although referees were at that time amateurs in a professional world, their importance was significant. At the basic level, the competition between teams would not function without them. Dig deeper and the referee can be viewed as being the interface between the strategy and action of sport’s governing bodies and as such, an important component of today’s global ‘soccer industry’.

Often overlooked amidst the glamour of professional football, our study shines the spotlight on the individuals whose influence has been more obscure and less reported within the management and sports literature.