Ref Carelse speaks to Sowetan about his 25 years in SA football

v Adeel Carelse has been involved in South African football for 25 years now. He was not a hot-shot player, but was always the man in the middle, the one whose word is final - a referee. He has seen it all and here he talks to Sowetan deputy sports editor Sello Rabothata about all the trials and tribulations of the game from the first whistle .

v Adeel Carelse has been involved in South African football for 25 years now. He was not a hot-shot player, but was always the man in the middle, the one whose word is final - a referee. He has seen it all and here he talks to Sowetan deputy sports editor Sello Rabothata about all the trials and tribulations of the game from the first whistle .

Q: Where do you originate from?

A: I was born in Simon's Town, a suburb of the City of Cape Town. I was about two years old when my grandmother lost her house, due to the Group Areas Act, and because we lived in the same house, we had to move to the sub-economic township of Steenberg.

Q: Where were you educated?

A: I am a former member of the South African Navy and completed my primary training as a radio communications officer or telegraphist in the Navy. I went to the Rand Afrikaans University, graduating in Sport Administration. Among others, I hold the Military Merit Medal, Post Nominum title MMM, and the decoration was conferred on me in 2004. I still serve the SA Navy as a volunteer in the SA Navy Reserve Force.

Q: Did you play football at all and how did you become a soccer referee?

A: I became a referee purely by accident, never having had any intention of specialising in this discipline. What happened was that during the late 1970s, we moved to the suburb of Lotus River and I found myself in new surroundings, with no friends. I thought the best way to resolve this problem was to join a football club in the area.

I met a gentleman called Ralph Felix on a bus, whom I befriended. He told be about this club called Antelope Spurs, which I later joined. We played in Sunday League matches and tournaments, the same type that Benni McCarthy played in prior to him being spotted by talent scouts. I played as a centre forward, and was extremely successful in this role, to the extent that I was due to go for trials, but fate intervened. We played in a tournament in Lotus River against a team, Leeds United, comprising practically the whole of the Cape District Football Association Board Team, and some Federation Professional Players.

This team had been unbeaten for over two years and we came up against them in the final. The problem was that this team had the backing of the Hard Livings gangsters in Lotus River, who controlled the area. After about 40 minutes in the first half, I scored from about 35 metres.

That gave us a one nil lead, which we held until the end of regulation time at the end of the second half. The referee played an additional 10 minutes of time added on for stoppages, and thereafter we became aware of a disturbance on the touchline.

The Hard Livings gangsters made it clear to the referee that should he blow for full-time, they would make sure that he did not leave the field alive. The referee clearly valued his life more than a game of football and just kept us playing. By now we had played an additional 23 minutes and we just gave up, realising that there was no way we were going to win the game. Leeds United eventually scored an equaliser and immediately thereafter a second goal. We immediately left the field and this left me disillusioned and I immediately retired from playing football. I was 21 at the time.

About a year later, I was attending a tournament at the same venue, where a similar situation happened. The cup final was delayed because of a dispute regarding the very same person who had officiated in our game a year earlier. I was approached by Mr Eric Cole who asked me to officiate in the match because the two teams had agreed that the only acceptable candidate would be me. I knew nothing about officiating, except for my own knowledge of the laws of the game. For some strange reason I agreed to officiate in the match. When I blew the whistle for the first time, I then knew exactly what I was intended to be in life. A football referee.

Q: How did your development as a referee progress and who was responsible for you becoming a professional referee?

A: Two people stand out. Bra Phil Masemola of Mamelodi and Joe Possa of Nyanga East in Cape Town. By this time, I had bought myself a house in Rocklands, in Mitchells Plain, and was persuaded by Ebrahim Jacobs to join the Rocklands Football Association. What I did not know was that Rockland FA was the only so-called coloured football association in the Western Cape that was affiliated to the Western Cape Soccer Association under the stewardship of Thembekile Mtokwana, then vice president of Sanfa, the SA National Football Association.

I graduated from Rockland FA and was asked to join the Nyanga East District Association, where I officiated in the Zambuk League and the Bols Brandy League, the regional second and third divisions of the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). I completed my apprenticeship under the guidance of Joe Possa, then chairman of the Nyanga East Referees Association. Joe guided me to the professional ranks and by 1984 I was established as an assistant referee, doing duty in the professional league of Sanfa, which had by now changed to the NSL. By 1990, I was firmly established as a referee and then tragedy struck. I was due for promotion to the middle, when unity dawned. The Sanfa, which had become the SA Soccer Association, the SA Football Federation and the Football Association of SA, merged to form the SA Football Association. Chaos reigned in refereeing circles. All the administrators wanted their own people to feature on the national panel, irrespective of their capabilities. I was told by the then chairman of the Western Province Referees Association (Ashraf Parker) that I did not feature in his plans for the professional panel and that in any case I was not good enough to be a professional referee. (These were the exact words he used when he sidelined Abdul Basit Ebrahim, the current PSL Referee of the Year.) Thus in 1990 I was forced into retirement.

Again fate intervened and Bra Phil Masemola came to see me at my house in Mitchells Plain and explained that at national level, they were powerless to act and that I should consider moving to Pretoria, which I did. Within two months, I was re-established on the national panel as a member of Northern Transvaal Referees Association.

Q: How did you make the transition to the middle and was it difficult to adjust to your new status?

A: Walter Mochubela and I were due for promotion at the same time, and unfortunately for us, we had been overlooked because of two political reasons which we had no control over. The first was when members of the National Referees Association (Goslett, Mcloud, Symonds, Rogers and others) were persuaded to join the NSL panel of referees and the second, when unity was effected. This is the reason why both of us officiated in many more games as assistant referees. The fact is that the obstacles placed in our paths made us even more determined to succeed as referees and my record as a referee bears testimony to that.

Q: What were the low points in your career?

A: Not being nominated to complete the Fifa and CAF course in good time, while referees who had not been considered good enough to officiate at quarter- final level in our cup competitions, had been afforded that privilege. This is still a sore point for me because if you are not deemed good enough to officiate at our domestic cup level, you surely cannot be good enough to be a Fifa referee. This is the primary reason why I absolutely abhor nepotism and cronyism, and I am still awaiting an explanation from the then chairman of the Safa Referees Technical Committee for this aberration.

Q: Were you intimidated by big-name players.

A: Not really, though in the late 1980s and early 1990s, crowd interference was a much bigger problem, and probably the biggest cause of intimidation. Over the years I have established good relationships with players and technical staff. Relationships that I am proud of, because they are all positive.