A referee has told how support from his Society saved him from retiring from a footballing career that now sees him officiating in the Premier League.
Nick Hopton is a Select Group 1 Assistant Referee, who began his career after passing his course back in 2004, with support from well-known instructors from across Derbyshire such as Dave Heron, Graham Belcher, Terry Whittaker, and Andy Mill.
He said: "As a young teenager, all I wanted to be was a professional footballer, but as I got a bit older it became clear that wasn’t going to happen! I saw an advert in the Derby Evening Telegraph for the referees course, so I just thought that might be a good job if being a footballer wasn’t going to be the path for me."
Almost 20 years later, when looking back on his career Nick fondly remembers the many highlights he has had.
He added: "I've had some great League 1 Play-Off Finals, and obviously I am proud of the promotions I've achieved at every level, but the one game that really sticks out for me was my first live TV game. I was on the National League at Luton Town v Braintree Town in April 2014, and if Luton won, they'd be promoted back up to the Football League.
"It was a 10,000 sellout, which was my largest attendance at the time, and there were two big DOGSO decisions at my end (which we got right!), and the observer mark I got on that game was actually what got me promoted to the Football League."
But, a career as successful as Nick's doesn't come easy.
In 2008, he quit refereeing for just under a year.
He explained: "I was sick of the abuse, and at the time I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere with my promotions. I just snapped and decided I didn’t want to do it anymore.
"I remember in 2018, I felt like I had a really good chance to get on the Premier League, but in the 92nd minute of the last game of the season at Ipswich v Middlesbrough, I incorrectly disallowed a goal for Middlesbrough, and that decision meant I fell down the merit table and wasn’t promoted.
"Thankfully, I had plenty of people around me (especially people from Erewash Valley) who supported me and convinced me to have another go."
The support of a good society - and the links and friendships he made from this - meant that Nick worked hard to achieve his promotion and is now officiating in matches for Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and more.
Nick said: "I joined Erewash Valley Referees Society in 2005. When I first passed the course, I was advised to join the old Derby Society, but the meetings were very poorly attended and were not enjoyable. I met Dave Henfrey at Sinfin Moor Park one Sunday, and he told me to get myself to Erewash Valley RS as they have a much more dynamic society, and I never looked back!
"In the early days of my career particularly, being a member of a referee's society was a massive help. Erewash had all the people at Derbyshire County FA that mattered, such as Vaughan Bower who used to co-ordinate the assessors, and a lot of the top tutors and assessors such as Pete Carter, Graham Belcher, John Clarke, Terry Whitaker etc.
"They then had a wide array of experienced officials such as Andy Page, Alan Parker and Steve Cook, who were all Football League assistants, and it just felt like the place to be if you had ambitions to make it as high as possible in the game and learn from the people who knew what it took to get there.
"This year, the society turns 80. It just shows that if you get the right people involved, and keep adapting and evolving throughout the years, then you can stay relevant and important.
"The anniversary has made me think of the people who are no longer with us, such as Harry Hardy, Ken Upton and John Clarke, who gave so much to keep the society vibrant. I really hope that young upcoming referees will feel the same way about the people who are keeping the society running now, as we feel about Harry and Ken and John and others now.
"If they can be held in just a fraction of the esteem that they are held, then they would’ve done the right thing more often than not."
Erewash Valley Referees Society meet at the Ilkeston Town Football Club New Manor ground on the second Thursday of every month. New members are always welcome, and meetings return in September after the summer break.
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