Moray and Banff Referee Association are recruiting new members like Kevin Buchanan, who gave up the sport through injury and is now a regular Highland League official
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INJURY ended Kevin Buchanan's football career but refereeing kept him in the sport - and he wishes he had done it earlier in life.
With Moray and Banff Referee Association running their latest introductory course over Zoom this month, Buchanan (37) is encouraging people to give it a try.
The Elgin-based ref played junior football at Burghead Thistle and Bishopmill United for a decade before a broken ankle effectively ended his career.
But while working with another Moray and Banff ref Harry Bruce, he was tenpted to take up the whistle himself and hasn't looked back.
" I stopped playing at 28 years old after fracturing my ankle warming up before a game in the Scottish Cup," said Buchanan.
"Once I stopped playing, I was always looking to get back to it in some way and played a few games in the welfare, however, never really enjoyed it the same and stopped almost immediately.
"I had honestly never considered refereeing until my friend and fellow referee, Harry Bruce, started working on the same shift as me at work.
"I don’t know why, although to be honest, I wouldn’t have known how to go about getting involved in it until he came in one day in 2018 and asked if I fancied doing the new introductory course which was away to start.
"I said that I would give it a go and attended the first night of the course at Borough Briggs."
Buchanan was impressed with the relaxed atmosphere of the course, which covered the 17 laws of the game over a number of weeks.
He soon passed his exam to become a qualified category 7 referee.
"I was lucky at the time as the boys league was starting and it gave me the opportunity to referee almost immediately.
"I then moved on to the welfare and my first game was RAF Lossiemouth v Aberlour Villa, as well as doing my first game as an assistant in the juniors in August 2018.
"From there I moved on to doing games as an assistant referee in the Highland League."
Regular promotions up the refereeing ranks took him to category 3 development status by January last year, opening the door to even more lucrative and high profile games.
"Since starting refereeing I have been involved in welfare and junior cup finals and in October 2020, I was an assistant referee in the Highland League Cup final.
"Just recently, I have been lucky enough to referee the Aberdeenshire cup first round between Buckie Thistle and Formartine and also two league matches in the Highland League, Lossiemouth v Clach and Huntly v Rothes."
Like any other football ref, he takes some stick from spectators and managers alike but has no hesitation in endorsing his second job.
He says you don't have to have played the sport to become a good ref.
"Doing these games has made me even more determined to keep progressing and learning from my fellow referees and my ambition is to hopefully referee in the Highland League regularly.
"I have got so much out of it from meeting new friends to refereeing at a level higher than I played.
"I have progressed quite quickly, however, you certainly get out of it as you are willing to put in.
"Having played the game, I think that this had helped me while refereeing as I can relate to the players and the emotions that are involved during a game and now seeing it from both perspectives.
"However, even if someone hasn’t played but loves the game it is a great way to get involved.
"Since starting the course I have never looked back and would urge anyone considering it to sign up and give it a go. My only regret is not taking it up earlier!
"I have met some great people and everyone is there to help each other.
"It's a great way to keep fit as we train once a week as well as covering games in a number of leagues.
"If someone is looking to get involved in the game and hasn’t given refereeing a thought, I would say ‘come and give it a go'. It's genuinely one of the best things I have ever done.
The next Moray and Banff Referee course is scheduled for Thursday, September 23 between 7-9pm on Zoom.
It's open to anyone over the age of 16, while female recruits can do the course for free.