Of all the Seattleites attending the Mexico-China match, none experienced more exhilaration than Jeff Hosking.
When the teams emerged from the stadium tunnel to a stirring standing ovation, everyone basked in the emotion of that moment, even Hosking, who was one of the game officials.
“When we came out, that was such a rush with the crowd going wild,” says Hosking, who served as assistant referee. “It was unparalleled for me. I’ve gone skydiving before and that paled in comparison to that feeling (that night).”
Running the touchline for a full international was the 29-yearold finance professional’s plum assignment to date, and he proved more than equal to the task.
He never let the thrill of it all affect his judgment, not even when it came to making a hugely unpopular (but correct) call.
Five minutes after the opening kickoff and at the urging of 50,000-plus fans, Mexico was pressing for an early goal. A bang-bang play was finished by a header into the net. For a moment, the crowd erupted in celebration.
Then they saw Hosking, his flag raised. No goal, offside.
Into the Blender
“The referee was blowing his whistle before the ball went into the net,” notes Hosking, “but the crowd was so loud that I don’t think anybody could hear him.”
“I knew the partisan crowd would not take that lightly, but at the same time Mexico was really pressing,” he says. “I knew they would have more than enough opportunities.”
Replays affirmed it was the right call, and within 10 minutes Mexico scored, for real.
It proved to be a busy first half for both Mexico and Hosking, with El Tri virtually camped in China’s half. As the junior assistant, Hosking drew the sideline away from the benches and, to start, Mexico’s attacking end.
“The other gentleman is a FIFA referee, so he was assigned the team side to help out with bench control,” Hosking says. “It was literally a toss of the coin which decided who got eased into the game versus who got thrown into the blender.”
It Beat Mowing Lawns
To officiate a game of such stature and do so in your hometown is a dream come true. Yet it was no miracle by any means. Hosking had been working toward just such an opportunity for 19 years.
He blew his first whistle at age 10. “It was a lot better money than mowing lawns.”
Hosking began traveling for assignment at 15 and at 18 he was a Grade 5 referee and working college matches involving players his own age. At times, he and his sister, Julie, would be on the same crew.
“You work your way up the ladder,” says Hosking. “I’ve enjoyed being a part of a lot of exciting games and meeting a lot of interesting folks along the way.”
Just as young players learn from watching their idols, aspiring officials keep an eye on the top people in their profession.
Among those local officials whom Hosking credits with his development are Linda Velie, Mohammad Zarrabi-Kashani and Sandra Hunt. Velie was the first woman to call a men’s pro game, and Hunt, once a FIFA referee, worked a World Cup and Olympics and was of the first two women to officiate an MLS game.
Hosking also gleans information from veteran Major League Soccer referees such as Brian Hall. Judged the top MLS official four of the last five years, Hall broke into the pro game with the NASL in his early 20s.
For several years Hosking has been working USL Division 1 and U.S. Open Cup games, and following a strong 2007 season he was offered the Mexico-China opportunity.
Tools of the Trade
“At a certain level of officiating, you specialize as a linesman or a referee. They work you in on fourth official, before they get you in on the middle,” says Hosking. Prior to last week, his most prestigious assignment was as the fourth official for the 2006 match at Qwest Field between Real Madrid and D.C. United.
It is a demanding and often thankless job. Rarely is everyone–players, coaches or fans–happy with the calls, and the referee is constantly moving about (they average seven miles per match, according to one study) and interacting with the competitors, their coaches as well as the assistant referees (AR’s).
In Europe’s top professional leagues, most referees now communicate via wireless microphones and headsets. In the U.S., the AR’s are usually equipped with a “beeper” flag which transmits a signal to a receiver in the referee’s pocket.
The man in the middle, unlike his assistants on the lines, must remain social, no matter how much abuse he gets from the players. The referee, says Hosking, must do more than merely blow his whistle and point. He must explain decisions and keep the lines of dialogue open. As for the yelling, Hosking says it doesn’t bother him.
In fact, sometimes officiating games can be downright pleasant, be it amateur men’s league matches (“I like the camaraderie with the teams.”) or professional.
“At (Mexico-China) I had a great time, the best ever,” says Hosking. “With the atmosphere there, it was just a complete rush and a ton of fun.”