It’s not just the Auckland-based players in the New Zealand team that will represent Auckland Football at the upcoming FIFA U-20 World Cup, held on these shores during May and June.
Assistant referee Simon Lount will also fly the AFF flag and will be joined by Nick Waldron, who will act as a support referee. We sat down with Lount to find out how he has got to this point and what his hopes for the future are.
Being selected to officiate at a major tournament is a big honour, how did you feel when you found out the news?
I was stoked – it’s something I’ve been working towards ever since I became a referee. As everyone does, I started out as the referee with the whistle but I decided about five years ago that the assistant route might give me the best opportunity of going to tournaments and so it’s proved. And obviously being appointed to your home World Cup as a New Zealand official makes it even more special. This will be my first FIFA tournament, I’ve been to the OFC Nations Cup in the Solomon Islands but not a full FIFA event so that in itself is pretty exciting. It’s going to be a massive buzz.
Can you talk us through what was involved in getting to this point?
I guess it’s just stemmed from working on the ASB Premiership and becoming a FIFA official, those are the first steps. And then, as an assistant referee, aligning yourself with a referee so that you can work as a trio. Matt Conger has been appointed to the U-20 World Cup as well and we will work together as a team. I aligned myself with him when I was down in Wellington and, since I moved back to Auckland, we’ve tried to work together as much as possible. That’s one aspect of it and then, with the World Cup programme rolling around every four years, the end goal is always the senior World Cup.
What will happen between now and the start of the U-20 World Cup in terms of your preparation?
We are going into camp on May 23 and will face a series of workshops and tests relating to the FIFA Laws of the Game and other things like fitness. And even before that point it’s pretty full on, I’ve already noticed the difference between other tournaments I’ve been involved with. The heart rate data from your fitness tests – which we do anyway as part of New Zealand Football’s High Performance programme – have to be submitted to FIFA and we’ve also had biometric and blood tests, as well as having a full medical by Mark Fulcher, the New Zealand Football doctor. I’m following a pretty stringent training programme because I realise how big this is and how much I’ve worked and sacrificed – not just myself but my whole family has too – over the last eight years to get to this point. I don’t want to throw it all away now by turning up out of shape.
What are you most looking forward to about the tournament?
I think being involved in a high level FIFA tournament is enough motivation in itself. That to me is what it’s all about. I’ve watched people like Mike Hester and Peter O’Leary at the big tournaments and they’ve had the best seat in the house, being up close to all these world-class players. It’s also great to be part of a team, representing both New Zealand Football and Auckland Football, and I’m very proud of that. With this being my first FIFA tournament, I’m even more excited to be involved.
How did you get involved with refereeing in the first place?
I came across from the UK about 11 years ago after meeting my wife, who is from Auckland. I decided to stay here and took up refereeing – that was on the recommendation of my wife because I kept shouting at the TV when I thought referees had made the wrong decision. I was a player before that, playing for Eastern Suburbs in the local leagues, but was fairly mediocre as most referees are.
Who has had the biggest impact on your refereeing career?
Paul Smith (AFF Referee Development Officer) was an amazing mentor to me and still is. He was the one that sort of spotted me and gave me some good opportunities around 2007 and 2008. From there I moved to Wellington and, again, Paul really helped to get me to a certain stage before I moved down so I could keep progressing – the national league came from that. Then I came back from Wellington last July as my work moved me up here and I’ve carried it on from there.
What are your long-term goals as an assistant referee?
The first priority is to perform at this tournament because if I don’t then that could be the end. So the focus for me is these next six-to-eight weeks leading up to the tournament and then the tournament itself. From there, of course you look ahead at the other tournaments that are coming up – the U-17s in Chile at the end of the year, the Club World Cup, the Olympics next year. Having spoken with people like Mike and Peter, these are all the tournaments they went to on their path. But of course there are other trios in the confederation who want the same thing, that’s why we have to perform as a trio at this tournament and make sure we are given that next opportunity. The World Cup in Russia is the goal and you have to aim for that – every tournament before then is basically an exam to get to that one.