Fezile Hlophe, a 16-year-old referee in the MultiChoice Diski Challenge, has an amazing story to tell – he explains, among other topics, how he balances school with his officiating duties in a wide-ranging interview.

Fezile Hlophe, a 16-year-old referee in the MultiChoice Diski Challenge, has an amazing story to tell – he explains, among other topics, how he balances school with his officiating duties in a wide-ranging interview.

How did you feel in your debut game?

I took that game as a normal game. I didn’t feel so scared even though it was Kaizer Chiefs and it was my first time doing a game like this. To be honest, I never even thought of it as being something difficult to go in and do. It was just a nice experience.

Where you Intimidated/scared at all?

Not at all. Those senior guys showed a lot of professionalism, They showed they were there to do their jobs and not for me. They gave the necessary respect to the referee and there was a lot of discipline in the game as well. There weren’t many yellow cards or tackles that needed yellow cards to be shown. No one swore at me either. And I even remember some of them asking amongst themselves, ‘who is this young boy’? Some of them felt I was a ball boy on the pitch. They were a bit confused, but as the first few minutes ticked by they saw that I was the referee. So it was wonderful.

What was the reception like when you got home?

Most of them were excited. Some of them saw the game and others wanted to know when the repeat was and they watched it then. So everyone was happy for me. There was a lot of encouragement, people saying that if I continue doing a good job then I will get somewhere.

And the reaction at school reaction?

They were very proud of what I achieved. They were all very impressed because first they saw it in Sowetan, then in City Press and a few magazines like Drum and now SuperSport. It was exciting for them to have someone they know in the media. It put this name of Emdeni Secondary School on the map.

How about the girls?

You know girls…they get even more excited by these things.

Which team did you grow up supporting?

With that question I would say no comment. I think I can say I supported Bafana Bafana, they are the best.

How did you get involved in football and becoming a referee?

I started out playing soccer when I was six and I use to play striker for my team. Before that when I was even younger I use to draw a soccer pitch on the floor and use bottle caps as soccer players in my one imaginary game. In terms of refereeing, that started when I was 11. I recall we were playing in a game they were looking for someone to officiate in a few Under-11 and Under 13 games. That’s when I said I can do it. It was in 2011. After doing that, I thought to myself I can continue and that’s from when I started to take a strong interest. I would watch a lot of games and look at the referees, both live and on TV. I would watch Soccerzone on SABC and see how they analyse officials. In 2013 I got involved with SAFA and that’s how I got more recognition.

Which refs do you look up to?

I looked up information on Victor Hlongwane and Victor Gomes, how they started and got involved. I noted it down and I have met many of these referees over time. Many of them have interesting stories, so I admire all of them for what they do.

There is also another side to your story, one of suffering and illness in the form of cancer. Tell us more.

It was something that I didn’t expect at all. It just came up and was terribly difficult to get use to. It made me feel very weak, but I told myself I’m going to fight. The tough part was attending the doctor week after week, this disturbed my normal life because I had to stop going to school, I had to stop attending matches and there were so many things I couldn’t do because of the illness. But as time went on and the treatment took effect, I started getting better, I was in hospital for nine months…so almost a year. I couldn’t go to school, but I managed to fight and get through it. I told myself I am normal and that’s it.

Are you cured now?

Yes, I’m over the cancer now. It’s been well over two years now, so I’m strong.

Advice to others in same position?

Always remain strong. In life, whatever you do, there must always be a spirit to do it. You have to have determination. They should never get offended and take their life seriously. What I would like to emphasis is that they shouldn’t allow illness to bring them down, they need to have fight and realise that the future is bright.

Your goals? short term and long?

I want to see myself on the PSL panel within the next four to five years. I want to be officiating in the Absa Premiership, the MTN8, the Telkom Knockout and the Nedbank Cup, so that’s what I want to do. In the next six or seven years I’d like to make the step up to CAF competitions, so looking at the Champions League and Confederation Cup and also some international games too. So that’s the path I’m hoping my refereeing career follows. This is what I am working towards.

(Interview courtesy of Fhatuwani Mpfumi)