Simons relishing taste of international action
Tashun Simons is continuing to carve his path in the footballing world, albeit an unconventional one for a football-mad 24-year-old.
While the majority of young men his age can only dream of walking out on a football pitch in an international encounter, Simons has already fulfilled those aspirations, not as a player but as an official.
After becoming the first Bermudian football official in more than a decade to be named on the Fifa International Referees List last year, the former Young Men’s Social Club striker, took a step further to emulating his idols Pierluigi Collina and Howard Webb by being selected as a referee’s assistant for two matches in the Concacaf Nations League: St Lucia against Haiti, and Grenada against Sint Maarten.
Simons has been rewarded for his performances by being included on next year’s Fifa International Referees List list as well.
“The experience was great,” Simons said. “The standard of football was a step above officiating local games in Bermuda and I felt really good to be involved.
“In the second game I had a big call to make not to give an offside decision and I doubted myself a little. However, after looking at the review video, the assessors said I made the correct decision as did the elite assessors within Concacaf, which made me feel good.
“It’s one of those situations that can keep you up at night but thankfully everyone agreed I made the right call.”
Like many players within the game, Simons admits to going back and watching highlights of himself, but while some would do so purely for vanity reasons, for officials, reviewing your performance serves a far greater purpose.
“Some clubs in Bermuda video their matches and so when I have the chance I will go back over the highlights and assess my own game,” added Simons, who referees local senior games.
“With the international games, everything is watched and analysed, every situation, every call. It may not be anything significant but we watch it all back and do debriefings.
“Every refereeing team gets assessed collectively and individually. Based on those assessments at the end of the year you are given a grade and based on that they will select you for the next Fifa list.
“It is an assessment process with every match. We are assessed from the minute we walk in the door, from the way we conduct ourselves to how we handle the match. That’s why I’m so interested in analysing my matches; it’s all about learning.”
As well as the pressure of being judged by assessors, Simons also has to deal with the pressure of being scrutinised by every player, manager and fan for every call he makes, or decides not to make.
But while to most the aggravation would not seem worthwhile, Simons deals with that added pressure with a maturity belying his years.
“When I have a decision to make, you can’t please everyone, half of the crowd won’t be happy but you just have to stick to your knowledge of the law and stay true to what you know,” he said.
“Once the match starts, I feel like one of the players, you have that nervy first five minutes but then you grow into the game and it’s down to business.
“Everyone who watches football thinks they’re an expert and that can be interesting when you’re officiating a match and the players, managers and crowd all have their own opinions.
“I called an offside recently in a match and a player on one of the benches was pretty vocal about his opinion. I just had to stick to what I knew and deal with it. Over the past few years the game has changed massively. We get new amendments all the time as officials and you just have to revise it and learn the new rulings.
“The game is faster, the laws are becoming more difficult but you just have to keep working at it and rely on knowing the laws. Once you know that and can apply it correctly, you should be fine.
“We are the keepers of the law and we have to know more than anyone else on that pitch. If I find any player, manager or fan who knows as much about the laws of the game as I do, I’d be surprised. It’s funny because most of the guys playing in Bermuda are close to my age and I tell them when I cross that line I’m in charge.
“The majority of the time players respect us because we are the authoritative figure and as long as I am approachable and explain my decisions most of them are perfectly fine towards me.”
Simons, who will be eligible for his full Fifa referee badge when he turns 25 next year, is focusing on gaining more experience at international level as he aims to fulfil his dream of officiating at a World Cup.
“I’m preparing for next year, which is coming thick and fast,” he said. “The most immediate aim is to be selected for more Nations League matches in March. After that we have the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers. There’s a lot of things that could happen and a lot of opportunities for me to be involved in.
“Ultimately, I want to be the man in the middle for a World Cup match but for now I just want to be the best assistant referee that I can be.
“Domestically, I am refereeing already but for Fifa it is different. If I’m on the Assistant Referees List I can’t be nominated as a referee for that next cycle.
“At the end of any year you could be nominated as a Fifa referee and if you are accepted you can be added to that list for the next year.”
While that dream of emulating his idols on the biggest stage may be a little way off just yet, Simons is content with being an inspiration to any young person in football in showing them that they are alternative routes in the game.
“I’ve had some young people come up to and ask for advice and say I want to be like you,” Simons said. “Playing was good but I’ve had some amazing experiences as an official.
“People I don’t even know, recognise me as the referee, which is funny. This is my path and I will try my best to go as far as I can,”