In July 2019 a team of British Army Referees flew to the National Sports Centre (NSC), Blaine, Minnesota, USA to participate in the ‘USA Cup’ as part of an Armed Forces Referees Team. Consisting of over 50 full size football pitches it is one of the largest sports complexes in the world.
The USA Cup attracts teams from all over USA in addition to over 19 other countries ranging from U8 – U19 age groups both male and female. Over the course of the tournament thousands of games of competitive football were completed at the NSC enabling Referees to receive an immersive experience working with and officiate teams from different cultures and backgrounds. The 2019 tournament saw the first appearance of boys and girls teams from Monrovia, Liberia.
The USA Cup is broken down into two main parts. The first is the ‘Weekend Cup’ consisting of mainly local football teams. The ‘USA Cup Soccer Tournament’ commenced a day later with an Olympic style opening ceremony which what can only be described as a great opportunity for the children to participate in an event such as this. They walked into the Main Stadium greeted by thousands of cheering parents and spectators and it was clear they enjoyed the moment as you could see the beaming smiles on their faces (and the occasional backflip). Upon completion the crowd was treated to a display by a parachute display team landing in the centre of the stadium.
Throughout the tournament all Match Officials were pushed to use a variety of interpersonal and communication skills when interacting with players, coaches and other referees. One positive point agreed upon by all members of the Armed Forces Team was the chance to work as a ‘team of three’ for all matches. Usually for club matches in the UK you will have a Club Assistant Referee so to have two qualified Match Officials with you bought a new dimension enabling you to work with your Assistant Referee to make the decision. Teamwork and communication are tested further when you consider that on many occasions there were language and cultural differences between the Referees. All Referees are ‘Tutored’ during the tournament allowing them to improve upon their performance in addition to ensuring the overall standard of Refereeing remains high in the tournament. A fact which was noted by a number of parents and spectators.
As part of our Tour, every evening at 2100hrs Armed Forces team members had a meeting to account for all personnel. As part of these discussions a variety of positives points were noted about the tournament. The tournament is ideally placed as a pre-season warm up. Supply League football commences early August, so Officials can now enter the new season confident in their fitness levels, teamwork and decision-making. Most Referees completed around 30 games of football in eight days, so it was certainly a test of physical fitness and robustness. On some days first games were at 0700 with the last games not finishing until 2100, making it a test of endurance and concentration.
In conclusion, the whole trip was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I was almost always greeted in a polite and respectful manner, which appears to be part of local culture.
One final point that I will note is to express our collective thanks to the Armed Forces Service Centre (AFSC) at the Minneapolis St. Paul airport. The AFSC is a volunteer run organisation. Their aim is to provide a ‘home from home’ for US Serving personnel, their dependants, veterans and armed forces of Allied Nations. The AFSC is open 24 hours a day and has not closed for one day since its creation in 1970. All entitled persons are greeted at the door and invited in to spend time at the facility. Consisting of beds, a 52inch TV, bathroom with changing facilities and toiletries, complimentary books, safe luggage store and bunk wake up service. Personally, I was made to feel very welcome and it was like the volunteers could not do enough for me. I would encourage all
Whilst I gained a huge amount personally from the tournament, I never forgot that the experience was not to accommodate me. It was focussed on the children, giving them the chance to meet and compete against children they would not normally play against, cheered on by their friends and family. All united by a common cause…to play soccer.