Referee Paul leading the way on the pitch

We caught up with referee Paul Nagtegaal about being a leader, falling in love with the Homeless World Cup and he shared some of his secret tricks.

Homeless World Cup referee, Paul Nagtegaal has a favourite trick he plays on players. After there’s been a clash, he reaches to his pocket, as if to take out a card but instead he brings out a handkerchief and blows his nose.

The players, who a second before, had been saying ‘no ref, please’ breathe a sigh of relief, apologise to their opponent, and get on with the game.

 “They say: ‘sorry, sorry’ and everyone shakes hands, and they love each other, you see the hugging and the pleasure they have when ending the game. They are all running together to the crowd to thank them.”

Paul prides himself on having only ever given five red cards in more than 37 years of refereeing. He believes talking to players is always the best approach.

His refereeing icon is Dutch legend Frans Derks. According to Paul, he set a record in a European game for the longest period without using his whistle. For thirty minutes, he only spoke to the players.

“He always said the art of whistling (or refereeing) is not to whistle. He was amazing.”

Where it began

Paul Nagtegaal first came across the Homeless World Cup when he was refereeing at the 2009 World Beach Football tournament in Brazil, seeing a sign for the Homeless World Cup (which was due to be held in Rio de Janeiro a year later) he decided he had to be part of it.

On returning to the Netherlands, his home country, he approached the Dutch Football Association and asked about social football. They’d just started it and said “ok, you will be head of referees for social football.”

The following year, Paul Nagtegaal made his refereeing debut at the 2010 Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Paul made his Homeless World Cup refereeing debut in 2010 in Brazil | Credit: ©2010 Elaine Chen-Fernandez/Photographers for Hope

“It was a lot of fun, it was a family, and I was refereeing games and there I fell in love with the Homeless World Cup and from then, every Homeless World Cup, I was there.”

A few years later, he was speaking to former Homeless World Cup staff member Zakia Moulaoui Guery, and they came up with the idea of training former players as referees.

Players were also given the chance to train as referees with their national Football Association, so they could earn some money doing it too.

Paul Nagtegaal with fellow referees at the Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam | Credit: Anita Milas

“It gives them another possibility to enjoy life after the Homeless World Cup, we did it in Bulgaria, Portugal and Norway and then we invited two referees to referee at the Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam in 2015, my home city.”

“That was amazing, so we did that more and more, we went to Chile, to Mexico, to Indonesia, Norway and to Wales. In Wales we trained the first female referee, Natalie Handley.”

By the Oslo Homeless World Cup in 2017, they had three female referees, all former players.

Referee: A policeman or a leader?

Being a referee at the Homeless World Cup, Paul explains, isn’t the same as other tournaments and games.

“It’s different, in football, in futsal and beach soccer, you are more of a policeman. These are the rules, you are punished when you don’t obey the rules. But at the Homeless World Cup, it’s the spirit, it’s more about playing the game and as the referee you are leading the game.”

Leading the game and setting an example on the pitch is a key element of Paul’s training course. He focuses on the importance of verbal and non-verbal communication alongside knowing the rules of the game.

“At the Homeless World Cup, it’s the spirit, it’s more about playing the game and as the referee you are leading the game” | Homeless World Cup, Mexico City, 2012

Being decisive is important for referees, Paul explains: “When I’m a referee, I have to decide in 2-3 seconds, this is it. It must be your feeling. Refereeing is not thinking about it, because when you’re thinking about it, it’s 30 seconds later and the situation has changed.

“It’s your feeling and 90% of your feelings are good, so you have to dare to whistle. Ok this is enough, ok, play on, play on, play on, ok – enough. Not anymore.”

“I think for new referees it’s much harder than when I started, because when I started there were only a few games with cameras. Now every game has a camera. There’s not just one camera, there’s six cameras, and when it’s an important game there are 8 – 12 cameras in the stadium. Everybody from every position, they can see everything.”

Becoming a referee

Paul laughs when I ask if he always wanted to be a referee, “No! I got put in the role of referee in my early days as a referee because I cannot play football! I’m a very bad player, so I got the whistle sometimes.”

Since being given the whistle as a young player, he’s become an established referee, holding FIFA badges for beach soccer, international futsal, 11-a-side and Homeless World Cup football or, as Paul describes it, social football.

To be a professional referee, you must have a coach and Paul enjoys supporting both new and established referees. He coached international referee Serdar Gözübüyük, a regular at Champion’s League fixtures as well as former players from the Homeless World Cup.

It’s not only Serdar who Paul is proud of.

Jaka Arisandy was the first former player to referee the final at a Homeless World Cup | Credit: Anita Milas

“When Jaka Arisandy refereed in a full stadium, the men’s final at the Homeless World Cup between Mexico and Chile – that was amazing. That was the first time a former player and someone from the referee course was handling the final. You cannot describe how proud you are as a coach and as a trainer. For him, it was an unexpected high.”

A new beginning

For Paul, it’s important to remind players that the Homeless World Cup can be the beginning, rather than the end, of a journey.

“Kenya was playing, and we were talking throughout the game, after the game I kept speaking to one of the players about his plans for after the tournament. He turned to me and said: ‘You are the first white person that’s spoken to me for more than 30 minutes and you’re interested in me and what I’m going to do after, and about my life’.

“I still don’t know how it is possible, I come from Amsterdam, we have hundreds of nationalities here, it’s the city of love.

“You get a new family.” – Referees at the Homeless World Cup in Oslo | Credit: Anita Milas

“I asked him, ‘Why don’t you become a coach or a referee for the next tournament?’, he replied ‘Oh, is it possible?’

“Of course, it’s possible.”

“Football is brotherhood, players become brothers, it’s fun, it’s for the enjoyment. [Through football] you get a new family. That’s the spirit of football.”

And Paul is reminding us, that to be part of that family, you don’t have to be a player, you can be a coach, or even a referee too.

Find out more about our Referee Training programme here

Words: Rebecca Corbett
Images: Anita Milas & Elaine Chen-Fernandez