Josh Attard is enjoying a breakout year with the whistle in Newcastle and has his sights firmly set on selection into the Football Australia Referee Academy as well as the incoming National Second Tier competition.
The 20-year-old football referee was born and raised in Tamworth and relocated to the coast in February last year to pursue teaching and language studies at university. He has since altered the course of his career and is currently working in real estate, but one thing that has remained constant since his big move has been his passion for refereeing.
Josh is forging a successful path with the whistle and has gone from strength to strength since becoming the youngest person to take charge of the Namoi Premier League and Northern Inland Premier League first grade grand finals in 2020. Late last year, he made his Northern League One first grade competition centre debut, and then earlier this month, he refereed his maiden NNSW NPL Men’s first grade match between Lake Macquarie City and New Lambton at Macquarie Field in the final round of the regular season.
Josh has always been a big football fan but gave up playing six years ago to focus on refereeing. He has been an official since he was 13-years-old and hopes to referee at the national level in the coming years.
“I played and refereed for two years at the same time in Tamworth, but I decided to quit playing and just focus on refereeing,” he said.
“I don’t really fully understand yet what I like about being a referee. I just like to still feel part of the game and I enjoy building good relationships with people on and off the field, gaining people’s trust on the field and carrying those relationships outside of football. When I left Tamworth, I had a lot of good relationships with players and the majority of them trusted me to make the correct decision every time.
“I attended the National Youth Championships last year in Coffs Harbour and one of my goals is to go again next year. With the National Second Division (National Second Tier) coming in, they have restructured all the pathways for referees as well. From the National Youth Championships next year, hopefully if I keep going well, I’ll get selected onto the Football Australia Referee Academy. There’s a panel there that I’m wanting to get onto within the next four years. Those are my next realistic steps and goals, and after that who knows, hopefully the A-League and above.”
Josh enjoyed his first taste at taking the whistle for an NPL first grade game and is now determined to continue at that level in 2023.
“To get that first game behind me was a big relief. I was quite nervous,” he said.
“It was definitely a step up from what I’ve been doing. It was constant speed and I felt like I didn’t really have a break. In previous levels of football that I’ve done, I’d have opportunities to have a bit of a break at times during the game, but I didn’t find that in this game. The football was really enjoyable though, and it makes it so much easier to referee when you have a high-quality game.
“Hopefully next year I’ll get a few more of those games.
“I did a few first grade trial games at the start of the season, but during the year I’ve been doing mainly Northern League One first grade games.
“I’m happy with the way things are progressing, although my fitness has dropped off a tiny bit over the last couple of months, but I’m really working hard to get that back up.”
Travelling from Tamworth to watch Josh in action during his NPL first grade refereeing debut were his former mentors Ian Browne and Les Withers, who Josh said had both played an integral role in his development as a referee and as a person. He thanked them both for their support over the years and for travelling to watch him in action at Lake Macquarie.
Les was full of praise for the former Tamworth referee and said the sky was the limit for him.
“Tamworth has produced many young good officials over the years that have progressed past officiating in Tamworth, but over the last 25 years of my involvement in Tamworth, Josh has progressed up the ladder the most,” Les said.
“I put this down to his desire and work ethic to get better every game. He has certainly been the most passionate young ref that has come through our ranks. He was the youngest ref to take charge of Premier League grand finals in Tamworth. I trusted him with those games, and he delivered by allowing the players to play and getting the big decisions right. He earned the respect of the senior players very early by his consistency and confidence. If he sticks with reffing, he could certainly make the A-League in my opinion.”