Paul Collier became a qualified referee at the age of just 16. At 21 he was refereeing professional matches. In 2004 he became the youngest man to take charge of a World Championship final and on Sunday he will referee the final of the Dafabet Masters. Inside Snooker caught up with Paul to find out more about the men and women in the middle…
What is your pre-match routine?
We’re supposed to be here 40 minutes before play starts to get everything ready but generally with a final you’re here an hour before. You get here, get yourself dressed, get the table set up, get your microphone on and make sure you’re in the right frame of mind for play to start.
What do referees bring with them?
We have our own triangle for every match we do, plus two ball markers. I have a coin that I always use – a bit of a superstitious thing – a couple of pairs of gloves and a clean shirt for the evening session.
What do you have in your pockets?
I don’t carry a lot on me because it’s uncomfortable to have too much in your pockets. It’s just basically the two ball markers and a coin.
What can go wrong beforehand?
It’s getting a bit more difficult to get the two players together to toss the coin to see who breaks. In a large venue, such as Alexandra Palace, you might have one player on the practice table and one in the players’ lounge, a couple of hundred yards apart. With our scoring system we like to get the player who will break inputted early but you can’t always get them together before the match. Sometimes you toss a coin in one room and then run to another and say, you won, and wait to see what they will do. The referee gets introduced from a different position in the arena so if you don’t see the players early you tend not to see them until you get to the table.
We talk about the pressure on players but do you feel more pressure if it’s a final you’re refereeing compared to an ordinary match?
Not anymore. I used to when I started off but I’ve done a lot of finals now. You try and give every match the respect it deserves and as long as you’re focused when you go out there then it’s quite easy.
We’ve seen sometimes a player’s concentration goes a bit but in your job you can’t afford to let that happen. Is it difficult to keep focused?
As time has gone on I’ve found it easier. The big thing is that when you lose concentration it’s very hard to get it back. If you stay focused you don’t have a problem and time goes a lot quicker as well. I refereed Mark Selby against Mark Davis on Sunday and when I came off I noticed it was 6pm and I’d been out there for five hours, but I’d never have thought it was five hours because I was concentrating so hard.
Do you remember much about what’s happened in matches?
No. People ask me scores and things when I come off and I can never remember. It used to be a long running joke when we were in Blackpool doing the qualifiers in 1992/93, you’d do 14 best of nine matches in a week. You’d come off in your interval and someone would ask you what the score was and you couldn’t even remember who you were refereeing because that is the point where you can shut off for ten minutes.
What are referees’ duties when they’re not officiating in the arena?
There are three referees at this event. As we talk now Michaela [Tabb] is refereeing, Jan [Verhaas] is marking and I’m spare man. The referee for the evening session is usually spare in the afternoon. As spare man you look after the players’ tables, make sure they have their drinks, and make sure the referee has their drink and whatever they need, as well as keeping an eye on the scoring.
How many pairs of gloves do you have and how many do you get through in a tournament?
I couldn’t say exactly how many I’ve got but it would be something like 40 or 50 pairs. They have to be pure cotton. If they’re polyester or nylon you can’t grip the balls properly. With a new pair you might get two seasons out of them, maybe three. At the moment they’re quite hard to source because the company we used to use in the UK went bust seven or eight years ago. It became hard to find good quality gloves but we’ve found an outlet in China, which are cheaper.
How many pairs of gloves have you brought to the Masters?
I put eight pairs in. You try and use a clean pair for every match. For qualifiers if you’re doing two matches a day you would wear one pair per day. I’ve actually got 20 pairs in the car because I did the Championship League directly before the Masters and I’m going back there again straight afterwards.
Players have to spend time practising. Can referees do anything to hone their skills?
We tend to chat a lot. We spend a lot of time flying to China, in airport lounges and so on, so we talk about situations which have arisen for us. You obviously know all the basic rules but there are situations you can’t always cover so we talk about how individuals cope with different scenarios. You can get into bad habits every now and again. There’s so much to think about in a match, concentrating on the player at the table, but you also try not to obstruct the player in their chair because they like to watch what’s going on. You can very often find yourself stood where you shouldn’t be, blocking their view, but we all help each other, tell each other if something like that has happened. So between us we’ve got it all pretty much covered, and everyone is happy to take a little constructive criticism. We haven’t got any prima donnas out there. We all appreciate a bit of help.
You had some time away from the circuit a few years ago. Are you pleased you’ve come back?
Yes, definitely. When I left I wasn’t happy with the state the game was in. When Barry [Hearn] came on board they rang me up and said that everything I had problems with would change if I came back. They also opened up another role for me because they said they’d like to utilise my administration skills, so I do a lot of work in the tournament office now. Being a tournament director is a nice challenge. It carries with it different pressures and different rewards. It breaks the year up for me because it isn’t non-stop refereeing. I was a bit worried about the transition and how it would work with the players but I’m lucky because I’ve been well received. I’m loving being back.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.