Referees' Feature - James Olyott - Part 5

James Olyott at Bridge Meadow


James really enjoys his time in the middle!


At 43 years of age James Olyott is one of the younger referees on the Manderwood Pembrokeshire League officials’ list and is respected by players and coaches across the county for his quiet approach to the game which is backed up by a determined approach.
He has been the man in the middle of local matches for almost 15 years now after 18 years at Pembroke Borough as a player, and his good work was recognised in the 2018 season where he took charge of the Senior Cup Final between Hakin United and Clarbeston Road.
James also has an unusual claim to fame in the fact that last summer he was one of a number of referees, including some top refs from around the world, who officiated the World Homeless Cup, which was held in Cardiff – but more of that later.

Playing at London Road – and talent-spotted by Danny Thomas!

As a player at Pembroke Borough he was regarded as a no-nonsense centre half and he readily admits that he was stronger in the air than on the ground but was better at his passing than he was often given credit for.
But he enjoyed his involvement at London Road with the club’s second string, and eventually started refereeing them when there was no official appointed.
“It was there that Referees’ President Danny Thomas saw me and quickly recruited me to go on a course with Pedr McMullen – and there was no arguing with Mr Thomas, now the referees’ president!
James broke his foot – but still managed to finish reffing the game!
“I was lucky to take the course under guidance from Pedr, who was a great tutor, and I have been reffing ever since, other than a frustrating gap when I broke my foot in a West Wales Cup match between Loughor Rovers and FC Carmarthen.
“But I managed to finish the match because I called the captains together and explained that I was injured and they agreed that I would carry on as long as I could stand in the centre circle and whistle from there.
“And do you know what? Both teams were brilliant in accepting my decisions, rather than having their game abandoned!

Other sports

Outside of his football it is cricket which has always been his other sporting interest as he has played for Pembroke Dock Cricket Club since he returned from college in Cardiff 20 years ago to teach locally.
“I’d describe myself loosely as a batsman/wicketkeeper, falling into the latter role more recently with the second team since there wasn’t a regular keeper – and I’ve had a few knocks in the late 40s so it is still my ambition to score a half century.
“I was club captain for about five seasons and was chairman of selectors in a club that has produced real characters like Maurice Leyland, now our brilliant groundsman, and John Davies, plus Peter Kingdom, Nick Daley and Mal Morris: the last three roping me in to play from being team-mates at The Borough.
Over recent years I have also taken up an interest in running longer distances and in my first attempt at the Cardiff Half Marathon I completed the course in 2 hours, 6 minutes and 37 seconds – and although I admit it wasn’t brilliant I was chuffed to bits to be able to knock 9 minutes and 37 seconds off the following year.
“I was going to enter the Long Couse Weekend Half marathon in Tenby this year but it was called off – so that is my next target when it gets up and running again!”

Family Matters

His family is also very important to James and his wife Melissa is, like him, a teacher and although not an avid sports fan like he is gives him every support (thanks Melissa!). They have a son Harry (5) who loves going out with dad whenever he has to do a pitch inspection and is a real Swansea City fan after his uncle, Scott Helmich, was an analyst at the Liberty Stadium and arranged for a visit to start him off.

Early start as he went with his granddad

James began his interest in football in similar fashion as his grandad Walter Jones, who was very well known as a local councillor and at one time chairman of Pembroke Borough, started to take him to London Road at a similar age.
“I followed The Magpies from then on and later really enjoyed my involvement as a player for almost two decades where the legendary Des Shanklin ran the first team but also took a real interest in us seconds’ players.
“I remember in one match where we were getting hammered he came into the changing room to say he was proud of us sticking at it – and with him he had 11 pints of beer to show his view that we should still enjoy the game.
“Unorthodox maybe? But although we still lost heavily we actually outscored our opponents in the second half!”

Now the man in the middle

So now James is enjoying his time in the middle and told us,
“I know it’s a bit of a cliché but being a referee is the next best thing to playing and I wish more retired players would take up the whistle because it is great to stay involved.
“When I started out I was regularly assessed by the likes of current Manderwood League secretary Brian Hawkins and others from Swansea and I can only say that Brian’s advice was always sound but not all those from further afield!
“When I started out I could only do matches in the lower divisions but I gradually moved through the ranks and regularly referee in division one now – and before the lock down I had my first experience of Welsh League football when I was assistant ref at a tough tussle between Port Talbot and Garden Village.”

Highlights here . . .

“The obvious highlight has been my Senior Cup Final in 2018 after I had been assistant to Angus Scourfield two seasons earlier. To be honest, I though Tom Bevan would get the nod but Clarbeston Road reached the final as underdogs against Hakin United and so I took charge and enjoyed every minute of it.
I really enjoyed the traditional pre-match referees’ brunch with so many refs coming to support me before Hakin won comfortably in a match that was played in a good spirit in front of a big crowd.
“It felt great to be involved and then last season I was fourth official to Tom Bevan and enjoyed that too, apart from very regular questions from coaches about whether I agreed with Tom’s decisions – and of course I said yes!”
“I have also reffed the second division final, the fifth division Final and the Jubilee Cup as well – and enjoyed them all too!”

James Olyott - WHGames 2

. . . And in Cardiff too!

Last summer saw James take part in a once-in-a-lifetime experience when the World Homes Cup came to Cardiff, with 64 different countries taking part – and he was chosen to one of the referees from countries as far afield as Argentina, Finland, Australia, Netherlands and Portugal to ref and run the line on the small courts where six-a-side teams played seven minutes each way.
“We stayed for a week at Llys Talybont, the students’ hall of residence in Cardiff, and there was a great camaraderie there. The event attracted millions of viewers on U-tube and I took charge of the men’s semi-final, where Chile beat Russia in a penalty shoot-out!”

James Olyott and PD team

And finally . . .

So what does the future hold for James in terms of refereeing?
“At the moment I aim to continue being involved for as long as I feel fit and able and at the moment my running has certainly enhanced my fitness levels so things are looking good.
“I just want to carry on because it is a great pressure valve from teaching and I would recommend it if you love football and can’t play anymore – all you need is a love of the game, a sense of humour and a slightly thicker skin than usual and you’ll be just fine!”
He doesn’t specifically use the term ‘enthusiasm’ but if you chat to James for just a short while about football it shines through in all he says – and we thoroughly enjoyed our chat with him as a result!

James Olyott, Keith Amos and Gareth Elliott