Friday, December 17, 2010

Celebrating an outstanding career, and a friend

December is a special time of year for many. It includes holidays and the drawing of the year to a close, which is often time for reflection and rejuvenation.

For me personally it is a reminder of getting older as my birthday is in December. This is true of a friend of mine as well, who turns 45 this year.

Now early in my life there was nothing magic about turning 45, other than it was a long, long way away. But in my recent past, turning 45 meant the required end of any journey I would have taken on the FIFA panel.

There was no such journey for me personally ... however there was for Tom Supple FIFA AR. This month is his 45th birthday and his mandatory retirement from the pinnacle of refereeing, the FIFA panel.

I write this not to evoke a sadness in anyone, nor regret in myself for never "taking the plunge", it is rather to celebrate a storied career of one of the best AR's in modern times of THE game, and pay tribute to a friend.

Tom is in the first generation of referees to traverse the entire system in US Soccer, from youth matches to the international game. Prior to this generation, referees were generally molded in amateur leagues around various states and then, if there was a professional league at the time, put to the test there. If these referees were able to survive that gambit, then the very lucky were asked to join the FIFA panel as a referee, and potentially on to other assignments as well such as those within CONCACAF or even a World Cup.

David Socha
Refereeing legends such as David Socha who whistled at (2) World Cups (1982 and 1986) were of such ilk. Others such as Vinnie Mauro, Angelo Bratsis, Alfred Kleinaitis, and Ed Bellion who were on the FIFA panel in the 1990's were in similar standing.

As with other referees today, Tom was required to start literally in his backyard, on the South Shore of Massachusetts. Youth matches were the staple of his refereeing diet and included all levels of the game at local leagues, and the occasional club match in various parts of the state.

It wasn't long before Tom was recognized for his superior refereeing ability and was invited to local tournaments, and others such as the Massachusetts State Cup, as well as a host of other, out of state, prestigious assignments.

By this time, Tom and I had met and were working very regularly on the South Shore at the South Shore Sports Center in Hingham, MA under the gentle tutelage and ageless wisdom of Wally Russell.

It wasn't long before he was thrown head first into the various ethnic leagues the state had to offer as he would share stories of the crazy events of the day that would often include a great match, and an escort from a detail officer off the field.

By now Tom's youth career was in full bloom as he attended the Region I championships in 1993, 94, 95, 96, and was selected to complete his US Youth career in Indiana at the US Youth Soccer Nationals. Tom's adult career at this point included mostly top level amateur and professional matches from the A-League and D-3.

Almost on cue, MLS began in 1995 and Tom was one of the referees selected to start from year 1. As was typical, referees such as Tom that were state referees were assigned as 4th officials and JAR in matches. 
Tom Supple: NE v. Miami circa June 1999
As had been his hallmark his whole career, Tom excelled in his role, and was selected for the AR track at the professional level. Take note however, this also meant a fair number of matches carrying a whistle, and as I discussed recently, he can whistle a match just as good as any FIFA referee I know.

After attaining his National Badge in 1999 he continued to distinguish himself in MLS. So much so, he was appointed to the FIFA AR panel in 2004. Now 9 years in MLS, Tom was on the world's stage.

From there, as with his other accomplishments, he excelled. His assignments at this point consisted of professional, international friendly, international, and World Cup qualifying matches as he traveled throughout CONCACAF ... and the world.

So here we are on the eve of his retirement, 25+ years later, FIFA AR, 15 year MLS veteran, and just one heck of a referee all the way around. I'll be honest though, this is not even half of the story, not by a long shot.

The real story is the quality person Tom is and how much he has sacrificed of his very essence for THE game. He took us all on this fantastic ride for so long. Coast to coast, U-6 to international stage. A truly fantastic voyage.

Some may ask, heck he may ask, things like:
Now what?
Was it worth it?

While I certainly can't answer those things, I can say that through every fiber of by being just one thing with absolute certainty ...

He earned it.

He is a FIFA referee, and shall be held as such for life. For some, that badge itself is a means to an end. For me, after spending a lifetime thinking and dreaming about it, I find it a fleeting honor in the grand scheme. It's not the badge, it's that guy behind that badge that means the most.

And that guy is Tom Supple.


  1. I have had the honor and pleasure of running a line for Tom. It was a high-level prep school game and I was impressed by everything he brought to the game. He is an inspiration for us up-and-coming young refs and a great reason to abolish the mandatory retirement age for FIFA referees.

  2. Interesting point Zach. The 45 age as you likely know was down from 50 from the early 1990's.

    I'm with you ... if you can pass the physical ... let 'em referee!

  3. Felicitations TOM!!
    Small correction: The tutelage
    both TOM & PETER received at the
    SSSC was anything but gentle.
    I do have regrets in that regard.
    PLAY ON!!!!

  4. Dear Wally,

    No regrets. Your teachings were always gentle in spirit and for the greater good. You know no other way.

    I will let Tom speak for himself =)

  5. Hey Peter - great article about a great guy.

    Tom, welcome to the 45 club and Emeritus :).

    And Wally, I agree with Peter - all of your "wisdom" was certainly passed along in the right way to those who wanted to listen.

    Hope you and your families are well. Happy New Year.

    Andy May

  6. Howdy!
    I remember the SSSC too --- heck I even was one of the referees who worked on some week-ends for Tony Martone--- my-oh-my time sure does fly!
    Tom , retiring after a fantastic "run" on the FIFA AR list-- I 'member - all those recommendations--all the paperwork - it certainly paid-off!!>> KUDOS to all!

    Is there an e/mail address for TOM available??

  7. Hi Im Brian Hunt the head referee at the sssc now And I have herd storys about all the things Wally and tom have done. If just some of them are true then well Played by all. As for Wally well lets say Brian Max was right you and tom are very good .
    Brian Hunt

  8. Brian,

    I am happy to say, the stories I have written here are all true.

    I share your opinion, Tom and Wally are top notch guys and referees.

    As far as Max goes, he is an outstanding guy as well and would have make a heck of a referee.

    While not complete, I attempted to pay him homage in my post at the following:

    As with Tom and Wally, I owe him much both in my career, and my growing up.

    Good luck at the SSSC, it is now, and always shall remain with me, an icon of referee training and a symbol of fellowship.