With more than a decade of MLS and international experience, Joe Fletcher has become PRO’s Manager of Senior Assistant Referees.
The 2018 MLS Assistant Referee of the Year developed a reputation as one of the best assistant referees in North America, as well as being highly regarded across the world.
After bowing out following the conclusion of the 2018 MLS season and having officiated at the FIFA World Cup in Russia that summer, the 43-year-old enjoyed a short break from the game. He was then provided with the opportunity to develop referees in his home country of Canada, ahead of the inaugural Canadian Premier League season, alongside a consulting role with PRO last year.
We caught up with Fletcher ahead of PRO’s preseason camp to get his thoughts on his new role:
Firstly, what will you be doing for PRO in your new role?
I will be responsible for increasing the overall quality of the assistant referees, and hopefully, get them a little bit more recognition for all the good they bring to the game.
Is this a good challenge for you at this point in your life, having had a year to adjust?
The best time to start this kind of thing is when you’re fresh off the field, as you can still remember your experiences and you can translate them to the crew. If I waited for five years and then came back, what I knew then will not be as relevant on my return.
What do you see as the biggest challenge you’re going to face in your new role?
I have to be fair and remember how I was when I first started, versus how much I could do when I just came off the list. If somebody’s brand new, I can’t judge them by the same standard that I’m going to judge somebody going to a World Cup. It’s about helping them and not giving someone too much information on their first game.
Some people were surprised when you announced retirement; was it a difficult decision to make?
If people were surprised, that’s its own compliment – it’s them telling you that you’re still good.
However, how much credibility you have when you leave the field is where you start in an instructional role, so I find that people are willing to listen to me.
How did you find having a break at the end of your career after years of dedication to the role?
It gave me some time to reset and think about how I want to give back; it gave me an appreciation for how much I loved it. When I realized I wanted to get back into football, this opportunity came up, so it was a really good fit.
Did you contemplate other plans during your time away from the game, or were you just waiting for that perfect opportunity?
I did; I was going to step away and I wasn’t going think about it, although I always figured that I would do something at some stage.
Of course, you had the chance to see the direction in which the Canadian Premier League was growing, and whether there was an opportunity for you…
I thought about it, but that on-field opportunity belongs to somebody else. It’s a great start for the league, and an amazing opportunity for Canadian match officials to be working professional matches, week-in, week-out. For some of them, it’s going to lead to international appointments, and they’ll be way better prepared having the experience of the CPL going for them.
Looking back at your own career now, do you have any standout memories?
When interacting with a lot of the guys whilst away at tournaments, you start to realize that these are actual people who like to joke around and have downtime – I’ve made as many memories off the field as I have on it. Maybe my final World Cup match as well, just because it was the last one, and I was looking around the stadium thinking: ‘this was a great ride, and if it ended today, I can be happy.’
Talking of World Cups, we can’t let you go without mentioning that handshake in Brazil – nobody could have styled it out like you did…
That’s going to keep making random guest appearances. I’m not even on social media myself, so I think it’s hilarious that I still pop up all over it. It could be worse though, at least everyone could smile when it happened.