Namibia: Ruacana's Bottle-Top Ref Journeys East

UNLIKE most football-crazed youngsters, Samuel Mayele Nghipandulwa was unusual in that he wanted to be a match official since taking to the sport as an impressionable pre-teen.

Nghipandulwa (23) jetted off to Qingdao, China last week, where he has landed a debut international gig as his quest to become a Fifa-accredited referee continues.

The Ruacana native has been invited into the Tournaments Abroad Referee Academy, an international football refereeing development project organised by Tournaments Abroad, which is an independent non-profit organisation that provides youth football tournaments with referees from across the world.

They offer exclusive access to coaching and development opportunities supported by referee coaches and instructors who are or have been active in comparable functions in Fifa, Uefa or their national associations.

"The Referee Academy Committee considers Mr Nghipandulwa's participation in this project as very beneficial for his future refereeing career as it will provide him with valuable advice on his strengths and development areas as a referee and person, as well as offer him his first international experiences," the tournament organisers said.

"The Referee Academy Committee has therefore decided to invite him to one of Tournaments Abroad's most sophisticated international youth tournaments: the Gothia Cup China 2019, held from 10 to 16 August 2019 in Qingdao, China."

A keen student of the game, Nghipandulwa was beside himself when he received the invitation, especially given that he is the only African representative on the roster.

"I want to work with referees from different countries. The most important thing is to gain knowledge and skills," he said.

A referee must be at least 25 years old on 1 January to be eligible for a Fifa international referee listing nomination on that calendar year.

"My aim is to eventually earn a Fifa badge when I reach the minimum age, and work my way towards appearing at the Fifa World Cup. Gaining international experience will help me reach my goal."

The high-calibre tournament is a far cry from when as an 11 year-old, Nghipandulwa took charge of his first match on a gravel pitch armed with a soft-drink can filled with stones as a whistle, and bottle tops for yellow and red cards.

The Namibian Newspaper Cup and Skorpion Zinc U17 Cup alumni is a confident and driven young man, who expects to ace his latest assignment.

"Growing up in a small town, opportunities of developing refereeing skills were not available, so I developed myself by watching soccer on television, and local tournaments," explained Nghipandulwa, who counts former England referee Mark Clattenburg among his heroes.

Nghipandulwa is a registered referee with the Namibia Football Association (NFA), and successfully passed all relevant tests and steps to be integrated into the Tournaments Abroad Referee Academy's 'Development Level' in 2019.

This included an online-based Laws of the Game Test, a Video Conformity Test, the submission of a video showing him in action, and a motivational statement. In each of the four steps, the assessors found Nghipandulwa to convey the impression of considerable potential as a match official.

"If the tournament goes well, I'm looking forward to getting another chance to work with them in a different country or tournament. I'm going there to do my best, and show that Namibia also has quality, young upcoming referees," he enthused.

The Tournaments Abroad Referee Academy includes intense coaching and development activities such as post-match analyses and educational sessions at the tournament.

At the Gothia Cup China, he will referee matches in various age categories, and will be observed and receive advice from Detelin Baialtzaliev, UEFA refereeing assistance programme instructor, former main instructor of the Bulgarian Football Union's Professional Referees and current educational adviser of Tournaments Abroad.

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