Dr Jim earns his stripes at NFL birthplace

American Football referee Jim Briggs
American Football referee Jim Briggs
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DR JIM BRIGGS is hoping to go out with a bang at his third and final American Football World Championships.

The principal lecturer in computing at the University of Portsmouth has been refereeing in the sport since 1984 and at international level since 1989.

The 56-year-old, who is originally from York but has lived in Havant for 20 years, was selected to officiate at the World Championships in 2003 and 2011 and has previously been selected for five European finals and 14 British championship games.

He serves as the chairman of the rules committee of the International Federation of American Football and is also the author of the Manual of Football Officiating – the best-selling rule book for refereeing outside the USA and Japan.

Now he will take charge of games with seven teams competing at the 22,000-capacity Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio – the city where the NFL was founded in 1920.

USA, Japan, Mexico, France, Australia, South Korea and Brazil will compete for the crown, with games starting yesterday and going through to the final on July 19.

And Briggs, who will be in the middle for the France v Brazil clash in the opening round, is hopeful he may get the chance to take his place in the eight-man refereeing team for the final in what he thinks will be his last appearance on the world stage.

He said: ‘I still enjoy it massively and it would be nice to be involved in the final.

‘But I have been to the top three times so it is time to give other people a chance and I think it will be my last World Championship.

‘I’m thrilled to have been selected. I’ve done many big games in Europe but it’s extra special to be able to referee in front of a very knowledgeable audience.’

It’s a far cry from the start of his refereeing journey, when he was thrown in at the deep end after answering an advert in a magazine.

Briggs said: ‘Channel 4 started showing the NFL in the 1980s and I just got interested by watching it.

‘I saw an advert in a magazine that someone was starting up a referee’s association.

‘I thought if I joined, they would send me a rule book and I would be able to understand what I was watching on the TV better.

‘I sent my money off on the Monday, got a phonecall on the Wednesday and I was asked if I wanted to come along to a game – Leeds Cougars v Fylde Falcons – on the Sunday.

‘I went along and when I walked in, they handed me my stripey shirt and told me I was refereeing the game with them!

‘It was six months before they actually gave me a rule book.

‘At the time, there was the Channel 4 guide to American football and that was pretty much all that anyone knew about it.

‘It’s all grown from there.’

And while referees in football in this country can often be subjected to abuse by the players, it’s a different tale for the men in striped shirts.

Briggs added: ‘We tend to get the same level of respect that rugby referees get. If anyone says a bad word, it’s an immediate 15-yard penalty.

‘It sometimes happens once, but they learn quite quickly!’