Soccer always played an important role in the life of Fonderson Ashu. Today, the 35-year old Cameroonian is considered to be one of the all-time top referees working for the Fédération Internationale de Football Corporatif (FIFCO). His remarkable career, which includes more than 500 games for the organization, can serve as a shining example for the next generation.
Kumba is not only the largest city in the Southwest Province of Cameroon but also the official trade centre for Cocoa and Palm Oil. Due to its excellent location close to the Gulf of Guinea, many foreign companies have started to invest into the local industry over the last two decades. Soccer is deeply rooted in the hearts and souls of the people in Kumba. Former national players like Samuel Eto’o or Rigobert Song enjoy an outstanding reputation amongst the local fans. One of them is Fonderson Ashu. The FIFCO-Referee lived most of his life in ‘K-Town’ and fell in love with soccer since his first days in school. “I grew up in an environment, where soccer is part of the culture”, said Mr. Ashu. “Even if my friends and I could not afford to buy a real ball, we always found a way to play. Sometimes, we simply tied together a bunch of old plastic bags or used unripe oranges.”
After graduating from school, Mr. Ashu decided to get involved professionally in the world of soccer. Only his jobs prevented him from doing so. “If someone would have offered me the opportunity to start my referee training in Cameroon, I would have taken it right away. In the end, I was not able to sign up though. The majority of games were scheduled to kick off in the afternoon, because not every stadium in the city had floodlights. Unfortunately, I could not quit my shift during that time of the day”, stated Mr. Ashu in his calm and steady voice. However, when the father of two kids moved to Canada in 2011, he finally had the chance to make his dream come true. “Everything changed for me, after I arrived in Montreal. The first company I was working for had a team in the Canadian Corporate Soccer League (CCSL) and my colleagues wanted me to join them. During my first season, I met Albert Zbily, who is the President of FIFCO. I told him that I would like to become a referee and he did not hesitate to invite me for a two day entry-level course”, said Mr. Ashu confidently.
It turned out that the training program was one of the key moments in the impressive career of the Cameroonian. Without learning the basic rules of refereeing, he would not have been able to reach the 500-game mark so quickly. That is also the reason why Mr. Ashu enjoys taking a trip down memory lane every once in a while. “When you get into something you truly love, you do not forget the details. I can remember that the entry course took place on a weekend. The training was split into a theoretical and practical part. In my final evaluation, I had to be linesman and centre referee”, recalled Mr. Ashu with a smile on his face. After receiving his referee license, the rookie was finally entitled to pick up the whistle. Before being assigned to a Premiership-game in the CCSL though, he had to prove his skills in the COED-Divisions. “My first match was at the McGill Forbes Field in Montreal. I was supposed to be one of the sideline referees, but I had a lot of difficulties to find the right place. Luckily, I managed to arrive five minutes ahead of time”, said Mr. Ashu. “It was not easy for me in the beginning.”
Like other FIFCO-Referees before him, Mr. Ashu had to learn that experience does not come overnight. The road to success is rather paved with obstacles and plenty of reasons to quit the job. That is why the 1,86m tall Cameroonian is always prepared for the worst case scenario to happen when he is entering the pitch. “I usually take a close look into the records of the teams on match days. In most of the cases, the statistics tell me already what I have to expect from a game. If a player got three bookings in the first five weeks of the season, it is very likely that I might give him a yellow card as well”, explained Mr. Ashu, who values the support of his referee team around him. Since soccer has become more and more dynamic over the last few decades, officials are encouraged to work even closer together. “Most of the time, you have to decide in less than a second about what happened in a specific situation. When you are in the centre of action, it is almost impossible to keep it all. I believe that you only have a chance to face all the challenges on the pitch, if you coordinate your steps with your colleagues”, stated Mr. Ashu. “You do not leave anybody behind.”
After gaining some valuable experience in his debut season, the 35-year old was quickly able to bring his game to another level. Due to his strong sense for professionalism, he managed to become one of the best FIFCO-Referees of the organization. “I think that I improved a lot since my rookie year. In the beginning, I was extremely strict with cards. Not that I gave bookings unnecessarily, but I started growing to the game. Today I have realized that you need to use your mouth as a referee, especially when the stakes are high and the competition is very physical”, admitted Mr. Ashu openly. Besides being communicative, the MBA graduate also tries to show the players who is in charge of the game by using body language. “It is crucial that you impose yourself right from the start. The players have to feel that you are the authority on the pitch. I compare referees often to police officers. Both are responsible for implementing the law”, said Mr. Ashu. “Do not expect the players to like you as a referee, because you give them the booking. Sometimes you make a mistake, but do not open up. There are of course some errors that you can correct directly as long as you let the players understand what you are doing.”
By officiating more than 500 games in his career, Mr. Ashu has raised the bar for other FIFCO-Referees. No other referee in the organization has reached this important milestone. Thus, it is not surprising that the Cameroonian has become a role model for the younger generation. If someone with less experience needs advice, he will get it eventually from the Manchester United FC supporter. “The first thing I would suggest, who is asking me for help, is to take every game you are assigned to as if it was a final. Always try to be fair and respectful. I think that this has been my secret”, said Mr. Ashu. “What I noticed also over the last years is that you should pay an extra amount of attention to the last five minutes of the match. If you lose your focus during crunch time, players might use that to their advantage.”
The FIFCO Referee department thanks you for your dedication and your passion. We are proud of your performance on the pitch. Congratulations on your 500th career game!