When Bendigo referee Brenton Hayward takes to the soccer pitch this A-League season, he won’t be overawed.
At just 25, he’ll be one of the youngest referees in the elite domestic game taking charge of matches featuring some of the biggest names in Australian soccer.
With thousands of partisan fans screaming for their team and players in his face appealing for free kicks, he’ll stick to the same philosophy that’s helped him rise through the refereeing ranks.
“It’s all about smiling,” Hayward said.
“People scream at you, but that’s the pinnacle of football in Australia. They’re just people – it’s just me, the players and the crowd.”
Hayward’s cool, calm nature is partly what’s helped him achieve his dream at such a young age.
Originally from Swan Hill, he began refereeing at the age of 14 as part of an academy program to give players a better knowledge of the rules.
The Bendigo South East Secondary College maths and science teacher soon realised he made a better referee than player and after moving to Bendigo a year later, he focused solely on officiating.
He took charge of his first Bendigo Amateur Soccer League senior match while still a teenager.
Spotted by a talent identification officer, Hayward soon joined the high-performance program as a 21-year-old and began refereeing Victorian Premier League matches in Melbourne.
Even for him it seems like a whirlwind rise to be an A-League referee.
“I’m gobsmacked,” Hayward said.
“When someone says what do you want to do, as a country lad you don’t think (being an A-League referee) can be you.”
But that’s not going to stop him setting his sights on the international stage, which he says he needs to be selected for before he turns 32 or “there’s no chance”.
There’s plenty of hard work before then, though, including travelling to Melbourne four times a week for training, but you get the feeling Hayward isn’t about to get ahead of himself.
“They’ve got a job to do and I’ve got a job to do, that’s all there is to it,” he said.