A Day At The Crucible With Referee Michaela Tabb

TabbWhile the players undoubtedly take centre stage here at the Crucible during the World Championship, it is easy to underestimate the role of the referees, without whom this tournament would not be possible.

In particular, since I have had backstage access here in recent seasons, it has become clear to be just how much unseen work is done by all of them, so who better than to tell us exactly what goes on than two-time final referee Michaela Tabb, who joined me on Saturday to explain what a typical day would involve for her and what special challenges are posed by this unique venue…

As Michaela joined me on Saturday morning for our pre-arranged chat, she began by explaining to me the three primary duties of a referee at the Crucible, namely being spare, marking and of course refereeing itself.

At the time of our talk, Michaela was acting as ‘spare’, before she would take charge of the final session of the last 16 match between Barry Hawkins and Ricky Walden at 2:30pm…

‘Spare Man’

The spare man helps come in and make sure the set is ready, help the girls in the office, the TD [tournament director] just to make sure that everything is ready to go.

For example this morning, Brendan [Moore] who is spare as well, picked up that the nameboards out in the arena were wrong for Ken Doherty and Alan McManus, so then it was getting that swapped, so little things like that.

It is then a case of helping getting the players out of the dressing rooms, practice rooms or wherever they are for the start of play. When the matches are underway, to be fair it is a little bit quieter. What we have got to do now is assist with the dressing rooms, they have all got to be cleaned out, fresh water put in, cups and saucers and things like that and locked obviously for security reasons.

It’s the girls’ job in the office but we tend to lend a hand, depending on who is in or if there are not enough people and then we have goodie bags to make up for something, so we will be doing random stuff like that. It’s quite relaxing actually so it’s not a bad shift to have.

If you are spare in the evening, which I am not today, the spare man has to stay to the end. So for instance tonight, with Alan and Ken finishing it could be a late night, whereas last night we were all out of the door for 9:50pm, so you don’t know how long that shift is going to be.



Today, come the mid-session intervals this morning, what I’ll do is be going back to the hotel because I am refereeing this afternoon at 2:30pm.

What they have tried to sort out is that if you are going to be reffing, you are not marking the session before so that you have got time to go away, get prepared and get ready. There’s nothing worse than not having enough time, because a lot of it for us is mental, concentration, it’s the focus and if you are doing another job and then you have got an hour to get yourself fed, changed and then get back out and set your table up, there is then not enough time to get yourself into the right mindset, because that is when you are at your best.

If you are just rushing yourself out there it’s not good. So then I will go back and I will get myself changed and ready. If I am reffing at 2:30pm, I will usually try to get back here an hour before because I’ve realised that for me it doesn’t work if I get stressed if I am late. I need to know to know that I am in time, focused and whatnot. I don’t want that panic.

I won’t have too much to eat, there is nothing worse than having a full stomach, which I did yesterday and regretted ridiculously! I had a proper big lunch and it was the wrong thing to do, but normally I wouldn’t do that.

I’ll change in here, because we are in Jury’s [Inn hotel], it’s a little walk and the weather has been really changeable, so I’ve got my suits in here, instead of walking backwards and forwards, because you end up soaking if it is raining.


So I will come in and get myself ready and then go out, hopefully the table is ready so I can just go and set up and then you want to check all your equipment and make sure that is all sorted. I have got to have a wet cloth to keep my gloves damp, bottle of water and you know me, I have got to have my energy drink. Whether I open it, depending on how I feel, or whether I just have it there.

The first session I had this week, Ryan Day and Stephen Maguire, I’ve gone out with a new pair of gloves, but you have got to wash them first, so they are all washed and I’ve gone out and they were still slippy. So I was uncomfortable and I had not had any Red Bull. I was like a fish out of water for the first four frames until the interval.

Then I went in and changed my gloves, I got a can of Red Bull, drunk half of it and put it out there and I was like two completely different refs. All of a sudden, everything just fell into place and I was doing what I should be doing without having to think about it, unbelievable. So it’s not that I necessarily have to drink it, it’s just part of my preparation and I need to have it there otherwise I don’t feel prepared.

And that’s it, you start the job and you just try to stay as focused as you can and hopefully do the best job that you can.


We have got three jobs we are doing minimum while marking. We have got the DVD recorder, which gives the images when the balls are being put back. Because the feed from the fixed camera that we use is going to so many different places here, it’s very fuzzy.

It’s not very clear, but we are in charge of that and we do need it, but because it is so fuzzy, your area is like almost double the width of a ball. For trying to get pinpoint precision it is useless, only for ball park, but you are running that so whenever there is safety player or a snooker situation, you have got to press the button to get the freeze frame on that.

Meanwhile you are also doing the paper record, because if anything happens with the [electronic] scoring system and you lose that, you have got to have the paper record. It’s also a good backup for the scoring system because you can check them against each other.

And then you have got the laptop, actually putting the scores in as well, so in especially a foul and a miss, you are doing it all because you have got to be potentially ready to put the freeze frame up and guide the ref if necessary, put the foul and a miss on the scoreboard and then put the cursor back to the other player and then you are supposed to be writing it all down, so it can all get a bit manic.


But it’s quite good because I like having the DVD player, it keeps you focused because it can be mundane, depending on the game if all you are doing is putting in the scores.

We have also got the commentator in our ear and they’ve managed to get a dual soundbox so we’ve got commentary going through and a direct feed from the ref. We have got to be able to hear him, like when the crowd are clapping or there is noise, if you didn’t have that you wouldn’t hear what they are saying and sometimes, like with a foul and a miss, if you can’t physically see it is a foul four or whatever, if it’s brushing towards the black, you have got to be able to hear whatever it is.

The thing is you need so much focus for marking, it’s actually tiring in itself. This is a long tournament, it is 17 days of play which is tough. Everyone hits a brick wall at some point, where you feel like you need a lie in and some me time!

Crucible Challenges

This is so hard here because it’s so tight, that you are in the wrong place a lot, so you have actually got to try and be one step ahead because if you need to try and get somewhere, the cameramen do try to get in on the shot and the thing is they can block you out of seeing something.

I didn’t miss a foul, because I thought it was a foul last year, but because I wasn’t behind the line of sight, I had to ask my marker and he confirmed it was because he’s got the overhead shot. It can be so frustrating because sometimes I need to be in there, but if they have got there first there is no room, I can’t shove them out of the way because there is nowhere for him to go either and I can’t get around him because the player is there, so it is very, very tight.


I don’t like taking my eyes off the table, so I never look through the camera or do any of that. You will never catch me looking around unless someone is making a noise or something that is frustrating me. I feel that the only way to know that I am in complete control is never to take my eyes off the table.

When you are down at this [black] end of the table, you can see the scoreboard on the other table and if I want to know what is going on, I have to be physically sure that nothing is happening on my table for a quick look and back. I just don’t do it. You will see other referees looking all over the place sometimes but I have just got to be looking at that table!

One Table

When you are down to one-table, that is when it gets easier, which sounds silly because you are at the business end of the tournament, but it is just the one table so you don’t have to think about position at all.

So much of your effort and focus is put into position at this set-up and you can’t get where you want to be, but when you get that big game, you just go where you want to go because you have got so much room. You can just do the reffing, you don’t have to think about anything else which is great.

The atmosphere is amazing because you have got 950 people who are all just focused on that one table. The atmosphere here is like no other, you’ve got no other place that has got the intensity that this arena has got, it’s absolutely phenomenal.


The First Time

Every time I have ever been out for the first of anything, I have always had nerves and butterflies, which is quite bizarre and also the first time I walk out here in the first round, I am in a mess, an absolute mess. I don’t get that anywhere else, it’s like my whole insides are going like a washing machine, it’s unbelievable.

No other venue does that, no other match does that. Just that one, not even the first sessions of the finals have I felt like that, it’s like walking out there on day one or day two, really, really bizarre. Excited nervousness, which settles down very quickly, which is good because there is nothing worse than in the first frame having the pink needing to go into the middle of the pack or something ridiculous like that.

I do remember that I wasn’t that nervous for my first final. I think it had been a year of knowing that I was getting the final and that was the worst thing possible because I was so nervous and uptight every match that I went out for in that year because I thought I can’t make a mistake.

I was under so much pressure that year that when it actually came round to it, it was a doddle, it was unbelievable. I was actually excelling in it rather than being terrified, which was quite eye opening to be honest with you. I really enjoyed that and then the second one as well.

Spare Time

You get one shift off a day. On the two session days, invariably most of us only have to do one session, but a couple have to do two, it is just the way that it works and they share that around.

The worst case scenario is a split shift [morning/evening], which obviously everybody has got to do, because from my point of view I don’t go back to sleep unless I’m either unwell or absolutely shattered, then to do that I have got to shut the curtains, put the heating up, put the pyjamas on, get under the duvet. I can’t just do a lie on the bed and doze thing, I’ve got to do the proper go to sleep thing.

The downside to that is that I have then got to redo all my hair and my make-up and everything. That makes it a very tiring day depending on what you are doing.


When I do get some me time, what I don’t do is shopping, I am not a lover of shopping unless there is something specific that I want to do or want to get and on a split shift I don’t want to be walking around because my feet are getting a hammering anyway.

If you are up in the morning, it is nice to try and get a long lie in and take advantage of it, so then your spare shift you feel as though you have not had it because you have been sleeping.

If you are up at night it is nice to get something nice to eat because we tend to have a lot of microwaved food. The facilities that we have got here are a fridge, a toaster, a toastie machine and a microwave! So it is nice to get something to eat.

If I am off in the afternoon, I have got my laptop with episodes of whatever, I’ve got my Netflix. I am re-watching 24 so that’s where I am at the minute. That’s always good to have abroad because invariably you have always got wi-fi, so you can keep yourself occupied with things on the computer. You have just got to try and enjoy the time that you have got wherever you are, obviously different tournaments bring different challenges.

This year I am not doing a semi-final or the final, but I am going to be over to do some work with the hospitality over in the Winter Gardens, so they are going to use me in a slightly different role, as somebody over there to help out and for people to get autographs and photos.

It’s quite exciting. That will be different for me to do that and it will probably break it up and make it a little bit fresh because I enjoy that – when I have got the time. There is nothing worse when you are under pressure for time and people then want things because it’s not nice to say no, but at the same time you are in a hurry and you are trying to come into the venue and get set-up or whatever.

So I’m quite looking forward to that, it will be something different to do.


How the Crucible compares to refereeing at the qualifiers

It is on a smaller scale, you have not got the same spectators so you are just going out and doing your job.

When I am out here, I prefer to think that we have not got that DVD equipment. I learned and taught myself to try and plot where all the balls are, in particular the colours as I go along if they move off their spots, because when you go to qualifiers, you don’t ever have anything so it has got to be automatic.

If you start getting lazy in TV matches, you are not going to be on form in the other ones, so I just try and ref the same which is not a bad work ethic to be honest. I try not to use that DVD equipment, I think it looks better if you don’t need it, so long as you are getting it in the right place. You stay more focused on the match if you stay more focused on those things.

There’s not much difference, it’s obviously more low key. I don’t have to worry about my hair and make-up, but when you are out there doing the matches, you do try to ref them in the same way.


Thanks to Michaela for her time and insight into the life of a referee at the World Championship. She will next be in charge of the quarter-final match between Mark Selby and Alan McManus from Tuesday.