Fifa referee Jamie Robinson from Portadown is exporting his niche product to several countries
Jamie Robinson, who was appointed a Fifa official at 25, is now the co-owner of an English firm that sells assistant referee electronic flags.
The 28-year-old obtained Touchline Flags in May, and said that he and his English business partner “made a fairly sizeable investment to acquire the business”.
“With our experience, know-how and contacts in the football industry, we hope to grow it and create other innovative sports official products in the future under the brand,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
The business itself has been in operation for around two decades, and after its original owner sadly passed away, Jamie said he saw an “opportunity” to continue building on the brand’s good reputation.
“It’s a very well-known company and has been number one on the market for such a niche product,” the Portadown native explained. “I had worked with Brendan McDowell at BPerfect Cosmetics for a few years, so I wanted to get into an e-commerce company that was doing well and to learn from him.”
And ‘Bperfect Brendan’, as the successful entrepreneur is often referred to, has taught Jamie a lot. “I’m still good friends with him and I always had it in my own mind that I wanted to have my own business of some sort, so I knew that this is a very specific product that is very much needed in every league around the world.
“There’s not much competition on the market and I know that if anyone else is going to sell it from a refereeing point of view, it’s best for me to do it, rather than someone who is maybe not as passionate about the industry.”
The electronic flags each have a button on them, and when pressed by an assistant referee, it then notifies the main official about a foul or an offside decision, via a receiver on the centre referee’s arm that will make a noise or vibration.
Currently, Jamie said that the company is exporting to Sweden, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, the USA, Germany and more, but its biggest selling point is that the product is used in the English Premier League.
He added: “There’s no deal with the Northern Ireland Football League at present, but that’s going to be my first goal.
“The main thing is that it is in the Premier League and that’s the biggest league in the world so it’s well-renowned based on that fact.”
While VAR (Video Assistant Referees) has been in the Premier League since the 2019/20 season and is now in operation in the Scottish Premiership, it has yet to come to the Northern Ireland Football League.
The Belfast-based businessman noted that “Touchline Flags are useful for referees that are beyond grassroots level but not at the top flight, so they don’t have many communications means, but at least this is one way of contacting one another”.
He continued: “There’s a lot we could do to improve the situation for referees, and I want to help referees.
“I know what I’m selling, I know what the product does and I know how it helps them. I think it’s going to help when I look at other products down the line because I know from my own experience, the challenges and difficulties and what could solve those.
“There might be issues that I don’t face personally, but I have such a strong network of people in the industry that I can now turn to, to talk about those things and then produce what they need effectively.”
Invest NI is currently providing customs advice and support to Touchline Flags, and Jamie already has big plans for the future.
“I want to look into creating other innovate products for football referees and ideally eventually expand into other equipment for different sporting officials further down the line.”
Jamie became a Fifa international referee in 2020 at the age of 25 and started officiating at the early age of 14.
He attended the Uefa Centre of Refereeing Excellence in 2017 and was promoted to the Premiership panel of referees in 2018. This year the Queen’s University graduate has also officiated in various matches for Uefa over the last couple of months in the Europa Conference League, Under-21 internationals and Uefa Youth League.