Conger climbs referees' ladder
Manawatu's Matt Conger has taken a big step towards his goal of one day refereeing at a World Cup.
Conger has just been elevated to the Fifa international list as a referee, one of only three people in New Zealand at that level.
"The next big goal is the under-20 World Cup in 2015 and then it's very much the stars aligning to get any opportunities," he said.
Michael Hester made it to the same level in 2000 and refereed at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, so there is a chance Conger could follow the same path and control high-profile games in the future.
Referees committee and referee appointments panel chairman Rod Pelosi was pleased Manawatu had produced its first referee at this level, with their previous best only assistant refs.
"It's a hell of a Christmas present," Pelosi said.
"The ultimate is refereeing the World Cup final and the second ultimate would be to go to the World Cup, but you've got to get the driving licence to get there first."
Conger was nominated by the New Zealand referees and it had to have Fifa clearance before he received his international badge.
Peter O'Leary and Nick Waldron are the only other Kiwis, as the quota from New Zealand is about three of international status to make sure they have the best officials.
A referee is supposed to call it quits at 45, so Conger, 34, has plenty of time to crack the big time.
It is his seventh year on the national panel, having lived in New Zealand for eight years since he moved here from Athens, Georgia, in the United States.
He has already refereed at the under-20 Oceania confederation tournament, is a fourth official for home Wellington Phoenix games in the A-League, was fourth official for the All Whites against Paraguay and his done his fair share of Chatham Cup and national league games.
In England earlier this year he refereed matches for an Irish club called Shamrock, as well as Birmingham City, and he also spent working time with English Premier League refs Mark Clattenburg and Howard Webb.
With his job as a teacher at Kairanga School, four children under 10 and his football commitments, Conger is a busy man.
Officiating is not as easy as it sounds either. He trains four times a week, including nutritional and physical work.
He started refereeing in the US when he was 15 as a way of making extra money and realised he could referee at a higher level than he could play.