With European football in a bit of a mid-May lull, and the vast majority of domestic leagues having crowned a champion at this point, I feel it’s as good a time as any to briefly shift my attention away from professional referees and talk instead about what is probably the most crucial piece of equipment we use in our own games – the whistle.
I had a tournament recently (a youth tourney – U13-U18), and met many new referees in the nine games I officiated. I find it really fascinating to branch out and work with fellow referees that I’ve never seen before – it’s quite interesting to observe different rituals, personalities, and, for someone with an always-expanding accessories bag, types of equipment used as well.
With nine fields in the athletic complex where the tournament was hosted, I found it particularly interesting to take account of the types of whistles I heard throughout the weekend. On a normal Saturday or Sunday, invariably I’ll hear the Fox 40 Classic 95% of the time, and then maybe a Sonik Blast or two in there. This past weekend, however, a myriad of different whistles were audible, from the usual Fox 40 suspects to vintage Acme pea whistles (yes, actually) to Molten’s two main offerings, the Dolfin and the Valkeen.
I varied my whistle of choice throughout the weekend, depending on the type of game it was. I prefer certain ones to others, but I’m not married to any one in particular.
So, what’s in my whistle collection, you might ask?
Fox 40 Classic
Super original, I know. This was my first pealess whistle, replacing the Acme Thunderer pea whistle that I used when I was 12 years old and starting out my refereeing career. Now, I have four Classics: two black, one red, and one white. This is probably the most popular whistle in the world, used by beginner, amateur, and elite referees alike.
As reliable and dependable as they come
When blown correctly, can be incredibly loud and piercing (I have to emphasize the ‘when blown correctly’ part, as I have heard my fair share of shittily-blown Classics that do not even come close to the advertised 115db)
You can buy them from literally anywhere
In my opinion, the easiest whistle to blow without needing to hold it in your hand – it doesn’t fall out of your mouth easily
Can be used in almost any type of match, from a youth recreational game to the FIFA World Cup Final
Available in a wide variety of colours
Incredibly unoriginal – almost every referee has one
Can easily cause mix-ups between players if games are being played side-by-side, because there’s a good chance the referee in the other game is using the same one
I find it very one-pitched and as a result hard to vary your tone
The Fox 40 Classic is like vanilla ice cream. It’s the cheapest out there, it’s the most easily accessible, more people have eaten vanilla ice cream than any other flavour, and nobody really dislikes it. The Classic is the easy choice, and for good reason – it has very few flaws if you use it correctly.
Fox 40 Sonik Blast
I like to think of a whistle as an extension of your voice. I don’t have a particularly loud voice, so I have to compensate. Enter the Fox 40 Sonik Blast: if I had a dollar for every time I heard “fuck, that’s loud” during a match, well, I’d have a lot of dollars.
It’s LOUD and shrill – and gets players’ attention very quickly
Very easy to blow and get a crisp, sharp sound
Very, very easy to do a staccato whistle
You can really ‘speak with your whistle’ using it, varying tone and harshness effortlessly
Have I mentioned how loud it is?
I’ve heard a few stories of referees’ hearing being affected by prolonged use of the Blast – due to the way the chambers are designed, it’s a very tinny-sounding whistle, so I can definitely see why
Its unorthodox shape makes it pretty much impossible to hold in your mouth – you need to keep your hand on it or else it’ll fall out
You can come across as overly obnoxious depending on the type of game you’re refereeing (eg. it would be great for a U18 high-level competitive match but completely over-the-top for a U14 lower-tier game)
The tinny pitch of the Sonik Blast can be deafening not only for players, but for officials too. If I need to differentiate my whistle pitch from the Fox 40 Classic on the field next to me, then by all means, for a one-off game I’d probably still use one. But its days as my go-to whistle are in the past.
Fox 40 Pearl
The last of the fleet of Fox 40s in my bag, the Pearl is by far and away the least-used of any of them. While there are times when it’s a good choice, I generally much prefer the loud and attention-grabbing whistles, neither of which are adjectives that describe the Pearl very well.
Offers a markedly lower tone than most whistles, effective when you need a different sound than the referee on the game next to you
Great for indoor matches, when you don’t want a shrill ringing sound bouncing off the walls
Easy to blow – a good choice for older referees
Way too quiet for regular outdoor matches
Doesn’t convey a whole lot of authority
Sounds almost like a pea whistle, even though it’s not
Advertised more as a safety and security whistle than a referee one
Can really only be used exclusively for grassroots football
The first time I used the Pearl, I did so without knowing what it sounded like (it was included in a Fox 40 three-pack, along with the Classic and SB). Big mistake. I lasted one half of one game before switching back to the Classic, which was at the time my main whistle. I haven’t used the Pearl in an outdoor game since, although I will say that it is my whistle of choice in 5-on-5 indoor matches, and, for the record, I’ve been quite happy with it in these games.
Acme Tornado 2000
At the moment, the Acme T2000 is the only non-Fox 40 whistle in my bag, at least until I finally decide to bite the proverbial bullet on a Valkeen. It’s probably most similar to the Fox 40 Classic, but different in a few ways as well, and I’ve been quite pleased with it when I’ve used it.
Loud, but not obnoxiously so
Very sharp sound, similar to the F40 Classic but a bit more crisp
It’s a very rarely-seen whistle – scores points for originality
It will stay in your mouth without needing to hold it there
It’s a very big and bulky whistle, and takes some time getting used to blowing it
Not very readily available to purchase compared to the Fox whistles
Not used professionally and not generally talked about in refereeing circles
I like the Tornado 2000 mainly due to the fact that I haven’t met a single other referee who uses one. The fact that mine is bright orange also adds to its novelty, which I think is pretty cool. In general, I think of the T2000 as a mixture between the Fox 40 Classic and Sonik Blast. The tone is definitely similar to the Classic, but just different enough to the point that you can tell it’s not a Classic. The sound level of the T2000 is right in the middle of the two Foxes, which is pretty ideal as far as I’m concerned. I’ll still take the Classic as my first choice for now, but the T2000 is a damn good whistle in its own right.