Referees relish chance to learn on finals stage

“Every day you learn something new,” is Dutch referee Vivian Peeters’ take on the match-officiating experience at the 2015 UEFA European Women’s Under-17 Championship.

Peeters is part of the 16-woman refereeing team for the finals in Iceland who are going about their work under the tutelage of UEFA Referees Committee member Bo Karlsson and his two fellow observers Antonia Kokotou and Natalia Avdonchenko.

The schedule may be intense but the event – a first UEFA final tournament in their respective capacities for all the match officials – is proving a big-stage debut to relish. “It’s a great pleasure and an honour to be here,” said Ivana Martinčić from Koprivnica in Croatia. “Each game is a new experience.”

The referees’ tournament actually began four days before the action itself, with their arrival on Nordic soil accompanied, within 24 hours, by a fitness check. Once the games themselves started, the match officials embarked on a busy programme: the day after their games, every four-strong officiating unit of referee, two assistants and fourth official have an afternoon debrief with the referee observer who watched their match; then, the next day, all the officials attend a group briefing which covers the main learning points so far, with input from Bo Karlsson and his fellow observers.

“We analyse every match 24 hours later with the group that refereed it and their observer, once we’ve got the DVD. The day after we have a group meeting,” explained the veteran Swede, who took charge of the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup final during his esteemed career with the whistle.

“I am enjoying every moment and we learn a lot from the technical meetings,” added Peeters, a 33-year-old special educational needs teacher from Sevenum near the Dutch-German border. “You have a meeting with all the referees and see the clips and discuss the actions, with questions from the observers – it’s very interesting.”

The entire match officiating team comprises six category-three referees – who are each assigned two games during the group stage and act as fourth official in a third – two dedicated fourth officials (who are also referees) and eight assistant referees. A strict rotation policy means referee lineups are shuffled for every fixture, keeping everyone on their toes.

The team’s preparations also include fitness work on the pitch and in the pool – “we go on with training every day except matchdays,” said Karlsson – though at this stage of the season it is more about recovery and topping up existing fitness.

If the Icelandic final round represents a step forward for the refereeing contingent, it is also a prolonged opportunity to impress the UEFA observers, as football’s governing body looks to all four corners of Europe for emerging talent. Until now the officials’ national-team exposure has come at development tournaments, the Women’s Under-17 and WU19 qualifying stages, plus senior friendly internationals. “We have referees from eight different countries and assistants from seven and we see them for ten days,” Karlsson noted of the observation process.

For Martinčić, a 29-year-old studying to become a football coach, this multinational blend has “decided to be the best team in the tournament” – one which has had “no problems with the players or the benches”. Such an assessment will please Bo Karlsson, whose message is that “the referee should be the boss – everyone should have the feeling that the referee is the leader of the game”.