Former NI referee Alan Snoddy on refereeing

Former referee Alan Snoddy has been at two World Cups, has helped and mentored a lot of referees at Uefa and CORE. He’s currently a referee consultant at the Latvia FF and grew up as referee in Belfast in the 70ies and 80ies. In this story he shares his experiences and tips with you. 

Alan Snoddy on Irish FA tv

Alan Snoddy on Irish FA tv

Who is referee Alan Snoddy

Please introduce yourself, what is your current role in refereeing? 

At present my main role is working with the Latvia FF as their Referee Consultant. This job involves working closely with the Referee Committee & Referee Department to assist the development and quality of all aspects of refereeing in Latvia. 

I was approached in October last year to utilise my experience and to have overall responsibility.

In 2018 & 2019 I was a Senior Course Leader appointed by UEFA for CORE 39 & CORE 41. This is an extremely rewarding role working with the team of coaches and seeing so many young talented match officials make significant progress in the six months they are in the project.

I am also a member of the UEFA Convention Panel, as an adviser, and also responsible for Bosnia, North Macedonia, Gibraltar & Kosovo, supporting and monitoring their work.

I also conduct seminars on behalf of FIFA as one of their Technical Instructors, and also for UEFA in a similar role. 

In Northern Ireland I am a Referee Instructor & Referee Observer, and just about to complete 48 years involvement locally.

Snoddy’s years as FIFA referee

You’ve been a FIFA referee for 20 years from 1980 – 2000. What were the most beautiful moments of your career?

If we look at my international career of course being appointed to the World Cup Finals in Mexico 86 & Italy 90 rank at the highest points of my career. 

At Mexico 86 I had the honour of being the youngest ever World Cup referee. This record was broken four years later by the late Peter Mikkelsen from Denmark. A really good guy and we kept in touch with each other regularly until sadly events made this impossible.

Proudly representing Northern Ireland

I would say every international game is a beautiful moment. Proud to represent Northern Ireland at the highest level and be an ambassador for the Irish Football Association & refereeing in Northern Ireland.

Of course some games have special memories. One of these was the night Israel beat France in Paris which ultimately cost France at place at USA 94. Whenever I meet referee colleagues from Israel they remind me. 

Alan Snoddy in 1994 at France vs Israel

The FIFA U 20 World Cup Final Tournament in Saudi Arabia 1989 was also a highlight, operating in a different culture & the only time I refereed in a sand storm !

Keeping involved in the game

Time goes fast. In 2020 it is also 20 years ago you officiated your last game at the international stage. What has that period brought you? Why do you want to remain involved in refereeing in different roles?

Refereeing has played a huge part in my life since I was 16 years old (maybe at times too big a part!) 

During the past 48 years of involvement in refereeing I have accumulated vast experience and my main motivation for staying so deeply involved is to pass on my knowledge to others, should they be match officials, observers, instructors, mentors, coaches etc. 

Start of the Uefa Referee Convention

I got invaluable experience with the eight years I worked professionally with the Irish FA as Referee Development Office. The highlight during this time was achieving membership of the UEFA Referee Convention and being able to avail of the €100k per year funding to use for referee development projects. 

At that time all the minimum requirements were met & the basic structures put in place, but development never stands still, it is ongoing and requires constant work & finance with the UEFA funding a lifeline for the majority of the 55 National Associations.

Opportunities to develop referees

I know from my time at the Irish FA without this funding the progress, development projects, training camps, talent programmes, recruitment, etc etc would not have been possible, and I know from my work with many other countries it is exactly the same.

Now I am privileged to continue to work full time in refereeing and I hope to remain involved until its the right time to stop. However I can never see myself not playing some small part somewhere until retiring fully and being able to go to watch a game without any extra duties.

Refereeing in Belfast in 70s and 80s

Back to the start of your career. How was refereeing in NI and Belfast in the 70s and 80s? 

During all the political unrest in Northern Ireland during this period grassroots football survived and whilst it may rarely have impacted during games, football continued despite the difficult times. 

For me it was a great apprenticeship, and I always said my first five years as a referee in the early 70’s gave me a foundation in refereeing that was invaluable. These were physical tough and competitive games and not comparable with matches at the same level today.

I was also enjoying refereeing and after these five years progress was rapid, becoming a Premier League referee at 23 & a FIFA referee at 25 in 1980.

Improving refereeing at NI

You’ve had an important role in refereeing in Northern Ireland. How has refereeing of a small country developed over the years? 

I was lucky that I was able to take early retirement from my bank job at 50 years old and become the first full time Referee Development Officer at the Irish FA. 

The timing was perfect & I had a blank piece of paper and an empty desk to start with!

As I explained earlier the catalyst for meaningful referee development was the UEFA Referee Convention funding which is crucial for smaller countries and made budgeting much easier with €100k dedicated and ring fenced for refereeing.

Importance of talent and mentor programmes

In N Ireland it meant the Premier League referees & observers could go on a 5 day mid season training camp to Portugal or Malta, and indeed we went one year to Zeist.

Talent & Mentor programmes became a normal part of development at all levels with regular residential seminars and equipment provided.

Recruitment was crucial, and an increase of almost 70% in numbers of registered referees in eight years was a big success story.

A structured educational programme supported by a group of dedicated instructors was delivered to the four regional referee societies.

NB: Uefa also has a talent programme at the Centre of Refereeing Excellence. Read more about CORE.

Working in Cyprus

You also moved to different countries, like Cyprus. How is it to work there? 

Yes, I spent about 2.5 years working for the Cyprus FA. They needed an “independent” person to take decisions, and responsibility for the referee appointments. The role also included being their Referee Committee President.

Again the timing was very suitable. I had retired from my post at the Irish FA after almost eight years, taking advantage of a voluntary redundancy offer. 

I was approached by Jaap Uilenberg & Hans Reijgwart, two good friends who were working with the Cyprus F A, to see if I would be interested in taking over from Hans, and after meeting them I decided to go.

A lot of the work was similar to what I had been doing in N Ireland, but in a completely different culture. I described it as somewhere you went with experience, not to gain experience.

Cyprus is passionate about football and every word and action is scrutinised. Referees in Cyprus are courageous people, it’s a small island and everybody knows everybody. NB: on this topic I wrote: “The fans know where we live”.

Refereeing in Cyprus: Angela Kyriakou

Refereeing in Cyprus: Angela Kyriakou (photo provided by referee before interview)

cyp

Being neutral and independent

My role had to be neutral and independent, indeed to protect the local referee people. I took responsibility away from them, so they were protected and could not be accused locally of making appointments or favouring their friends.

One of my proudest moments in refereeing was watching my last game in Cyprus, their Cup Final in 2016, refereed by a team of match officials from Cyprus. The first time in many years that “outside” referees had not been brought in following pressure from clubs. 

This was the perfect time to draw a line under my Cyprus work, great experience, and some wonderful people who have remained friends.

Mentoring Milorad Mazic

You’ve been a mentor of UCL final referees, sometimes already at their early stage in European football, like Milorad Mazic. How did you experience this and what is important to be a good mentor?

I first started to mentor Milorad in 2010 as part of the UEFA Talent & Mentor programme and it was clear then he had something special. 

We remain great friends to this day and of course he is now in China and working for the Super League.

Mazic tunnel talk with captains.

Mazic tunnel talk with captains.

Another proud moment was being his guest at the Champions League Final in Kiev in 2018. Nobody deserved this appointment more than Milorad. He works harder than anybody, superbly fit, prepares to the finest detail, and has a great team around him.

If I played any part in helping him succeed after we started together in 2010 then I must say he did the work, I only guided him. 

Being a good mentor

To be a good mentor you need to be honest, if something goes wrong then don’t hide from it. Find the solution and encourage and support. Be the “big brother” and earn the trust of your talent. 

What kind of mentor do you have? Find out more about 4 different types of mentors you need or 10 ways to become a better mentor.

Mentor vs observer

You are a Referee Observer as well. I’d love to take my readers along the way how observing goes. How does your schedule look like as observer? 

The observer role is different from that of a mentor or coach. The focus is on one match and the performance is analysed to identify the positive elements and the points for improvement, with solutions and advice. 

Appointments would be received well in advance of the game and there would be pre match contact which focuses really on creating a positive and supportive environment for the match officials. The observer is there to help, the “fault finding” days are long gone.

Topics discussed at seminars

You help a lot of young referees as CORE coach and FIFA Instructor. What are the most relevant topics at recent courses? And what tips would you give the readers of my blog on these topics?

The normal technical topics apply at CORE. Teamwork, handball, recognition of fouls, offside, advantage, free kick management, penalty area decisions, etc.

Also the FIFA seminars have similar topics depending on the local requirements. 

What is interesting about the FIFA seminars is the very wide range of audiences. For example a seminar with the Chinese Super League officials is very different to a seminar in Grenada, or in Bangladesh with a lack of resources & facilities. But all are equally rewarding and the discussions are the same.

Uefa publishes videos with their verdict and on my blog you can download these Refereeing Assistance Programmes.

New LOTG changes

How do the new rules (LOTG changes) and VAR influence the way you instruct new referees?

I don’t think VAR influences the way new referees are instructed. I guess 99.9% of games worldwide have no VAR if we include grassroots/youth upwards. 

Obviously when there are changes to the LOTG all referees need instruction. But in my opinion this is not simply talking through the changes, and learning theory, it also needs to be discussed and the implications of the changes analysed so when theory becomes practice is everyone ready.

Therefore discussion groups and workshops are essential and this is emphasised at FIFA/UEFA Instructors seminars. 

For example, the substitute is replaced at the nearest point, but who is responsible for ensuring he arrives safely to the technical area? Are the referee team clear about their tactics. 

NB: Check out the case study on tips with this substitution procedure.

Also the change in the handball interpretation. It’s very easy now just to penalise the attacker when the ball touches accidently his arm, but has he scored a goal or created a goal scoring opportunity?

The new “drop ball” restart situation occurs only when the team in possession of the ball changes, but I have seen games stopped when the ball has hit the referee and possession has not changed.

One difficulty when there are changes to the LOTG is that in many cases educational clips are not readily available. This is why it’s essential that FIFA trial the changes in tournaments or competitions before the changes are ratified.

One final tip for you as referee

You started at Churches League in Northern Ireland. If you must give starting refs, readers of my blog, one important tip if they want to move up the refereeing ladder, what would it be?

Yes sadly this League no longer exists, but as I said earlier it played such a big part in my early learning.

If I had one important tip it would be that football needs strong courageous referees who will protect the players. 

In addition, hard work, high level of physical fitness, learning from each game, self analysis, don’t be afraid of making mistakes but use them as development points, and finally enjoy yourself. 

Full-time job: making video analysis for referees

“When I watched and analysed a game of Bjorn Kuipers, I am exhausted”, says John Balvers, he is making video analysis for referees in The Netherlands. Recently I met again with him and he shows me the latest features of his video analysis. In this interview with him he tells more how video analysis for professional referees works. 

Balvers goes back to 2016, as that was a very interesting year for him with a Dutch referee in a big European final. As soon Björn Kuipers got the appointment for the Europa League final he started with the preparation for that game. In the meantime Dennis Higler is officiating at the under 17 Euro’s. Busy days for the video analyst. In this interview he tells more about how he works.

Being a video analyst is John Balvers’ full time job, almost 24-7. Competition weekends last from Friday to Monday. And if there’s no international football there are some cup games. “There is always football, so always a referee to analyse.” During the European Championships in France he has a special role: helping Bjorn Kuipers analyse his game and the matches of the teams he’s going to officiate. “My goal is to prepare Team Kuipers to the best of my ability helping him reach the final.”

John Balvers making video analysis for referees

Preparation before the games

Balvers is a full-time video analyst for referees working for the KNVB, the Dutch football association. He helps all referees at the professional levels and this period he’s totally focused on the Euro 2016. He took his holidays right before the tournament started and tries to watch as many games as possible. “What I do is unique and doesn’t happen in many other countries, definitely not with a full-time video analyst specifically for referees.” Check video in Dutch made by KNVB about John Balvers.

Every day during Euro 2016 Balvers waits for the moment new match appointments are published by Uefa. Sunday morning Uefa announced that Kuipers will officiate the clash between Spain and Croatia for next Tuesday. “Bjorn will notify me as soon as possible”, says Balvers. “The sooner I know which game he’ll officiate, the more time I have to make a video analysis for referees. I’ll arrange with Bjorn what he needs for his preparation.” When officiating the Europa League semi-final between Sevilla and Sjachtar Donetsk, Balvers analysed their latest encounters in both European and national competitions.

In the preparation of Kuipers’ games Balvers is collaborating with Jaap Uilenberg, the coach of the Dutch referee and also an Uefa referee observer. “We’ve also selected the video clips for the refereeing training camp before the Euro’s together”, he says.

John Balvers' video lab.

The video analysis for referees

The analysis of Balvers is very comprehensive. He’s in his video lab at home and will watch all games and digitally types almost every detail of the game. If there’s a challenge, which player made a foul, who suffered the foul, where free kicks are, who take them, if corner kicks are swung in our out,  which players get the ball often. “With all those stats you recognize how a team plays tactically and builds-up their attack or defence”, says Balvers. “Players often react the same way. In the game against Sevilla the Shakhtar Donetsk players took their corner kicks with short pass to a team mate. As referee you need to be aware that players that things will happen  around the corner flag.” It gives the referee an idea where his focus (also) should be.

All the data Balvers creates will be added to a video database which can be searched through by the match officials. Because there’s lots of data, Kuipers and other Dutch referees, can check attacks from a specific team, challenges from or on a certain player. All easy accessible for them. “I also have data  about who’s on the receiving end of the fouls, so referees are able to check the reactions of players. It shows who has temper, so refs can anticipate on that by calming him down immediately.”

Live analysis during the game

During games of Dutch referees Balvers will be analysing the performance and decisions in real-time. “It’s easy to do it live with all the video streams I can watch”, says Balvers. “I can even watch all replays immediately. Every situation that is possibly interesting for Team Kuipers will be send to them during the first half. Short clips about ten to twelve seconds or freezing frames for the assistant referees with offside calls. So the refereeing team can see if they made the right decisions.”

Two years ago PSV attacker Luuk de Jong scored against Feyenoord, but replays showed he hold the shirt of defender Kongolo. “Kuipers went to Feyenoord captain Clasie during half-time and admitted his mistake and said sorry to him”, Balvers explains. “I send them all clips that seem interesting to me. Right or wrong decision. Kuipers really wants to know if he made a mistake. I don’t give my interepratation, I only send them the video clips. My opinion is not important.”

In the image below you can see all tags Balvers made during a game of the Spanish team against the Czech Republic. All yellow cards (gele kaarten), challenges (duels), offsides (buitenspel) are tagged and Kuipers can check certain types of situations (only left wing attacks or so).

Coding all match situation for Team Kuipers.

Clips on the iPhone

Sometimes Kuipers will even get more than ten clips. “It’s up to him if he wants to see them. He can easily access them on his iPhone or on an iPad in the dressing room.” See image below for clips on the mobile device.

After the second half the refereeing team get some clips as well. At big tournaments the complete analysis with detailed descriptions will be made. “Most of the time the analysis will be ready by the end of the day”, says Balvers. After Kuipers’ games during the World Cup in Brazil he had to fly over 3 hours to the home base for referees. “Then I tried to get everything ready before they stepped into the plane, so they can check everything in the airplane and are briefed when they land.”

Balvers tries to work as fast as possible. He also helps referees during regular games in the national competitions, sends clips to Dutch referee boss Dick van Egmond or Uefa referee observer Jaap Uilenberg. Or to Danny Makkelie in the middle of the night during the u17 World Cup in Chile. “As soon as I hear their appointments I’ll start collecting data and clips.”

After the game it’s now even possible to add the communication of the referees via their headset to the video analysis. “With the headset info referees can improve the way they communicatie with each other.” That’s something that has improved the most in Team Kuipers during the last years together with Sander van Roekel and Erwin Zeinstra, his assistants.

Read interview with Bjorn Kuipers about progression his team made.

Video analysis on a mobile device.

Big library

All those analysed clips together form an interesting library for referees. “It’s accessible for everybody who’s involved in refereeing of professional football in The Netherlands.”

Via a new system called My Team Performance Exchange (MY TPE) it’s even possible that referees select the clips they want their team to study. “He can send them to his team members as match preparation and ask them for a comment on it.”

Watching games normally

“I can’t watch football normally anymore”, says Balvers. He is analysing everything. It was hard for Balvers watching the game between The Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In case the Dutch lost, Kuipers might officiate the Costa Ricans in a future round and Balvers was already doing his analysis on the games so it would be ready when the appointments were made. “It felt like the world collapsed”, he admits. “I am a huge fan of the Dutch national team, but I work during a big tournament for Team Kuipers. All I hoped for was them reaching the final. I’ll do everything during the European Championships to help them prepare the best way possible and I hope it helps them reaching the final.”

Read more from Euro 2016 referees

Joe Fletcher: a top assistant referee from Canada

Joe Fletcher was only 14 years old when he started as a referee. An easy way to get some money. After climbing the ranks receiving money was not that important when it costs you eight hours of travel. “Then achievement becomes more important, the level of football is then more relevant.”

I’m very glad he took the time for this long interview with Dutch Referee Blog. Much appreciated and a lot of tips and lessons to learn in his story.

For referees it’s a great experience to be active at top level, like Joe Fletcher was at the 2014 and 2018 World Cup. And many other tournaments. He has stopped at his top. “2018 was my best season”, Fletcher says. “I then asked myself: do I want to end with a World Cup or in a normal year?” He says he also doesn’t want to see himself go down, although he “can still pass a fitness test tomorrow”. 

No guarantees

The fact he is so many days from home as international and MLS referee also plays a huge role. Especially with a wife and two kids at home. “Is continuing worth another six months from home? And there’s no guarantee I would even be selected for the World Cup in 2022.” There might not be a place for him. “Or you can do only one game because something happens. People will remember what happens last and now they’ll see a World Cup experience, not an assistant referee that can barely run”.

Never assume you’ll get a next big game

A big lesson for every referee is: don’t expect to get things easily. “You should never assume you’ll be at the big next tournament automatically”, he says. MLS referee Jair Marrufo was a candidate for the 2010 world cup cycle, not a candidate for the 2014 world cup cycle, and went from being a potential VAR to officiating a match at the 2018 World Cup. “Or think about a European referee like Martin Hansson. After the handball incident in France vs Ireland he didn’t get a big game any more.” 

Tip: view the documentary Rättskiparen about Martin Hansson (English subtitles)

Work hard

“I am very passionate about the work rate of the assistant referee. You need to work hard and always be there.” He knows the chance a goalkeeper slips is small with a backpass, but there is a chance. “You need the habit of sprinting as eventually it is going to happen. Then you are the one who is expected to make the call. Don’t jog. Nobody will ever find a video I don’t work hard.” 

Choose your role, but get to know both

For a long period Joe Fletcher acts as both referee and assistant. “It conflicted and I was Elite at neither, because I did both.” From the moment he made the decision to specialize in AR, it turns out very well. But he doesn’t have regrets to have done both before becoming a FIFA referee. “I need to know the ref’s job inside, outside and backwards. Otherwise: how do I need to help him? You need to gain experience. Teamwork is a big part of what I do.”

“I refereed on a level below MLS. By the time I switched, I had a good understanding of what pressure was like. I know when it’s the time to be quiet, when to be assisting.”

The year 2018

2018 was special for Joe Fletcher. Not only did he act at the World Cup, but he was also able to coach others with the video referee. “I could give input as experienced AR and I was wanting to help. I was was a compliment to be asked, as respect from fellow referees is the best you can get.”

“A tournament like the World Cup is a real animal. Normally there are three camera’s. There are still spots things go unnoticed. With the World Cup everything finds ou. Even if broadcasters don’t see you, there are fans in the stadium who record things. It multiplies the exposure with 100%. 

Officiating in Estadio Azteca

Officiating in Estadio Azteca was one of the best stadiums Fletcher officiated in. It gives a huge atmosphere with a crowd of 100.000 people. Two days before the game the refereeing team arrives, also to get used to the high altitude. “You can still sprint there, but need a longer recovery.”

My top speed is really quick. Last official test in Duby my fastest 30m sprint was 3.87 seconds and the average 3.91s.” (age 41). They have to complete it in 5.1 seconds to pass the test.

Mentors in your career

The most-experienced FIFA assistant referee is Hector Vergara, also from Canada. “But before FIFA I never interacted with him actually”, Joe Fletcher says. “We were both at the u20 World Cup in Canada”. Fletcher says his mentor at lower levels in Canada was Michael Lambert,  a former national referee. “For every hurdle you take as referee there is someone you run into. Don’t forget the mentors at the very beginning of your career.”

Every game is a big game

“You constantly need to be ready for a big game. And treat every game as a big game. You can’t give sixty to seventy percent in the matches without assessor and a hundred percent when there is someone observing. That is not possible, because you’re not used to it.”

“Doing matches is not similar as training, as it’s physically and mentally different. During a game you have to literally give everything. You can’t conserve energy. It’s also muscle memory, you can’t go from gear two to ten. 

Match preparation

Before every game with a new referee Joe Fletcher tries to have lunch or a call with the referee before they meet in the locker room. “Especially when we use radio”. It’s his way to get to know the person he’ll be working with. This contact before the game gives Fletcher the opportunity for better teamwork during the game. It gives him a better impression who he’s going to work with. “Some referees want silence, some want to know everything. As AR you have to morph, change based on the wishes of the referee. Once in the dressing room there is not as much time to talk about how you want to communicate as a team.”

During transit to the stadium he listens to music. That’s when he gets into focus. “I’ll accommodate in the dressing room. But I loved working with Mark. He wants info. I am a personality myself, so not always calm.” They worked together along with other assistant referee Sean Hurd and the u20 World Cup in Columbia was their first big tournament together. 

Kind enough to be a Canadian

He speaks highly of working with Mark Geiger, a US referee that “is a kind enough person to be a Canadian”. He laughs. But then serious. “If we both see something, in 95% of the cases we think the same.” They share clips in group chats to see how they think of match situations. “We create a common understanding and our teamwork will benefit from it. Our friendship works and my view is never ignored. We communicate clearly and in the end Mark has the final say. In the dressing room we can openly say we had a different view.”

For the 2018 World Cup Mark Geiger and Joe Fletcher worked with Frank Anderson. That gave it a different dimension, as he only joined them late in 2017. “We already had a 4 year headstart in our friendship and working with Sean was perfect for Mark. He should not have two big personalities as ARs. It’s then always different when someone joins your team. But I am happy Frank is also a fantastic guy and I hope he’ll be at the next World Cup as well.”

For the 2018 World Cup two US referees were chosen, but it doesn’t automatically mean all ARs go as well. There is no guarantee. You always need to work hard.”

Joe Fletcher during on field session for Ontario Soccer

Helping other referees

“Now I’ve quit, I want to help other referees as well. Hopefully I’ll get to attend the Futuro courses by FIFA. Someone helped me on the way, i want to do somethin as well. I’ll stick with my speciality as AR and hopefully there will be a place for me to help.

3 tips for referees

  1. From a personal standpoint it is the greatest compliment to get if a referee says: I want you on my team. And you need to know your role then, as I did from the frist match as FIAF refree. You have to accept you are the bass player, most people won’t know you. 
  2. If you want to be a good AR, you need the technical understanding of Law 12 about Fouls and Misconduct. And probably, not far away, your watch says it’s offside. You then still need to know how and when to help. You need understanding of refereeing. 
  3. Never leave anything to chance. You should never think: I should have put in more. You may not always be right, but you need to feel good about yourself.

Michelle O’Neill: top AR from Ireland

Michelle O’Neill will be involved in the 2019 Women’s World Cup final. She’s the assistant referee of Stéphanie Frappart. They first worked together at O’Neil’s first main Uefa tournament, the u19 Euro’s. “Where I was very succesfull and got all the way the final.”

Seven years later they will add another pinnacle to their cooperation with the World Cup final in France.  A story about Michelle O’Neil, a top level assistant referee from Ireland.

Michelle O'Neill

In a video from FAI Ireland (embedded below) she tells a lot about her career as referee. A few lessons for you.

Be passionate

The woman from Ireland is very passionate about her job as referee. She smiles when talking about it, excitement everywhere when being asked about going to France for the World Cup. 

It’s just over ten years ago that she started as a referee in 2008. After her succesfull u19 Uefa Euro’s in 2012, she has been to Papua New Guinea for the under 20’s World Cup, 2015 Women’s World Cup in France, Uefa Euro 2017 in The Netherlands, the u20 France World Cup last year. In the latter she again worked with Stéphanie Frappart from France and  “got all the way to the final again”.

She calls her career “unbelievable”. 

Always try to get better

As a player Michelle O’Neill was succesfull, but she was not always with the referee decisions. “I always was frustrated about, you know, the decisions in the matches”, she says to FAI. She always thought: “Hey guys, you can do better here.” That’s why she went into refereeing herself after finishing her career. 

And getting better and better is something you’ll see throughout her career. She wants to be the best. “Four years ago there was 300 of us on the list for this tournament and that’s when the campaign started”, she says. “Now there is 47 of us going to the World Cup out of that huge amount.”

That means for her that she wants to give all to be “very fast, very strong, very fit”. 

She made the final cut and is proud to be representing Ireland. “And in terms of my results I would be in the top 5% of the World Cup this year. So I am very very happy with that stats.”

Work hard for good games at national level too

Michelle O’Neill wants to officiate as many good games as possible. Not just in Europe, but also at national level.  She is an assistant referee in the highest men’s league since 2013.  What helped her getting ready for the 2019 Women’s World Cup is “getting the opportunities to have so much high quality matches here in Ireland”, she says. “That is a huge boost for me.”

In 2017 Esther Staubli officiated a game at FIFA’s u17 tournament in India, but did you know Michelle O’Neill was involved in the u19 men’s Youth League in 2014-2015? She assisted referee Robert Rogers in the game between Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund

Gain experience as much as you can

“I’ts so exciting to come back to a World Cup”, Michelle O’Neill says. Because she has been at a World Cup before, she felt much better before the tournament.  Call it “more mature if you want to say that”. And the experience she gained helps her a lot. Less stress. “I am a lot more relaxed, as I know the work I’ve done over the last four years.

For her it’s a huge honour to be present in France. To FAI she tells that it’s amazing to be “standing in the middle of it all officiating it in front of 64.000 live spectators and then millions across the world. I mean it’s a huge, huge stage of Women’s football.”

Michelle O’Neill video

The smoothest handshake for referees

The smoothest handshake for referees in the player tunnel is by Joe Fletcher. The Canadian assistant referee is – at least amongst referees – known for this.

PS: next week a full interview with this Canadian top AR.

Joe Fletcher and goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

It all happens during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The 18th of June in Estádio Maracanã. The referees are ready and all players line up in the tunnel for the group stage game between Spain and Chili. Someone shakes hands with Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Assistant referee Joe Fletcher is next … 

And then this happens.

Video of the handshake

People remember him about this situation a lot, Fletcher says. “Even when there was a new clip about goalkeepers from FIFA, they highlighted Casillas.” And of all the footage they got from this experienced Spanish goalkeeper, they pick the footage from the World Cup. “And again, that handshake shows up. Yeah it’s funny now”. 

Fletcher was happy the game went really smooth, so he could have a laugh about this afterwards. “And when we were leaving the stadium we talked about it. Sean Hurd says: It had to be you and I am happy it was you and not me”. 

Check out the story about Mark Geiger.

Female referees in The Netherlands: “Come on girls, take up that whistle!”

The need for more female referees in The Netherlands. An interview with Kevin Blom, who heads the female refereeing development programme.

Our Orange Lionesses are due to leave for France to compete in the Women’s World Cup. Obviously, everybody’s hoping the Dutch will wage another successful campaign on the back of winning UEFA WEURO 2017, which gave Dutch women’s football a huge boost. The momentum gained by Dutch women’s football is reflected in the number of female referees, underscores Kevin Blom, who heads the female refereeing development programme.

Interview by Jan from Dutch Referee Blog for the national Dutch RA’s magazine. The story is translated by Ben from RefereeingBooks.eu. Thank you very much, Ben! (and follow his blog as well please)

Kevin Blom about female refereeing in the The Netherlands

Positive effect of WEURO 2017

“The Dutch win and presence during WEURO 2017 had the added effect of stimulating more women to take up the whistle or assistant’s flag. Their number is still too small, however. It boggles the mind that we have so many women playing football but only about 40 female registered referees.”

“We did not expect to have a referee at this year’s World Cup yet, as none of our top refs are at Elite level yet. UEFA referees start in Category 3, so Shona and Lizzy will have to be promoted three times to make it to Elite level.” Blom sees a rosy future ahead, though. “Our female referees are showing great progress. We hope to have a representative team at the 2023 World Cup. We’re working hard to achieve that goal.”

Solid international performances

At the moment, Holland can boast three international referees and five international assistant referees (see boxout). Nicolet Bakker was selected to act as an assistant referee at the WEURO 2017 in Holland. “Our referees and assistants are performing well, both domestically and internationally”, Blom emphasises. “We hope that Shona Shukrula and Lizzy van der Helm will be promoted to a higher category before long. UEFA has included Shona in its special referee talents programme, which means she’s doing well.”

Dutch women's cup final 2019 toss

Shona Shukrala at toss of Dutch women’s cup final 2019

Women in the pro game

Although the Eredivision cannot boast the presence of a female referee, some women are knocking on the door. Shona Shukrula has been invited to do an intake for the Talent Course Pro Football (TTBV in Dutch) and has already been assigned matches in the fourth tier of Dutch football. Already in the TTBV programme, Franca Overtoom has assisted in as many as eight matches on the second tier of Dutch pro football.

Kevin Blom welcomes this development and hopes that some of his pupils will make that final step into the pro game in due time. Happy as he is to see the development programme is bearing fruit, Blom does realise there’s only a small base to work from. “There are approximately 40 female registered referees active in Holland. Increasing that number is one of our key challenges”, he stresses.

More female referees in The Netherlands

This weekend, Blom was at Buitenboys, an amateur club, to award a Fair Play certificate. He found five girls reffing matches there, so female refs are out there alright. “It’s now a matter of getting those girls to go one step further and register as official referees.” Blom made it clear that any girl showing fitness and a solid performance could quickly climb the Dutch reffing ladder, up to international grade. “There’s a wealth of opportunities”. It will have to be spelled out, of course, that not every one will rise to highest level, but Blom would be very content if girls become more conspicuously present in refereeing roles.

Blom has scheduled meetings with female referees who have taken refereeing courses. Among the things he wants to learn are their motives for taking up the whistle. “I’d like to learn why they’ve gone into reffing and what we can do to encourage others”, Blom says. “One thing I hear quite often is that women tend to be overlooked for volunteer work at clubs. That’s one thing we can work on. We will also ask other national associations for their solutions to getting women involved.”

Role models

“What’s also likely to help is for young girls to have good role models.” That’s why he is glad that the women who are within reach of the pro game have taken up giving courses and presentations at football clubs. Initiatives like #ZijFluitTop (the Dutch equivalent of #GirlsThatRef), with several sports associations drawing attention to female referees, can meet with Blom’s approval as well. “Unfortunately, these initiatives have not yet resulted in female hopefuls attending our courses in droves”, Blom hastens to add.

“This narrow basis really pinches the number of women rising to the top. If female refereeing wants to evolve, it is essential for the number of female referees to grow. “That number really has to increase. We have eight women at the top of Dutch football now. There should be fifty. So come on, girls, take up that whistle! And experience first-hand how challenging, enriching and satisfying it is to be in charge of a football match.”

Note: I’ve written this story for the COVS, the Dutch referee association. It’s translated by Ben from RefereeingBooks.eu. Much appreciated!

Boxout: Dutch international referees

Referees

  • Vivian Peeters (since 2005)
  • Shona Shukrula (since 2017)
  • Lizzy van der Helm (since 2018)

Assistant referees

  • Nicolet Bakker (since 2008)
  • Fijke Hoogendijk (since 2013)
  • France Overtoom (since 2017)
  • Bianca Scheffers (since 2014)
  • Diana Snoeren (since 2019)

Boxout: Female referees across our borders

In France, Stéphanie Frappart (below) recently débuted as a referee in Ligue 1 and has now officiated in two matches in France’s top flight. In Germany, Bibiana Steinhaus has just finished her second season in the Bundesliga. And across the North Sea, Sian Massey-Ellis made her debut as an assistant referee in the Premier League on 28 December 2010, running the line when Blackpool hosted Sunderland.

Stéphanie Frappart during her debut

Anastasia Pustovoitova to referee WUCL final 2018-2019

Anastasia Pustovoitova is the referee of the Women’s UCL final 2018-2019. “There’s a mixture of emotions – certainly happiness and excitement”, she tells Uefa.com. “I can’t wait to get to the match, and I’m sure that my heart rate will increase when I’m lining up with the teams.”

During the Women’s World Cup 2019 Anastasia Pustovoitova is also active. She was 4th official in the British clash between England and Scotland. Her first game as referee is Nigeria vs Korea. She is also appointed for the clash between Sweden and USA.

In this blog post she shares 3 tips that you can apply as referee.

Anastasia Pustovoitova (second to right) at Algarve Cup

1. Gain experience both as player and referee

Because Anastasia Pustovoitova is a former football player, she has a lot of experience in (top) football. In the early years of this century she plays football in the Women’s Cup, which is the predecessor of the Women’s Champions League. “We were the first Russian club to play in the competition when it started in 2001/02, and we reached the quarter-finals, when we were knocked out by the strong Swedish team Umeå IK, who reached the final that year and won the competition the year after.”

This experience gave here the great feeling of acting at top level, but also ignites here spark to continue in top football. “I thought about what I could do next, because I can’t live without football – and I decided to try refereeing”.

But how has it really helped her? “You are able to read the game and you can anticipate a lot of the time what comes next.”

2. Work as a real team

“When I refereed, I felt confident, so I continued”, Anastasia Pustovoitova says. That brought her to the 2017 Women’s Euro and the 2019 World Cup in France. The Russian referee says that it is very important to have a great team. “Without the team, I’m nothing”, she says.

That’s a similar experience Björn Kuipers experiences when making big calls. “It’s also about the fact that someone in your team gives you an advice and that you follow your team member when you make a decisions.” Check how Björn Kuipers builds trust with his team.

Anastasia Pustovoitova during the Women’s Euro 2017

3. Be yourself as referee

Every referee has some match official that he likes, but you should not copy him or her. “You must be yourself as a referee”, is the advice of Anastasia Pustovoitova. “I don’t really have role models, but I respect [German referee] Bibiana Steinhaus, she’s a women’s refereeing icon”, she tells Uefa. She also mentions former Czech referee and UEFA refereeing officer Dagmar Damková who I spoke with for my blog. “She is so experienced and took charge of so many important games in her career.”

Anastasia Pustovoitova’ is looking forward to the future. “I just want to keep doing my best and looking ahead”. And what would she advice a young girl who might be keen to take up refereeing?

“Just do it, if you love football – and believe in yourself…”

Training by Anastasia Pustovoitova

On YouTube you can see what a training session by Anastasia Pustovoitova looks like.