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.

Single Double Single High Intensity Interval Test

The Single Double Single High Intensity Interval Test is a new way to test the fitness level of referees. Besides the regular FIFA Fitness test for referees and assistant referees this is an extra option. It will officially be used at the highest levels, but you might want to give it a try.

In this blog post you can download the audio files to practice, watch referees perform the test and see requirements for both men and women.

Explanation of the test

Below you see a picture of the test. The idea of the test is that you run from A to D. Then you’ll have a rest of 6 seconds. Then you run to the pole and back (DPD). Again six seconds rest. And then from D to A.

Total time is 76 seconds for one lap, including 24s rest. Below more about repetition.

Both men and women run the test in the same time. The only difference is that women run 3x 17m from A to D, which is 9m (3×3) less than male referees.

Single Double Single High Intensity Interval Test

Repeating the test

The total test consists of 3 parts for both men and women. After 5 repetitions (one part), there is a rest period of 60 seconds. So in total you do 15 repetitions.

Downloads Single Double Single High Intensity Interval Test

Download the audio files for the Single Double Single High Intensity Interval Test.

Good luck with practising. And check out the video below to see how other referees do the test.

I advice you to put down cones for B and C as well, as the beeps in the audio files give you a signal of these positions as referrence.

Goalkeepers and penalty kicks

Goalkeepers and penalty kicks: the 2019 Women’s World Cup has shown us something new. The use of VAR during this tournament changes a lot. Where goalkeepers usually take a step forward with penalty kicks, the video referee interferes at this final tournament in Paris.

But is the VAR correct to do so?

Yes, he is.

The penalty in France vs Nigeria

It all starts with a penalty kick in the game between France and Nigeria. VAR Danny Makkelie asks the referee to go the screen, after which she awards a penalty kick. Wendie Renard from France misses it, but the VAR intervenes. Goalkeepre Chiamaka Nnadozie from Cameroon is not touching the line with at least one foot.

In the 2019-2020 Laws of the Game the following sentice is added.

“When the ball is kicked, the defending goalkeeper must have at least part of one foot touching, or in line with, the goal line.”

Video highlights of that game

Interesting is what the commentator in the clip says. “In fairness to referee Melissa Borjas” she has told the goalkeeper she needs to stay with two feet on the goal-line.

The referee then warns the referee for the second kick and asks her if she understood the rules.

Similar situations

In the game between Scotland and Argentina a similar situation appeared. The Argentinian penalty kick is saved, but the referee orders a retake. 

And have we seen this before?

Yes, during a men’s game when Dutch referee Björn Kuipers was active at the 2016 European Championships. “Unfortunately, that goalkeeper moved forward, it was not spotted by the referee’s team”, Collina said then. Check out the situation.

VAR Protocol

The VAR protocol is very clear on this matter. So FIFA wants video referees to intervene if needed. The protocol says: “The referee can initiate a review for an offence by the goalkeeper or kicker which directly affects the outcome of the penalty kick and thus whether a goal is scored. If an offence is
clearly identified, the necessary disciplinary action must also be taken.”

But what about players that enter the penalty area too early?

“Encroachment can only be reviewed if

  • an attacker who encroached scores or is directly involved in a goal being scored
  • a defender who encroached prevents an attacker playing or being able to play the ball
    in a situation where a goal might be scored

Other encroachment offences and other infringements which do not directly affect whether a goal is scored cannot be reviewed.” See a case study about encroachment by players.

Read the full VAR protocol

How it changes things

Because the 1/8 final game between Norway and Australia went to kicks from the penalty mark, referee Riem Hussein had to deal with a unique situation. IFAB has given dispensation to not book goalkeepers (more about that below), but as referee you don’t want 10 out of 10 kicks being retaken.

What Hussien did was a long talk with both goalkeepers to prevent that from going to happen.

Referee Riem Hussein talking with the Norwegian and Australian goalkeeper

IFAB explanation of the idea behind the rule change

The IFAB has put it this way in the 2019-2020 Laws of the Game pdfs.

“Goalkeepers are not permitted to stand in front of or behind the line. Allowing the goalkeeper to have only one foot touching the goal line (or, if jumping, in line with the goal line) when the penalty kick is taken is a more practical approach as it is easier to identify than if both feet are not on the line. As the kicker can ‘stutter’ in the run, it is reasonable that the goalkeeper can take one step in anticipation of the kick.”

To be clear: that a goalkeeper has to be on his or her line is not new. It’s just clarified.

No yellow cards during kicks from the penalty mark

During the 2019 Women’s World Cup there will be no yellow cards for goalkeepers for leaving the goal-line during kicks from the penalty mark. During the 90 minutes of the game or in extra time the goalkeeper will be booked.

Mellissa Borjas shows goalkeeper a yellow card

The IFAB, who decide about the laws of the game, has explained the main reasons for this in a statement.

  • the presence of VARs acts as a far greater deterrent than the caution
  • the presence of VARs greatly increases the likelihood of any offence being detected and, as goalkeepers are likely to face a number of kicks during KFPM, there is a higher risk that a goalkeeper will be sent off for receiving a second caution if already cautioned in normal time, or two cautions during the KFPM
  • unlike during ‘normal time’, when a sent-off goalkeeper can usually be ‘replaced’ by the team substituting an outfield player for a specialist reserve goalkeeper, substitutions are not allowed in KFPM so an outfield player would have to become the goalkeeper

So far this is a temporary dispensation and it will be applied in all other competitions.

Also new on goalkeepers and penalty kicks

“The referee must not signal for the penalty kick to be taken if the goalkeeper is touching the goalposts, crossbar or net, or if they are moving e.g. the goalkeeper has kicked/shaken them.”

Refereeeing Assistance Programme

Uefa launches a Refereeing Assistance Programme twice a year. It contains clips of recent match situations. You can install this on your pc or mac and train your refereeing knowledge. In case you missed it, it’s quite interesting material to develop yourself.

Refereeing Assistance Programme 2019:1

Refereeing Assistance Programme 2018:2

Thanks to my readers I got the 2018:2 Refereeing Assistance Programme 2018:2

Refereeing Assistance Programme 2018-1

Refereeing Assistance Programme 2018:1

Thanks to readers of my blog I can present you Refereeing Assistance Programme 2018-1. Please be aware the files are huge (10GB), so download via wifi.

Some experience problems with installing MAC versions. This document might help you. What worked for someone: download the MAC version on a Windows pc and then copy it via usb to your MAC.

Refereeing Assistance Programme 2017-2

Thanks to readers of my blog I can present you Refereeing Assistance Programme 2017-2.

New situations from the last six months. Quite interesting for us all. Download the files and practice at home.

Some experience problems with installing MAC versions. This document might help you.

Refereeing Assistance Programme 2017-2

RAP Women’s Euro 2017

A great download with match situations from the Women’s Euro in 2017.

Refereeing Assistance Programme Women's Euro

Referee Assistance Programme 2017-1

I am trying to get the 2017-2 version for you, but can already share the first edition of 2017 with you. In a few days I hopefully also have the Women’s Euro version.

Download Refereeing Assistance Programme 2017-1.

(below you’ll also find older versions)

Refereeing Programme Euro 2016 in France

Refereeing Assistance Programme Uefa

Download the Refereeing Assistance Programme files

Please note the files are links to WeTransfer files. Because the size is about 5 GB, make sure you have your wifi on. I personally have not tested the MAC-link, because I have a PC.

RAP Euro 2016 for PC

RAP 2016 (edition 2)

Download for PC
Download for MAC

I got these links via Arbiter Café on Twitter. Much appreciated!

How the RAP works

You can watch video’s in different categories, but will not see the correct call immediately. Make sure you think for yourself what decision you will make. Then you can click at the right bottom text, which gives you an explanation.

Good luck and enjoy!

Explanation RAP2016

Uefa u17 Championship referees (tips & videos)

The Uefa u17 Championship referees show some good things during their tournament. In the highlights you’ll see lots of things that you can learn from as well. The videos below give you some great insights in how to handle in some situations.

I hope you can learn from them.

NB:Uefa has blocked embedding of the video. Click the play button and then “watch video on YouTube”. You’ll go to the right minute straight away

Adapting to play when cross comes in

In the game betwee Spain – Austria the referee is Manfredas Lukjančukas (LTU). Because he sees the cross coming in, he moves backward.

The advantages: you’ll keep an overview of the situation and you make sure you’re not in the way of the players.

AR1: Sergei Vassyutin (KAZ). AR2: Ilir Tartaraj (ALB).

Great sprint at counter attack

Farrugia Cann Trustin officiates the game between Hungary and Portugal in Dublin. The Maltese referee is assisted by Fatlum Berisha (KOS) and Riku Vihreävuori (FIN).

He shows how important it is to make a sprint when there is a counter-attack. The advantage: you’re able to make the right call, but also sell it better to the player because of proximity.

Check out this case study for referees about counter-attacks

Positioning when players move

Adapt your positioning when someone comes in between you and the ball. Because number 14 blocks your view, you need to adapt your position. That means you can better follow play and see the ball and possible infringements.

Positioning at free kicks

What do you want to see with free kicks? Think about that before you continue below.

And at another free kick the view from the goal.

To come back to the question above. You want to see:

  • the wall
  • the players
  • possible handballs
  • other infringements
  • your assistant referees

Just to name a few things. Did you come up with more? Let me know.

The referee in this game between Germany and Italy is Donald Robertson (SCO) by the way. He is assisted by Deniz Sokolov (BUL) and Joaquim Da Silva (LUX).

Signal there is no foul

A lesson I told many referees at Ibercup 2019 is to signal as well when you see there is no foul. That is also a decision you make. Communicate that with the players, coaches and the crowd. A good audible and visible signal communicates a decision very well and they notice that you’ve seen something.

In the u17 game between England and France referee Rade Obrenović (SVN) does it. Arms wide to indicate nothing happened, no handball.

Be alert with the pass from a defender

Assistant referee Deniz Sololov does not flag in the following situation, but many hands from defenders go in the air. Well-spotted that the pass comes from the defender.

Which role does the referee – in this case Jørgen Burchardt (DEN) –  have here? Check out this case study about his responsibility.


The audio on Uefa highlights is not always audible, but here it’s very clear. The referee is calling “hands down, hands down” in the game Spain – Germany. Espen Eskås (NOR), who later on whistles the final, uses a smart technique here to prevent players from making a foul. If you mention it, they’ll be more alert in not doing it.

Don’t stop running after a shot

It’s easy to think: I’ll stop running once the player has shot on goal. But that’s not true. At 0:47 the ball goes on the pole and then you can’t stop running. The ball comes back and you’ll end well in the penalty area, because you went on and did not stop. Gives a good impression, but also gives the opportunity to spot infringements from more closely. 

Go deep, don’t stay at edge of the pen area

In the quarter final between Hungary and Spain the referee follows play quite far into the penalty area (0:37 and 0:47). Don’t hesitate to move forward, but always be aware where others are.

In case you’ve see the Dutch referee score a goal, you know what it can lead to. So better come in from the left and make sure you’ll follow from behind and don’t move too close to the goal.

Don’t start too central + good sprint

If you start too central, you need to cover a lot of meter before you’re close to play again. Because this ball at 2:17 goes long, you need a very good sprint. It’s difficult to see in highlights how a referee got in a certain position, but I’ll advice you generally to stay a bit more to the left of play, so it’s between you and your assistant referee.

But then: what a good sprint.

Anticipate to where ball will land

As referee you’ll never know what players will do, but many thinks will have some logic in it. With a free kick at 1:02 you see the referee is eager to move forward and be close to play. No reason to check a wall so far from the goal, but be there where the ball will land.

That is where your next (possible) problem will be.

So always ask yourself: where can I expect the next action? And anticipate to that with movement and positioning

Homework: the final

The final highlights are also available. Take a notebook and see what your take-aways are from that game. Please let me know in the comments below.


Referee Claudia Umpierrez to officiate WWC 2019 opening match

Referee Claudia Umpierrez from Uruguay will officiate the opening match at the Women’s World Cup 2019. She can’t wait to get involved in a this big tournament in France. “The 90 minutes of every match is what it all comes down to. You have all this preparation but that is the important part.”

But how does she stay focused? What brought her from a small village called Pan de Azucar to a stadium packed with people? Referee Claudia Umpierrez shares some tips with you for your career.

Claudia Umpierrez at Women’s World Cup in Canada

Total focus for 90 minutes

“The best part of being a referee are the 90 minutes on the field of play”, Umpierrez says to FIFA. “When you’re on the pitch, you can totally switch off from everything. You forget about the problems you have in your daily life.”

She focuses on the calls she has to make. Just that. “You enter the pitch and all that matters is the game, those 90 minutes. No match the same as any other.” All she does is focus on that single match at that time. But how do you stay focused? Check out these 7 tips.

Get your team in the same vibe

Claudia Umpierrez knows the role as a referee is important for her as a person. “However, the players are always the main characters of the game.” But that still means you need to love this hobby. “I always enjoy officiating a game and pass this feeling on to my refereeing team”, Umpierrez adds. “The match shouldn’t just be a duty for us, but also a joyful experience.”

The biggest lesson for me here is: get your team in the same vibe. They need have the same feeling as you, because that will make you stronger as a team. You need to speak and work at the same level, that makes your performance better. So make sure you get an idea how your assistants or referee are in the dressing room and get the at the same vibe.

Don’t forget where you started

After a long period without games, as she has given birth to her child, Umpierrez is finally back at the top stage for the Women’s World Cup 2015 in Canada. “As the captains chose which end to play from, my career seemed to play out before my eyes like a movie,” she tells  FIFA. “I thought about how it had all started on a little pitch in my home town of Pan de Azucar, and then looked at where I was now – in a stadium in front of over 30,000 spectators.”

Don’t forget where you started as a referee. Feel proud of what you achieved so far.

Dedicate time to training

Work, school, family time. It all takes so much time, because they are important. But don’t for get time for training sessions. If you want to reach the top as a referee, you need to be very fit. That’s why Umpierrez got out of bed very early. When her child was still young, she got up and even did a training session after breast-feeding. Then off to work later on.

“The path to becoming a referee was and still is tough”, is the experience of Umpierrez. And now her child is a bit older, she still has to manage time to find time for a training session. “I train in the morning, after that I work a seven or eight-hour-day as a lawyer and then also look after my daughter.”

“If you asked me if I’d rather be a full-time referee, my answer would obviously be yes. But unfortunately that’s not possible, because I couldn’t put food on the table for my family in the country where I live if that were my sole profession.

Be prepared to step up as female in a men’s world

But how does a female referee step up in a men’s world? “It is important for female referees to demonstrate that they are ready when the opportunity comes”, she says. The last few years Umpierrez has also taken up the whistle in men’s top divisions, like Bibiana Steinhaus did in Germany and Stéphanie Frappart recently in France.

For her it has improved her fitness a lot and she has even taken a coach who helps her with strenght and contioning. “I would love to see more women refereeing men’s football,” she says. She thinks back about the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 for men, that she took part in with fellow referees.

Claudia Umpierrez during the u17 World Cup in India

Demonstrate what you can

Esther Staubli, also present at the WWC in France was the first female referee there to officiate in a men’s competition. “That was a milestone and great experience. It demonstrated what we women are capable of and that we can be counted on.”

“Working in men’s football has allowed me to focus on my rhythm and my stamina and I’m reaping the benefits now, since women’s football has now come on immensely in recent years and got a whole lot quicker.”

See all referees appointed for the Women’s World Cup 2019.

Video of referee Claudia Umpierrez