Referee in Focus

A Typical European Trip By Alastair Mather

Alastair Mather

What does a typical European trip entail ? From leaving your home to returning again.

Typically a trip starts with my alarm going off long before it’s sensible to be getting out of bed! We travel the day before a game and my first flight will usually be to Heathrow or  Amsterdam where I’ll meet up with the rest of the refereeing team. Most of the other guys fly from Edinburgh or Glasgow although I occasionally have Doug Ross (Moray & Banff association) for company from Aberdeen. On arrival in our destination we’re met by liaison officer from the local football association who looks after the officials for the duration of their stay.


After checking into the accommodation there’s normally an opportunity to visit the stadium for a light training session. This is one of my favourite parts of a trip – I love visiting new grounds and it’s also a very welcome opportunity to stretch the legs after a day of travelling.


Following training we’ll be taken out for an evening meal where we’ll be joined by the UEFA referee observer and UEFA match delegate. This provides a great opportunity to hear about football in other European countries and also to learn from the observers who are all experienced international officials.


Day 2 of the trip is match day. The fourth official is required to attend the pre-match meeting at the stadium to check kit colours etc, but the rest of the refereeing team can enjoy a long lie, leisurely breakfast and the chance to take advantage of the hotel facilities. We’ll normally go out for a short walk in the city in the late morning and stop for a coffee before lunch. After lunch, the refereeing team will have a brief meeting to finalise preparations for the match. Thereafter it’s time for a siesta!


The refereeing team will meet again for a snack shortly before departure for the game and then it’s on to the main event.


Post match there will be a de-brief with the referee observer who will, very thoroughly, go through all incidents in the match with the refereeing team and  provide feedback; generally, this takes place in a local restaurant or back in the hotel. It would be fair to say that the feeling of relief when a match has gone well is palpable – and can probably only be appreciated by fellow referees. Once the de-brief is complete, the refereeing team can relax and enjoy a post match meal.


Day 3 – travel home!


Do you get much opportunity to explore the city while you are there?


It’s generally fairly limited. First and foremost we’re there in a professional capacity so must be fully focussed on ensuring that we’re fully prepared for the match, both physically and mentally. What’s more, depending on the time of the match, time constraints can be restrictive as well.


Having said that, the timetable does sometimes provide a little scope and I recall being taken on a whistle stop tour of the main tourist attractions when we were in Rome. We were conveyed from our hotel to the Vatican City under police escort and then, having completed a swift tour there, were whisked off to see the Colosseum. Disregarding various traffic cones, barriers and security guards, our driver was always intent on parking as close to the entrance as possible. Sensing the arrival of somebody notable, I think it would be fair to say that the gathered locals and tourists were a little disappointed when 6 unrecognisable, peely-wally Scots disembarked from the people carrier!


Amusingly, one member of our team was particularly off colour having suffered from vertigo while climbing the winding steps of St Peter’s Basilica. I’ll protect his identity, other than to say he hails from Fife…


What has been your favourite ground you have officiated at this season?

That’s a tough one as all the stadiums have been impressive – I don’t think I’ve been to a bad one yet. SC Braga’s stadium is particularly distinctive as it was carved out of a quarry and has a rock face at one end; it’s fairly new having been built for Euro 2004. Galatasaray v Benfica was a great experience, a tremendous stadium and the passion of the Galatasaray supporters is well known, but I think the best atmosphere was at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen for the Denmark v Albania Euro 2016 qualifier.


What is the most memorable match you have been involved in on a European trip?


Every trip has some memorable aspect so it’s difficult to pick one, but if I had to narrow it down I’d pick three:

  • Juventus v Atletico Madrid  (December 2014) – this was my first ever Champions League appointment as fourth official to William Collum. Every aspect of this experience was memorable – the atmosphere inside and outside the ground, the tremendous stadium facilities and it was, unsurprisingly, a very tough game for the officials, especially in the first half.
  • Latvia v Turkey (October 2014) – this was memorable as being my first full international appointment as an assistant. Bobby Madden was the referee and, again, I remember this was a very tough assignment for the officials. Neither country had started their Euro 2016 qualification particularly well so were desperate to kick start their campaigns – it was a hard fought match in challenging weather conditions. As an aside, I also thought Riga was a very pleasant city so that added to the trip as well.
  • Monaco v Juventus (April 2015) –  Champions League quarter final. This was particularly memorable for the sense of occasion and the tension – Juventus had won the first leg 1-0 so the first goal in the second leg was critical. It was on a knife edge right up to the final whistle as it finished 0-0. Monaco’s not a bad place to visit either!


Do you always go away within the same teams of officials, or does this change?

The teams of officials can change all the time. It’s been great to have been away for games refereed by Kevin Clancy, Bobby Madden and William Collum this season.


Can you give us a brief overview of your past European Trips too?

My first European appointments were at u19 international tournaments in 2011 (Turkey) and 2012 (Portugal). In terms of club competitions, my first match was in the Europa League in 2013 – Omonia Nicosia v FC Astra. I was glad the game kicked off well into the evening as, unsurprisingly, Cypriot summers are very hot – the temperature at midday was around 45 degrees. I was a little concerned, as my hair’s cut too short (!) to protect my head in such extreme conditions!


Since then, I’ve had the privilege of officiating at further matches in the Europa League, Champions League and Euro 2016 qualifiers.


This season started back in July 2015  with a Europa League qualifier in Podgorica in Montenegro (FK Mladost v Neftci PFK from Azerbaijan) and my last appointment, in December, was in the group stages of the Europa League – Lech Poznan v FC Basel.