Euro 2008 referees: the team that can’t win

June 7, 2008

Referees pose

Football fans all love to hate referees … but getting close up and personal with them would change a lot of people’s opinions.

Meeting the refs and other match officials for Euro 2008 at their media open day at Regensdorf just north of Zurich was an illuminating experience.

UEFA first opened the doors to the men they dub “the 17th team” at Euro 2004 and while you go along expecting to be yellow-carded if you so much as trip over a paving stone, you quickly realise that referees are often unfairly maligned by managers, media and public alike.

The first thing you notice is how young and fit they are. The retirement age for elite referees is now 45 and most of them look a lot younger than that. In fact, many look like they could actually be playing.

What also comes across in talking to them is that they seem to be genuine football fans who love the game as much as anyone.

Roberto Rosetti of Italy, the ref for the opening match between Switzerland and the Czech Republic, is widely regarded not just as the natural successor to Pierluigi Collina as the best Italian referee, but probably the best referee in Europe and possibly the world.

“Lets not talk about that,” he joked, “I won’t be regarded as anything if I have a bad match.”

Howard Webb of England has taken five years out from his job as a police officer to concentrate on his refereeing duties.

“I know its a cliche, but really, I just take each match as it comes,” he smiled. “You’re only as good as your last match.”

Konrad Plautz of Austria said, “Of course we make mistakes. We’re only human. All I hope is that none of the hundreds of cameras in the stadium catches it. Some hope!”

Lubos Michel, who has just refereed the Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea, said: “We know we are in a lose-lose situation. If we have a good game no-one notices us, but everyone notices us if we have a bad one. You can’t win.”

The one thing they do have going for them is an incredible sense of unity and teamwork. They reminded me of the contestants on a reality TV show — all mates together, but some will go home early after the group stage and only one can ref the final.

With England not here, is Webb a contender for the big honour?

“I hardly think so, but not having your national team here does open up your options,” he said. “Also this is my first major tournament, there are a lot more experienced guys here who deserve it more.”

What a neutral answer. Typical of a referee.

Mike Collett

PHOTO: Referees (1st row L to R) Konrad Plautz from Austria, Frank de Bleeckere from Belgium, Howard Webb from England, Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez from Spain, Herbert Fandel from Germany, Kyros Vassaras from Greece

(2nd row L to R) Roberto Rosetti from Italy, Pieter Vink from the Netherlands, Tom Henning Ovrebo from Norway, Lubos Michel from Slovakia, Peter Frojdfeldt from Sweden and Massimo Busacca from Switzerland

REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

For full coverage of Euro 2008 click here

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