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Hampshire Referees Shine At Iber Cup 2015

The journey to Iber began back in January 2015, when Hampshire FA Referees between Levels 7- 4 and aged between 18 – 23 were invited to apply in...
I, together with Paul Roots, Ross Murphy & Jonathan Butt were extremely excited to be informed the day after the interviews that we had been successful and would be representing Hampshire FA at the prestigious Iber Cup Portugal Tournament.  In the months building up towards the Iber Cup, we were provided with thorough development by Brian Le Breton, Referee Development Manager and Alex James who had been selected to be our Referee Coach for the Tournament. We also officiated on several Wyvern League matches to get to know each other, and to get used to working as a team.

On the evening of the 25th of July, we set off for Heathrow, as our flight was very early on the morning of the 26th. Luckily we all managed to wake up early enough to make our flight to Lisbon! When we arrived in Lisbon, the first thing that struck us was the overwhelming humidity upon leaving the airport; it was then that the reality of what we were up against really struck us. After some interesting driving from our taxi driver, we arrived at our hotel, which was based in Estoril.

The first couple of days were spent adjusting to how our bodies would cope with the weather by taking part in fitness exercises in the idyllic location along the seafront that Estoril would provide us with. This time was also used getting to grips with the transport links that would play a pivotal role in ensuring that we would all make it to our appointments throughout the week. Appointments for our first fixtures had already been released to us, allowing us for some much-needed relaxation time along with socialising with other officials from around the UK, Europe and places such as America & Canada. We were quite surprised at the levels of referees that had travelled to the tournament. We suspected that as a newly promoted level 4, Paul was going to rank quite highly however, it was interesting to learn that officials from the Football League, Liga Adelante as well as a mixture of newly promoted level 3’s were all present. 

The evening prior to the tournament commencing, we all attended the briefing on the rules of the tournament. This was really the first opportunity that we had to meet all of our fellow match officials, as well as finding out what the tournament was all about. It was impressive to see such an array of nationalities represented on the refereeing side of things, with officials from all over Europe, and even as far afield as Canada. After having dinner, we decided to get an early night, as we would all be up early the following day for our first round of appointments.

Back in the UK, all of us are used to 3pm kick offs, with maybe the occasional 10.30am kick off, so it was a bit of a shock when our alarms went off at 6am, ready for our first matches which would be kicking off at 8.30am. For our first matches, we would be working together as a team at the Jamor Sports Complex. Jamor is Portugal’s national sports complex, with an array of sports facilities including an Olympic swimming pool, athletics track, as well as Portugal’s former national stadium, where Celtic lifted the 1967 European Cup. The complex had many different football pitches, with a mixture of grass and artificial (3G) playing surfaces. Our first match would be (Insert Team Name) V (Insert Team Name) on one of the grass pitches at Jamor. Given that the majority of the pitches at the tournament were 3G surfaces, having a match on a grass pitch was a welcome sight.

Ross was the first to referee of all of us from Hampshire, with Paul and myself acting as assistant referees. The match was played in good spirit, and the game went without any issues, much to the delight of all of us. We all were lucky enough to receive good feedback from the assessor, who noted that our teamwork was very slick, testament to our months of hard work leading up to Iber.

In Ross’ own words; “The amount of build up to the start of this prestigious tournament caused me to burn far too much nervous energy in the first ten minutes which cost me in the second half. However, I came away with a good performance and was left excited for the rest of my games lined up for the week. “

After working as a team for the first match, we each had additional matches working in slightly separate teams, all working with officials from Lincolnshire FA. Paul and Alex were fortunate enough to officiate Sporting Lisbon from Portugal versus Hellerup IK from Denmark. We were astonished at the level of skill and technical ability from Sporting Lisbon, even though they were an U13 team. Sporting would eventually go on to win the U13 cup, beating Paris Saint German in the final, which Ross was fortunate enough to officiate in. In the game which followed that of Paul & Alex, Jon officiated Chivas versus (American Team) U16. The standard of Chivas was simply unbelievable. However, given that Chivas play in the Mexican Premier League, we expected no less. They would eventually go on to lift the U16 cup on the final day of the tournament.

One benefit of having games early was that we finished early. So after we had finished, we all made the considerable journey back from Jamor to the hotel. Given the humidity, we all had the tendency to perspire quite considerably, so our first priority when we got back to the hotel was to have a shower, as well washing our shirts in the bath, not ideal, but certainly a lot better than wearing dirty kit for the week! After this, we had a welcome dip in the hotel swimming pool, before heading out for a meal in Cascais, which was the local town. After this, we headed back to the hotel, to get some much needed rest, ready for our next matches the following day. 

For Ross, the day began at exactly the same time as the previous one, as he was the only one out of the four of us to be appointed to an 8.30am kick off. For the rest of us, we were fortunate enough to have afternoon kick offs, and in Alex’s case, no matches until 17.30. However, we quickly learned that it was probably better to have an early kick off, as we realized just how dull it was to sit around all day waiting for our games, especially as Ross would make an extra special effort to wake us all up at 6am! 

Paul was appointed as fourth official to RDC Espanyol (ESP) V Saint Victor Lions U18 Girls (USA) on the 1500 fixture, followed by Guadeloupe FA V SU 1 Dezembro U15, for which he was appointed as referee. The following is his account of his experiences from the second day; “This was my first opportunity working with an official from a different nation, although as fourth official my role in a game with rolling substitutions was limited. However, at 16:15 at the same venue, I would have my first opportunity to get to grips with refereeing as I took charge of Guadeloupe FA V SU 1 Dezembro U15s. I very quickly learnt that my usual style of being a talkative referee was going to get me anywhere with players that didn’t speak a word of English. My communication style had to adapt and before I knew it the only word I seemed to be saying was ‘okay’ whilst attempting to rely on my body language to portray emotions. The assessor for this fixture was Italian, and with that brought different focus on what he had been looking at compared to the assessors ‘back home’. Although there wasn’t much I felt I could take into my own game, it was interesting to hear what he felt on my overall positioning – and to hear that someone of his experience thought I had a good game is always pleasing to hear. “

Following Paul’s match, Alex had two evening match appointments. The first of these was an U13s match between Paris St German (FRA) and Club International (POR). The first 15 minutes proved to be a bit of a test for Alex who awarded two penalties in quick succession for PSG, one was scored and the other was missed. Despite PSG’s early dominance, the game was a tight affair, with plenty of tackles flying it. Eventually PSG managed to double their lead late on, which effectively killed the game, and it finished 2-0. Like Paul, Alex also had an Italian assessor, who queried the lack of diagonal line running. We explained to him that back home, we don’t really run a diagonal any more, and that we just really position ourselves close to play to assist with credible decision making. The assessor also agreed with both penalty decisions, as well as the decision by Alex to caution, rather than send off the goalkeeper who fouled the player for the second penalty, as he wasn’t through on goal.

Following this match as referee, Alex was then the fourth official on the 20.00 kick off, with Jon as an assistant referee. Like others experiences of being fourth official, the role was limited to managing substitutions and maintaining a full match record. The match passed without any issue, ending 3-0.  The Italian assessor offered good feedback for Jon, mainly praising his signals and movement. With barely any daylight left, we made our way back to the hotel, arriving back at around 10.30, owing to a rather long debrief from the assessor! After having dinner, we headed back to our rooms, well aware that the following day’s matches could well be our last in the tournament, so we were all determined to give 110% to ensure that we received further appointments.

As usual, Ross’ alarm managed to wake us all up at 6am, as he had morning appointments again, this time at Oeiras, which was arguably the best venue in the tournament. The following is Ross’ description of his appointment; “I was appointed to Sevilla (ESP) vs Carcavelos (POR) at the highest age group. Being a Spain v Portugal fixture there was always going to be tension and this showed in the buzzing atmosphere before the game. All four of us had a tremendous game and I feel as though this was my best performance of the tournament as AR1.”

Traditionally at Iber, Thursday’s matches are the toughest for referees, mainly because it’s the last day of group fixtures, so obviously teams are desperate to ensure that they progress to the next round of the tournament. All of us could quickly see the raised levels of intensity in our fixtures, but thankfully we were well aware that we would need to raise our game, and we all officiated to a very high standard. Here’s Paul’s account of his Thursday fixture; “I would only see one fixture, where I was to take charge as referee for the game between Arsenal DA and CD Vasconia B U13s. In terms of teamwork, this game would prove to be my most challenging. My two assistants, although more than capable at their jobs, assisted in a very different style to what I was used to at home. This was demonstrated clearly around midway through the second half where one of the assistants was requesting a retake on a saved penalty. Fortunately for me, and him, he was good enough to take my lead and drop his flag on my request.” 

Alex was pretty much getting used to having evening matches, and Thursday was no different. As everyone else was out at their matches for most of the day, Alex decided to go to his venue early, despite his match not kicking off until 17:30. He used this as an opportunity to go and observe some other match officials, some of which he would be working with later during his matches. His matches were played at the aptly named Dramatico Stadium, where he was able to meet up with other colleagues from Manchester and West Riding County FA’s respectively. After what seemed like an eternity, it was time to officiate the evening’s matches. For the first match between Atletico CP (POR) and Legenda (IND) he would be working as fourth official with two Dutch assistant referees, and an Italian Referee. He was amazed at how laid back the Italian referee was before kick off, deciding to brief us barely more than 5 minutes before kick, nevertheless, he was a good referee, and went on to finish as the third best referee in the tournament.

In the 20.00 fixture, Alex refereed Ullern IF (NOR) v GDS Cascais (POR) a team from the local town, with two Dutch assistant referees, and an English fourth official. Around 5 minutes before the match, a colleague informed me that the Norwegian team required a win to stay in the tournament; otherwise they would be heading home. Alex then knew that he had to be on top of his game, as it was winner takes all. The first half went down without any issue; however the second half saw Alex issue several cautions, all for reckless tackles. As expected, it was a challenging match, with lots of off the ball challenges and heavy tackles being put in by players. The intensity was raised even more when the Norwegian team scored, midway into the second half, resulting in a minor pitch invasion by the Norwegian bench. Despite all of this, Alex maintained control of the match, being assisted fantastically by his Dutch counterparts. Owing to the late finish of the match, the assessor decided that it would be best to debrief me in a more suitable location… namely at restaurant in the local town!

The assessor for this match was Englishman, Dave Richardson of West Yorkshire. Dave having officiated on the Premier League, FA Cup Final, as well as being a current Football League assistant referee and an ex FIFA assistant referee.  As would be expected Dave provided Alex and indeed Paul, Ross & Jon with some great development points and advice. Dave outlined a point in the match where Alex had ‘cut the grass’ for a no penalty decision, even though it quite obviously wasn’t a penalty. Dave explained that even though the decision was obvious, it was still necessary to shout ‘no penalty’ rather than just signal for a goal kick, as it conveys to players that you are confident with the decision that you’ve made, and can help to aid your match control. Alex said “On reflection, this was my best performance of the tournament, and by far the most well constructed assessment that I’ve received in any form of football”. After being debriefed, we were joined for dinner by Dave, and David Coote, a Football League referee from West Yorkshire. It was great to be able to have dinner with two current Football League officials, as we were able ask them plenty of questions as to what life is like as an official at the top level, as well as gaining some great advice and development points. 

On our way back to the hotel, we received the appointments for the following day, luckily, all four of us had been appointed to matches on the following day, which would be a mixture of quarter finals and semi finals. 

Paul and myself had an afternoon match, whilst Jon and Ross were both appointed to earlier kick offs. All of our matches were played without issue, with the exception of a rather overzealous Czech referee in Alex’s match, who decided to stop the match to show the players how to take a throw in. Without doubt one of the funniest things we’ve ever experienced on a football pitch. The matches were played with a raised level of intensity, as all of the teams were all vying for places in the latter stages of the competition. Needless to say we all had solid matches, with good feedback from all of the teams involved and the watching officials of the Tournament. 

With the days matches over, we knew that we were really down to the nitty gritty, and were well aware that any appointments in the final two days would be appointed on merit, it was certainly an anxious wait to find out whether or not we had been appointed to any additional fixtures. 

We were fortunate to learn that evening, that Alex, Jon and Paul had all been appointed to matches the following day. Jon and Paul had been appointed to a B Final, which was a fantastic achievement, whilst Alex had been appointed to one of the remaining semi finals in the U15 competition.

For the first time in three days, Alex was placed on the 8.30am kick off, which meant a nice 6am alarm. In the morning, we learnt that Ross had been appointed to the same final as Jon and Paul, given that there had been 143 officials taking part in the Tournament, it was a massive achievement to get three Hampshire officials on a cup final. The referee for this semi-final was from North Riding FA, who handled our semi final superbly, managing a tough match which saw plenty of heavy challenges and dissent from the two teams, both eager to make it to the final. One thing to be taken from this game was the lack of sportsmanship shown by many of the foreign teams. Sure, we sometimes complain about the lack of respect shown by players in the English game, but we can assure you that foreign teams were 100 times worse, as illustrated by the 14 year old who decided to give a rather interesting hand gesture towards the referee upon his team being knocked out of the tournament. 

Having officiated what Alex believed to be his final match of the tournament, he was looking forward to finally having some time to relax in the afternoon, as well as going to watch Jon, Paul and Ross officiate on their cup final. However, his relaxation was short lived, as upon arrival back at the hotel, he learnt that he had been selected to officiate as an assistant referee on the U18 Girls cup final, to be played between Espanyol (ESP) and Atletico Madrid (ESP). Whilst instantly he was slightly annoyed at having to miss Jon, Paul and Ross’ final this certainly turned to elation, being delighted to have been selected to officiate on a cup final, especially one between two such highly regarded clubs in world football. 

Alex accompanied by referee coach Alex made their way to Dramatico, where the final was to be played. The team of officials was an Estonian referee, a Scottish assistant referee and an English fourth official, from Kent FA and Alex. Each club brought with them a large contingent of supporters, as well as an array of other participants from the tournament; needless to say, the atmosphere was electric throughout, with the match also being shown on Portuguese national television. Thankfully, the match was fairly easy to officiate, with some excellent technical ability displayed by both teams. Espanyol would eventually go on to win the match on penalties after neither time was able to break the deadlock in normal time. “The final was a fantastic experience to be a part of, and it was an absolute honor to wear the Hampshire badge on my shirt whilst doing so”.

There was more success for Hampshire to follow, as Ross was appointed to the U13 final between Sporting Lisbon (POR) and PSG (FRA) the following day. The quality of the appointments shared between the 4 of us was a real testament to our hard work and dedication throughout the tournament, as well as our thorough preparation as a team prior to the tournament. We managed to catch the U16 final at Estoril Stadium, which was officiated by Lincolnshire referee, David Jones. 

We were extremely proud and elated that Alex was given the award for Best Assistant Referee for the Tournament, which was a real honor, and showed that his hard work throughout the tournament hadn’t gone unrecognized. Alex our referee coach had worked tirelessly with our officials throughout the tournament and when our officials were split at various locations, Brian assisted with the coaching together with carrying out a number of assessments of both UK and European officials. 

With the tournament over, we decided to let our hair down slightly on the last night, with a large group of English officials taking over the local pub in Cascaias. This was a great chance to meet and socialize with some of the officials that we’d worked with during the week, as well as sharing a drink or 2! The tournament has not only been a great chance for all our referees to enhance with own refereeing skills, but had also presented them with the chance to meet and work with a number of other officials, many of whom will remain in contact. 

The next day, we packed our bags, sad our goodbyes and made our way back to the UK. So that was it, the Iber Cup was over. The journey that had begun back in January had now come to an end. 

The whole tournament had an exciting and enjoyable atmosphere that well and truly placed all of the Hampshire officials out of their comfort zones in terms of what we are all used to on our ‘home’ leagues.  One of the biggest learning curves all of us will take from the entire experience is that of working with officials from different countries that may well have very different interpretations of what to expect and what is expected of them on their own leagues. 

This opportunity has proven to be one of the most enjoyable within our refereeing careers, and is certainly one which we would recommend to anyone that is interested in developing as a match official. All of us very much look forward to being able to share some of our experiences with young aspiring officials, and hope that this time next year, other officials within Hampshire are given the same opportunity that we have been given to experience life as a match official at an international tournament.

On behalf of the four of us, we would firstly like to thank Neil Cassar and the Hampshire FA board for their backing, as well as Brian Le Breton for organizing everything for us, as to Alex James for his tremendous coaching that he provided throughout the tournament.

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