Last week, we carried the story of Florian Potter, who as the Senior Match Official, for the ISF, had a unique perspective.
Well now it’s the turn of Jorg Oppers, and for the Dutch Official, it was more than a chance to officiate at the World Cup – it was a chance to spend time with a very old friend.
So here, is the latest person to come under the spotlight of ISF Head Referee Martin Cassidy – and see if you agree with Jorg and Martin when he says they haven’t changed much in two decades.
So with thanks to Martin – who is also the Head of Ref Support, the World’s only independent charity for referees – here is Jorg’s diary.
“When Martin invited me in January 2019 to officiate at the Socca World Cup I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I did some intense research about Socca as I wanted to be fully prepared for the task ahead. I started watching hours of footage of the World Cup in Lisbon and I got very excited after seeing the professionalism and the standard of the players.
I have been great friends with Martin [Cassidy], Head of Refereeing for the ISF, for over 20 years and he was already aware of my abilities as a 11 aside ref. We had met in America at a Tournament called The USA Cup and stayed friends ever since. It was great to have a photo again together and as you can see we haven’t changed much in 20 years !!!!
He told me that a lot of the skills we have in the 11 a side game were transferable to Socca and I would also fit in due to me speaking English, German, French and a little Spanish. I always have a positive outlook on life and he said this is also very important to the group.
All referees were added to the ISF World Cup Referees WhatsApp group were we first digitally met up. This was also ideal for exchanging questions and for Martin to send instructions to us either written or via video.
Together with Ronnie, my Dutch Colleague, we flew from Eindhoven to Crete on Friday October 11th. Everything was organized very professionally as we were picked up from the airport and brought to our hotel were we met with some of the Teams who were playing in the World Cup. We soon got to meet our fellow referees from all over the globe as we had our instructional meeting at the fantastic pop-up stadium at the beach. People were working very hard with the final preparations to get the pitch and stadium prepared for the opening games. It was very impressive.
We simulated different practical refereeing scenarios to get us mentally prepared and used to the surroundings. One of which were the “Socca pens.” – as in the game below.
The ISF have introduced a way to decide the result of a game if the game is drawn at full time. It is called “Socca Pens” It’s an idea of the ISF Honorary Vice President Tim Ollerenshaw. Tim’s background in Sport is Hockey and Socca Pens are similar to a Hockey Penalty in that you have 10 seconds to score. The ball is placed on the centre spot and you have 10 seconds to score. If you shoot and miss, make a foul, the goalkeeper saves it, it goes out of play or a goal Scored, the Socca pen is complete.
We set up the Socca Pens and the Egyptian Team turned up to look at the pitch so we asked their goal keeper to go in goal. A few of the refs took the Socca Pens against him and we all had a great laugh. It was a great way to bond the team of Refs and to learn what could go wrong. We also agreed to put refs on the goal line and one ref ran with play, interestingly we also had a ref who was time keeper on the pitch but faced away from the goal so they could not see the action. This would then take away any suggestion that the ref could be influenced by what was happening on the pitch before he blew for 10 seconds. We also ensured the head set Comms kit was not on the refereeing time keeper for the same reason. It worked really well as a practice session and we were all confident in how to apply this rule later on in the Tournament I had the Socca Pen rule in my playoff game between France and Slovenia. Being so well prepared we knew what to do and it was executed perfectly.
I knew beforehand that we were privileged to have Mark Clattenburg and Bobby Madley as part of the ISF team, both ex Premier League and FIFA referees there are both very nice people.
Mark was there for the first few days but Bobby was there for the whole tournament and proved to be a brilliant mentor/coach during the week and provided us with guidance and tips that really helped us as a team. He helped me immensely during the 10 days and I will always be grateful for his support and friendship.
The opening ceremony was something special and made you feel proud to be part of this event. All referees sat together in the stadium. We were lucky enough to have been sponsored by Umbro and all our playing kit and off field clothing was supplied free of charge. We also had a free watch from Limit watches who are a very well-known watch maker in England and have been making watches since 1912. We also had free Nike Astro footwear so we were very well supported by the ISF. Sitting in the stadium with all our sponsored clothing made us feel and look very professional and lots of fans wanted selfies with us. It really was an incredible occasion.
The rest of the week was hard work with 3-4 games a day and I can not explain the mental stress this brings along. But we also had time for camaraderie and had support as a team as we got together at the end of the day for some beverages at one of the local pubs called Gorgona. This was great as we got the chance to exchange experiences and discuss situations, teams and tactics. It was also vital to have the opportunity to de-stress and just have a couple of laughs with each other.
It was good to see that Martin also joined us at the end of his hard working days. He was always first at the stadium and last to leave. The amount of work he put in this tournament to make sure everyone was fine was impressive. I noticed that not only was he looking after us but he was also answering questions from teams to spectators to players to staff to management. He also had meeting with managers of some of the teams as the tournament went on discussing certain situations that happened in games. I later found out that he also had to do discipline reports for some games that he could only do when he got back to his hotel room. He always had a smile on his face and was upbeat, as I knew him as a friend, I could tell he had a lot to deal with.
At the end of the week the big games came and everyone was excited to find out which game we got appointed to. I was very happy to find out I was part of the team of officials for the final. This was a great honour. The final was the perfect commercial for Socca as it was a great game, high tempo, five goals and no cards. All in all the perfect ending of a great week.
I can say I looking back that it was the highlight of my refereeing career and am thankful to the organizers for letting me be a part of it. Not just because of the games and the atmosphere but also because I have made new friends.
I hope to see many of them at the next world Cup but until then I hope everyone is safe and well, wherever you are in the World #Spirit