Who would be a ref?
Well, quite a lot of people it seems and many of them, both male and female, are in Derry this week to take up position at the hundreds of matches taking place across the wider North West as part of O’Neills Foyle Cup.
Derry man, Dick Tucker, who is involved in referee development, has the marathon task of matching officials to matches – almost 2,500 individual appointments in total!
“We have 131 referees and 2,456 appointments over 1,500 games! I started around February trying to identify referees. Some approach us and others we hear about through word of mouth.
“You would have the whole gambit from those never having refereed a match to others who have done English and Scottish premier league games as well as some in Europe.
“It’s a great opportunity for referees to learn from one another as they work in teams of three at the O’Neills Foyle Cup and they have so many games to get through.
“Most become friends and stay in contact. Over the years we’ve had guys come from Germany, Hungary, Holland, all over the UK and the Republic of Ireland as well as all our local referees. This year, we’ve eight Dutch referees coming, for one of them, it will be his ninth year.
“There’s a great referee community and while there is a serious side to it, there’s also very much a social side.
“When you’re bringing together people from various parts of the world, you find cultures are different. In football, you’d hear people talk about a European style which would be different from the British or Irish way, but it means we all get to learn from each other.
“All our referees are volunteers and there’s a tremendous loyalty. I’ve been involved in every O’Neills Foyle Cup right from the start, so this will be my 28th but I’m not the exception, there are a lot of local guys who give a tremendous commitment for which we are very grateful.”
A number of the female referees travel from England, the Republic of Ireland and throughout Northern Ireland for the event.
Andy Hogg from Sheffield has travelled around Europe and parts of Russia as a FIFA referee but, for him, there’s nowhere like Derry during July.
“The O’Neills Foyle Cup week is the first thing I put in my diary every time I get a new one!” he admitted.
“I helped run a football tournament in England about four seasons ago and one or two refs came over from Ireland. I befriended them and that led to an invitation to the O’Neills Foyle Cup and I’ve been coming ever since.
“Garvin Taggart, who’s a senior referee, and his wife Lisa put me up each year. For me, it’s the friendships that are made that make the tournament so special.
“When you return year after year, it’s about getting back together with colleagues from the Netherlands, Ireland and other places, it’s about that camaraderie as much as the football and there’s also a lot of fun, which you don’t get at every tournament.
“Of course, the football is a fabulous experience for the referees too. I was lucky enough to be on FIFA, refereeing internationals, on the same pitch as Paolo Maldini, even though I’m just a normal lad from Sheffield, so in some ways coming to the O’Neills Foyle Cup is my way of giving something back. I can advise and coach some of the younger referees. This is season 37 coming up, but my legs are still going!
“When you get involved in a tournament like O’Neills Foyle Cup, it’s a great opportunity, you can be refereeing 15 matches in the week so it’s a great way to build confidence.
“But the whole experience really comes down to the people - and some serious festivals. Last year during the O’Neills Foyle Cup, the Foyle Maritime Festival was taking place and last time I came over to visit, it was during the Hallowe’en celebrations, it’s lovely, it feels like they put on a festival every time I come over!
“I’m really looking forward to being back.”
Mitchel Krop (25) from the Netherlands is returning to referee for the 9th consecutive year and described it as a “great tournament” in every respect.
“The O’Neills Foyle Cup is a warm family tournament. I fell in love with this tournament, this city and with all the people who are involved.”
Tim Marshall from Irvinestown, also a FIFA (International) referee, first attended the O’Neills Foyle Cup playing as an U12 in the Brandywell stadium. He has acted as fourth Official in the Irish Cup Final at Windsor Park and regularly officiates in Europe, most recently in the Europa League earlier this month.
The referees can expect to see beyond the white lines of the football pitch while they work at the O’Neills Foyle Cup.
Prior to the tournament kicking off, a delegation of visiting match officials enjoyed a tour of the historic Derry Walls coinciding with the Walls 400 summer programme of events to mark 400 years since the completion of the city’s most famous built heritage.
Odhran Dunne, General Manager of Visit Derry which helped facilitate the tour said: “The O’Neills Foyle Cup provides an exceptional opportunity to showcase the city to a new audience as an international visitor destination with an award-winning festival and events calendar.
“We are delighted that the visiting teams, officials and supporters always ensure some time is freed up in their busy schedule of fixtures to experience the excellent visitor attractions on offer in our city anddistrict. “Hotel occupancy is always high for the duration of the festival bringing a welcomed boost to the local hospitality sector. O’Neills Foyle Cup profiles the city as a destination which many visitors will return to.”