Around 2 weeks ago I received a call from Louise McChesney asking if I would be available to accept a Europa League appointment, before I had even had the details of
where and when I had accepted!
I had been appointed as 4th official to the Lokomitov Zagreb v Dinamo Minsk, 2nd Qualifying Round, 2nd Leg and I would accompany Kevin Clancy (Referee), Graham Chambers and David McGeachie (Assistants), bring it on!
Louise gave me the details and confirmed that the travel arrangements, etc, would follow. I was absolutely delighted with the appointment and intended to enjoy every minute of it.
The following couple of weeks involved getting prepared for the trip in terms of being measured for a new suit, ensuring I had the correct refereeing kit and making sure my passport was still in date!
All was arranged, all be it some things at the very last minute, but by the Tuesday prior to departure I was packed and ready to go.
Tuesday 23rd July
Working in Dundee today, but managed to get finished at a decent time and got home for around 6pm. My mate had lost his father just a few days previous so I paid him a visit and spent some time comforting him. Then it was off home for an early night.
Wednesday 24th July
2:30am – What a ridiculous time for someone’s alarm to go off, but that was the time mine was set for. It was a struggle but after a quick shower and a shave I left the house around 3am and headed for Edinburgh Airport.
4:15am – I arrive at Edinburgh Airport and get the car parked.
4:30am – Meet up with Kevin, David and Graham at check in. We get the bags checked in and head to the Lounge for some breakfast.
6:00am – We board the flight and it’s off to Amsterdam where we will catch our connection to Zagreb.
7:30am – After a short flight we arrive at Schipol Airport. We need to find the Transfers desk as we weren’t issued with Boarding Passes for our connection flight. Schipol Airport is massive, so Chambers plays “dad” and tells us to follow him. A 20 minute walk later we find the desk and get our boarding passes sorted, then it’s off to the Lounge for a coffee.
11:00am – We board the flight and head for Zagreb. A couple of the guys try to catch up on some of the sleep that we missed during the night, but being the dedicated guy that I am (!!) I get the laptop out and do some work!
1:30pm – The flight seems shorter than expected and we arrive at Zagreb Airport where Igor Krmar, the Referee Liaison Officer meets us with his driver and we head for the hotel. Igor is a FIFA Assistant Referee himself so he is keen to know all about our reffing careers to date, and shares his experiences of the numerous European games that he has been involved in. The weather is fantastic, 35 degrees and bright sunshine (it wasn’t to last though!).
2:30pm – The hotel seems very nice and the room is ideal, so a quick change of clothes and off for some lunch, before the 4 of us head out to explore the area. At this point though Chambers takes on the role of a local meteorologist and reckons there’s a storm approaching. So we shorten the length of our walk and head back to the hotel. True to his word the thunder and lightning starts and within a few minutes we are getting soaked in a downpour!!
6:00pm – After a couple of hours rest we meet and head to the stadium for our first visit of the surroundings and a short training session. We are given a tour of the stadium and shown the changing rooms, the tunnel, etc, then head out to the field of play where Kevin takes us through a few different routines, just to stretch the legs. We then have a short discussion on a couple of points of play which may arrive during the match. The stadium is all open plan with no covered parts, but it’s fairly big (38,000 capacity) and the playing surface is immaculate.
8:00pm – Dinner time! Now, I don’t eat fish (of any description!), never have done, don’t know why but just don’t like it. Igor advises us that he’s taking us to the best fish restaurant in Croatia for dinner! Magic! However, I’m treating this trip as a one off and I don’t intend any of it to be a disappointment, so I eat everything that’s put in front of me and thoroughly enjoy it! I have been converted!
10:00pm – A short walk round the centre of Zagreb to walk off some of the prawns and seabass, and for Kevin, the only single one among us, to take in some of the “sights”. Kevin advises us that Croatian women are very good looking, I didn’t notice……….honest!
10:30pm – Thankfully it’s now bed time. It’s been a long long day, but a great adventure so far and tomorrow can’t come quick enough, but I need to sleep now!
Thursday 25th July
9:00am – We meet for breakfast and all 4 of us feel refreshed after a good nights sleep.
10:00am – We arrive at the stadium for the Match Day Organisational Meeting. Being new to all this, I didn’t have a clue what to expect so I ask the boys a “few” questions on the way, before Kevin advises me just to keep quiet and he will do all the talking…..sounds good to me! We check out a few areas of the stadium to ensure all is OK, then out on to the park where we take some time to ensure the comms kit is working correctly, then it’s into the meeting. It’s a pretty formal affair with both teams, UEFA, the Police, the Fire Service, the stadium manager plus others all represented. We start by checking the strip colours, and after a bit of toing and froing we agree on the team and referee colours for the match. The UEFA Delegate chairs the meeting and asks Kevin to advise what he expects from the teams in terms of discipline, etc. Kevin opens up with “Hello, good morning” firstly in Croatian, followed by repeating it in Belarusian! I am well impressed as although he claims to be a Lawyer, his Croatian and Belarusian sounds better than his English!!
10:30 – Our involvement in the meeting is short and we are excused from the remainder of it, so we head back to the hotel, get changed into more comfortable clothing (it’s very warm and sunny again!) and head back into the city centre for some more “sight seeing” and a nice coffee.
1:30pm – Lunch is served at the hotel we are staying in, then we disperse and head to our rooms for some rest before the match. At this point I get a chap on the door of my room and it’s a member of the hotel staff delivering some souvenirs of the match from the home club. A really nice touch and a great memento to remind me of the trip.
5pm - After a couple of hours rest it's time to get ready for the match.
5:30pm - We all meet in Kevin's room for a bit of a pre-match discussion and Kevin advises us what he expects from each of us during the game, however he's adamant that without doubt we have to enjoy the occasion. The nerves have kicked in now, but that's only to be expected as this is a big game for us all. A quick coffee and then we're heading for the stadium.
6:30pm - We arrive at the stadium and carry out our usual pre-match checks I.e field markings, goal nets, technical areas, etc, all is in order and it's off to the changing room to get changed. We now need to try and chill out a bit before the match, so Chambers plays DJ and puts on some tunes.........I think someone else should do that job next time!!
7:00pm - Kevin has asked me to carry out the first equipment check of the players, so I head to the home dressing room, introduce myself and then go round each player checking their boots, shin guards and that if they are wearing under garments, they are of the appropriate colour. The away dressing room follows and again all is in order.
7:30pm - The guys head out to do their warm up and I check the pressure in the balls, and familiarise myself with the substitutes board.
7:45pm - The guys return from their warm up and it's time to get the game heads on now, so the music goes off and we get ourselves into "game" mode. It's very close to kick off so we have a final shake of hands and wish each other good luck, then it's out to the tunnel. I head for the away dressing room first, chap the door and advise them all that its time for the match and the players makes their way to tunnel. The home team follows on. The tie is finely balanced with Zagreb holding a 2-1 advantage from the first leg, and with them being the home team this time round they are very confident of progressing to the next round. However Dinamo Minsk have a good European record and they too are confident of overturning the deficit from the 1st leg, so it's all to play for.
8:00pm - Everyone is ready and the game kicks off. It's a fast and furious first half, played at a very high tempo, then in the 41st minute Minsk score. The home team appeal for offside and I have to admit it looked very close from where I was, but Graham was confident he had called it correctly. 2 or 3 bookings in the first half also, all of which looked spot on to me!
9:00pm - The second half is a slower tempo but there is still everything to play for. Currently Zagreb are still going through on away goals.
9:14pm - Minsk score again to make it 2-0. Minsk are now going through 3-2 on aggregate.
9:23pm - Zagreb get a goal, the tie is now level and at this stage we are looking at extra time and penalties!
9:27pm - Goal for Zagreb! What a game, the tie now swings in Zagreb's favour again as they now lead 4-3 on aggregate.
9:37pm - Minsk have a free kick about 25 yards from goal. They have a shot, the keeper saves but it rebounds to the attacker and he puts it away. Goal! Zagreb are adamant that the scorer is offside but David heads to the half way line and the goal is awarded. Again it looks tight from where I am standing! In case you have lost track the tie now stands at 4-4 and its Minsk going through on away goals.
9:49pm - Kevin blows the final whistle, what a match! Back in the changing room we are discussing the 2 goals and the possibility of them being offside. We all have every confidence in Graham and David having called them correctly, but its the Observer who will decide that and there is no doubt that he will have to refer to TV evidence for clarification. There are a few more cautions in the 2nd half so Kevin and I compare notes and ensure we both have the correct details for all the cautions, player, time, offence, etc. We both agree and then we are joined by the UEFA statistician guy who sits with me and goes through all the goals, cautions, substitutes, etc, to ensure that every detail is recorded accurately.
10:15pm - We are joined by the Referee Observer and we are all desperate to know if the 2 offside calls are correct. He starts with shaking all our hands and congratulating us, surely that's a good sign, then he advises that he has looked at both decisions and the TV evidence has confirmed that both were 100% correct. Massive relief and we are all delighted.
11:00pm - We arrive back at the hotel and meet with the Observer for the full match debrief. It's all very positive. We see the offside calls on DVD for the first time, and both Graham and David deserve huge credit for calling them correctly as they were unbelievably tight calls.
11:30pm - Finally it's dinner time and we wash it down with a well deserved couple of beers, before heading to Kevin's room for a couple more beers and some post match discussion of our own. We are all buzzing as the game went so well.
3:00am - We finally head for a few hours sleep.
9:00am - Breakfast, then off to the pool for a recovery session, led by Mr Chambers, followed by a sauna.
1:00pm - Our trip is almost over and we head for the airport to start our journey home. We are flying via Heathrow and when we get there we meet Team McLean (Stevie, Alan Mulvanney, Alister Mather and Paul Robertson) who have been in Cyprus doing one of the other Europa League qualifiers. Their game had gone well also, so we catch up with them before heading for our Edinburgh bound flight.
6:30pm - Arriving at the airport we say our goodbyes and head home. What a fantastic experience, I have loved every minute of it. Never in my wildest dreams, when I started refereeing, did I ever think I'd be involved in a Europa League match but I can now say I have!
And finally, the day before heading to Zagreb I received a call from Drew Herbertson this time asking if I would be available to accept another Europa League appointment! Wow, 2 Europa League matches in 2 weeks! Obviously I have accepted and I'll be heading to either Russia or Serbia with the same refereeing team. Watch this space!