Our Referee Development Officer, Marc Birkett heads off to Slovenia to referee in The UEFA European Futsal Championship 2018!
Futsal is an exciting, fast-paced small sided football game that is widely played across the world. The nature of the game places a large emphasis on technical skill and ability in situations of high pressure, and is subsequently an excellent breeding ground for football competencies that can be translated into the 11-a-side format of the game.
The UEFA European Futsal Championship first started in Spain in 1999 and the event has grown ever since. The last tournament took place in Belgrade in 2016 when Spain beat Russia 7-3, which was watched by more than 100,000 fans across the whole competition.
12 teams will compete in Slovenia 2018 from 30th January to 10th February; Slovenia, Italy, Serbia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland, Portugal, Ukraine, Romania, Spain, Azerbaijan and France.
We have asked Marc a few questions about his time as a futsal referee.
How long have you been refereeing?
I have been refereeing for over 20 years starting out refereeing football and small sided football.
When and why did you decide to become a Futsal referee?
I started refereeing Futsal in 2004, when my RDO in Sheffield & Hallamshire invited me to officiate on their Elite League which at the time hosted 2 teams that had been national champions. With the pace and the endless counter attacking nature of the game it immediately got me hooked. From this I was selected to referee The FA Futsal Cup Finals and officiated the final itself in 2006.
During the early stages of my career I was combining my Futsal appointments with being a Level 4 Football Referee.
How did you get to the stage you are at as an Elite Futsal referee?
Following my FA Futsal Cup Final appointment in 2006 that really started my career to where I have been fortunate to get to now. The following season I travelled to Belgium with the England team for a 4 Nations tournament where I officiated alongside FIFA Futsal Referees. In 2008 I was the FA’s first FIFA Futsal Referee nomination and in 2010 I decided to leave football and concentrate on Futsal which was the best decision I have ever made.
Within UEFA there are 4 categories of referees and in Futsal you always start in Category 3 and then with performances, fitness, application all observed and assessed you can have the opportunity to reach the Elite category for which I have been since 2012.
How many UEFA European Championships have you officiated at?
This will be my 4th Futsal Euro having made my debut in 2012 in Croatia, 2014 Belgium, 2016 Serbia and 2018 Slovenia.
What has been the highlight of these events for you?
Each Euro has had its own special moment and I have been fortunate enough to officiate the Opening game (2012), Semi Finals in 2014 & 2016 and 3rd referee on final in 2014. I have refereed the best players in Europe and stood directly behind the shot and goal that took the hosts Serbia through to the semi finals in 2016 with just 0.03 seconds left on the clock. But my stand out moment was in 2014 Italy v Azerbaijan group decider and for the first time on an international game my parents and my son were in the crowd watching. To know that you have that support behind you in the arena is very special.
Were you faced with any hurdles you had to overcome?
The biggest challenge for me has been to put English Futsal refereeing on the map within Europe. Having the daunting task of being the first international referee and in a game with no national coverage or tradition is not an easy challenge. There was no real training to be ready for that level of competition so I have done much of my learning by watching games from abroad, networking with the best referees and travelling to other countries to referee various tournaments to get a full understanding of what was required at the top level of the game.
Have you had any other successful career highlights?
I am very fortunate to have a good career within Futsal for which I am very grateful to everyone that has shown faith in me. Domestically I have refereed the biggest games available which have all been challenging. Internationally alongside the Euro’s I have officiated in series of finals and semi finals in club and international competitions I have been appointed. The biggest stand out’s in my career are the two FIFA World Cup appointments 2012 & 2016. In 2016 I officiated the semi-final Iran v Russia which was a great honour and in 2012 I officiated the Final Spain v Brazil. The 2012 final was a big surprise and as it should be was the most difficult game I have refereed with it being closely contested throughout, going to extra time and final goal being my decision if the ball was out or not before the shot. The final was a life changing moment for me and the game here as it placed futsal refereeing firmly within the FA.
What advice would you give somebody aspiring to be a Futsal referee?
Futsal is a great game which I would promote any referee to get involved in. The pathway to the elite level of our game domestically is smaller which opens up huge possibilities to those that are enthusiastic and have the ability. The training and support programme is excellent so we are now in a position to continue to help our Futsal referees excel.
You can mix Futsal refereeing with Football if you have the time for both and Futsal will help your football refereeing as you’ll be making more decisions, quicker thinking and foul recognition which when you transfer across to football will allow you more time to think as the game is slower. The game is growing all the time and there are loads of opportunities, all you need to do is contact your Referee Development Officer.
If you want more information on becoming a futsal referee contact Marc at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good luck Marc from everyone at Nottinghamshire FA! We are sure you will do great.
For updates on how Marc is getting along at The UEFA European Futsal Championship follow us on Twitter @NottsFA or Marcs personal account @futsalrefmarc.
You can also find updates from UEFA on Twitter @UEFAFutsal and on Facebook using #FutsalEURO.