Cervia is a sun-kissed resort with sandy beaches and a vibrant nightlife but it may as well be on the moon for the officiating team at the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship – nothing can distract them from the job according to Scottish referee Morag Pirie.
The 35-year-old is a member of the ninth team at these finals, which comprises six referees, eight assistants, and two fourth officials from the Italian hosts. Pirie says the group has gelled from the start: "There's a mixture of ages, experience, different cultures and languages. It's good to be here and see how they officiate in their countries, the standards of football they have, what they do in their life. There is a great variety of careers from teachers to lecturers, accountants and students. We have a good group of people."
Pirie herself juggles a job as an accountant with officiating roles in the Scottish fourth tier and the Highland League, and frequent international assignments with UEFA. She believes the two strands of her double life complement each other. "My refereeing helps with my people skills and dealing with stressful or unexpected situations," she said. "Admittedly, some clients have told me they are scared of me because they know I am a referee and they think they can't say things otherwise I will shout at them. I don't shout off the pitch, I'm actually a very nice person."
That has helped foster such a good atmosphere among a officiating team whose tournament effectively began in mid-May with a pre-finals meeting in Nyon. The latter is a new initiative, as UEFA Referees Committee member and referee observer Bo Karlsson explained: "We started this course because you don't want to be giving instructions the day before the first matches. Our focus has been to let the play go. It's easy to say but it requires great understanding to decide what's best for the match. It's important these tournaments are not just a one-off [for the officials]."
Pirie is proof of that commitment. She was a referee at last year's UEFA European Women's U17 Championship and got her first taste of the U19 finals as an assistant in 2006. "That was a huge experience – I grew as a referee," she recalled. "The tournament itself has changed. We have our own fitness coach and a physiotherapist the entire time now. The standards of refereeing are a bit higher but I think this is also following the footsteps of women's football. The way they coach referees is better too."
If 2006 provided a big learning experience, Pirie's true watershed moment came in July 2005 when she was appointed as an assistant referee for a UEFA Champions League first qualifying round match between Anorthosis Famagusta FC and FC Dinamo Minsk. "It is something I could never have imagined when I first started refereeing Under-14s on a Sunday morning, a freezing cold, wet day. Suddenly I am going all over Europe, meeting the likes of Bo Karlsson and Pierluigi Colina. It has been a fantastic experience.
"You have to have huge appreciation and admiration for these guys who have done everything and are now passing on their knowledge. You soak up as much information as you can."
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