UEFA Super Cup referee Anthony Taylor discusses his route to the top ahead of Thursday's showdown in Budapest.
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Referees become referees for a variety of different reasons – in UEFA Super Cup referee Anthony Taylor’s case, it was a few succinct words of close family advice that set him on his way to an outstanding career among the refereeing elite.
The 41-year-old married father of two from the north-western English county of Cheshire is relishing his latest assignment – Thursday’s UEFA Super Cup match between Bayern München and Sevilla in Budapest – and remembers that, as a young football fan on the terraces, referees were not always necessarily at the top of his Christmas card list.
“I used to watch my local team as a youngster, and I’d come home from matches always complaining about the referee,” he says. “My mother basically told me to give refereeing a try…or shut up! I went to a local course, and it all started from there…”
With the Super Cup encounter, Taylor, a prison officer by profession, continues a distinguished set of major appointments at UEFA level, having previously officiated as an additional assistant referee in the 2014 Super Cup, 2015 UEFA Europa League final and the UEFA EURO and UEFA Champions’ League finals in 2016.
“Surprise and delight”
“I felt a mixture of surprise and delight when [UEFA Referees’ Committee chairman] Roberto Rosetti called to tell me that I’d got the Super Cup match appointment,” he reflects. Above all, however, Taylor considers the call-up as recognition for the entire refereeing team that will take the field at the Puskás Aréna on Thursday.
He will be accompanied by fellow Englishmen, assistant referees Gary Beswick and Adam Nunn, and video assistant referees Stuart Atwell and Paul Tierney, with Israel’s Orel Grinfeeld completing the team as fourth official. “It’s a reward for the preparation, dedication and hard work that we’ve all put in over a long period,” he says. “This appointment is not just about me – I wouldn’t be able to do my job properly without the team.”
Taylor’s rise through the refereeing ranks, starting in adult football as a teenager, saw him promoted to the English Football League list in 2006, followed by his first English Premier League outing in 2010. The FIFA international badge arrived in 2013. He has taken charge of two English FA Cup finals – the first match official to do so since the start of the last century. “You take every move upwards as a challenge, because each time is really a major step,” he explains. “There’s a lot of people I have to thank for helping me on the way.”
One of these is another Cheshire referee of note, Joe Worrall, who enjoyed a splendid domestic and international career, including the 1992 UEFA Cup final first leg between Torino and Ajax. “Joe regularly gets in touch after matches,” says Taylor. “As a former Premier League and international referee, he has great understanding of what it means to be an elite match official, and it’s humbling that he takes the time to give me advice and encouragement.”
“Be true to yourself”
In addition to the requisite man-management skills, mental strength and supreme fitness that top referees need to prosper in the modern game, Taylor emphasises that honesty and humility are key elements on his refereeing journey. “I think you’ve got to be true to yourself, and accept the highs and lows,” he says. “It’s important to always bear in mind that you’re only as good as your last game – and the real key to it all is constantly striving to get better.”
Thursday in Budapest will be ‘business as usual’ as far as the referee team’s match preparation is concerned. “We’ll have music in the dressing-room, with everyone contributing to the playlist!” says Taylor. “It’s important to create a relaxed atmosphere to get the team in the right frame of mind to produce the best possible performance that we can. Then, full concentration kicks in when we walk out onto the field.”
Away from the action, Taylor savours quality time with his family. “It’s been particularly important in recent times, when football had to take a back seat owing to the COVID pandemic,” he says. “My two teenage daughters have been taking important exams, so it was good that I was free to be able to help them prepare and study, in addition to getting rest and relaxation for the time when football would restart.”
Handling matches without spectators in these COVID times has brought its own special challenges for referees. “It’s been hard for everyone – referees, players and coaches,” Taylor explains. “It’s hard for referees because you can hear everything when a stadium is empty. You can hear every contact, every noise [when players challenge each other or go into tackles], but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re committing a foul! We’ve had to get accustomed to this. It means that you’re changing the dynamic in how you take decisions.”
“The next best thing to playing”
Focus, concentration – and a good deal of adrenalin and anticipation will come to the fore when Anthony Taylor and his close-knit team leave their dressing-room on Thursday. After all, they join millions in loving the game, and they especially enjoy their crucial role.
“Refereeing is the next best thing to playing,” he says. “I’d encourage anyone to give it a go, to understand in particular what it means and what it takes to be a referee. It would be wonderful if you could bottle that feeling when you’re waiting in the tunnel with the players before a big match – it’s something that I’d like everyone to experience...”