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Referees working hard at Futsal EURO

English referee Mark Birkett tells UEFA.com about the hectic but rewarding life of UEFA Futsal EURO officials while Pedro Galán Nieto explains an innovation for these 2014 finals.

Mark Birkett (second right) and his fellow officials lead out Russia and the Netherlands for the opening game
Mark Birkett (second right) and his fellow officials lead out Russia and the Netherlands for the opening game ©Sportsfile

The first week of UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 in Antwerp has been hectic for everyone involved – not least the referees.

"I've been very busy in this championship; up to Sunday I'll have had five games [in six days]," English official Marc Birkett told UEFA.com. "I've had one day off since arriving, so it has been quite demanding. Physically for the games but mentally to get yourself up to whistle the games then drop yourself down a bit to be third referee on the table, but then all those roles and responsibilities change. So to move between the roles without having a day to switch off in between has been quite challenging but equally enjoyable."

Birkett is one of 16 referees from as many nations at this tournament, overseen by four instructors, themselves former top international officials. "The tournament so far has been a really good experience," said Birkett, who also refereed at UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 in Croatia and officiated at the FIFA Futsal World Cup final in Bangkok later that year. "We've had some very good games, some very challenging games. The organisation has been very good, the halls are spectacular and the show UEFA has been putting on for us has been brilliant."

Staying together on a floor at the tournament hotel, Birkett says of the referees' set-up: "To be in a camp is good because we are bouncing off each other all the time. We have the opportunity to relax with our colleagues and the chance to talk about the games, but also talk about other things as well. To get to know our colleagues a little bit more as people.

"What they try to do here with the training programmes and technical meeting, we're engaged as a group from first thing in the morning all the way through the day, including the games. Our training's been specially designed for us as futsal referees to maximise our efforts in the game. Not just physical preparation but mental preparation as well, which has most definitely helped us, leading into hopefully being more successful on the pitch."

An innovation in Antwerp has been pre-tournament meetings between the referee instructors and the teams, something common in UEFA football tournaments in recent years but a first for futsal. Instructor Pedro Galán Nieto of Spain explained: "We wanted them to know that in November UEFA organised a course with these referees in Belgium just to unify the criteria or the futsal laws. And the same instructions we gave to the referees, we gave to the teams."

Birkett added: "That definitely helps and helps build relationships between the refereeing family and the playing family. Futsal is more of a family anyway and we are all here to learn off each other to take the game to where we want it to go."