A season of achievement reaches a satisfying climax for Anthony Taylor on Wednesday when he referees the UEFA Europa League final between Sevilla and Roma in Budapest.
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Since the start of the 2022/23 campaign, there has been much to savour in refereeing terms for the 44-year-old English match official from Altrincham in the north-western metropolitan county of Greater Manchester. He was a member of the FIFA World Cup team in Qatar in November and December, and also officiated at the 2022 FIFA Club World Cup final in Morocco in February.
These follow previous major European assignments as a referee for UEFA: The UEFA Super Cup match between Bayern Munich and Sevilla – also in Budapest – in 2020 and the 2021 UEFA Nations League final between France and Spain in Milan. Two years ago, he was part of the referee team for the UEFA EURO 2020 tournament; in the less recent past, he was also an additional assistant referee (AAR) for the 2014 Super Cup match, 2015 UEFA Europa League final and the UEFA EURO and UEFA Champions League finals in 2016.
Add Taylor’s regular appointments at the summit of the English domestic game, and it is crystal clear why the former prison officer is enjoying a fulfilling journey as one of the leading referees on this continent and beyond.
Dedication and focus
Another huge occasion awaits Taylor and his team in the Hungarian capital’s Puskás Aréna on Wednesday. He is approaching the event with the same dedication and professional attitude that has marked his refereeing career since he was encouraged as a teenager to stop criticising referees as a spectator and to try doing the job himself.
“My mother told me to give refereeing a go because she was tired of hearing me complaining about the referee when I was watching my local [current English National League] team Altrincham FC,” the father of two daughters reflects. A course was booked, and that timely advice set Taylor on a challenging pathway through local football and the English non-league set-up – a road that would pave the way for duty as an English Football League referee (2006-10) and lead to his promotion to the English Premier League elite in 2010. He then gained his international badge in 2013 to open the door to assignments in Europe and beyond.
Taylor will be accompanied in Budapest by a team composed mainly of English match officials – starting with assistant referees Gary Beswick and Adam Nunn, fourth official Michael Oliver and reserve assistant referee Stuart Burt. Fellow Englishmen Stuart Attwell and Christopher Kavanagh have been assigned video assistant referee (VAR) duties together with Bastian Dankert (Germany).
“I’m pleased that I’ll be working with a lot of English colleagues at the final,” Taylor reflects. “We all know each other extremely well. Gary and Adam have been long-time assistants with me, and we’re happy that we’ve fulfilled a lot of common targets together this season. We want to demonstrate real leadership qualities to the rest of the referees in England to show what you can achieve through hard work and commitment.”
“Humility, honesty and mental resilience” – three characteristics that Taylor identifies as keys to success for a top referee, in addition to the priceless ability to manage people. “You’ve got to remember that in dealing with teams, players and coaches, we’re operating in a people-oriented environment,” he explains.
“You need to understand players’ characteristics, how they behave and what triggers their emotions. You can speak to one player in a way that won’t work with another player. This means that a lot of my focus as a referee is about studying individual players and their characters, especially in pressure situations.”
Mental strength a ‘must’
“People must also understand the mental toughness that a referee requires. At the top level, there are pressures and expectations, you’re under scrutiny and you’re taking important decisions. It’s not always possible to give a 100%-perfect performance. Sometimes you’re unhappy with yourself, and it’s vital that you’re able to cope.”
“Referees now put a lot of emphasis on how they approach the mental side of the job. Some of us can fall back on our earlier professional experiences – my job was very important in this respect. Otherwise, there is a lot of psychological help and support given to us nowadays, which certainly stands referees in good stead.”
A distinguished career at the top of his trade does not mean that Taylor and his refereeing team have run out of objectives to set for the future. “Yes, there are still goals to achieve,” he explains. “There’s no reason for us not to believe that we can reach new targets.”
‘Ready and switched on’
The first immediate aim is to be totally prepared for one of European club football’s biggest occasions in Budapest this week. “You gradually build up your full concentration after arriving at the stadium and as the match approaches,” Taylor says.
“You often get the case in a big match such as a final that something will happen in the first couple of minutes, so you need to ready and switched on, and be able to set markers and lines so that the teams know what is expected of them and what is acceptable or not.”.
Anthony Taylor has come a long way since he was a self-confessed ‘moaner’ about referees as a teenage fan on the terraces. He will have a great deal to look back on and cherish when he finally calls it a day as a referee – and he agrees with the viewpoint that being a referee can help people develop in every walk of life.
“There’s no better example of this than when you take a young grassroots referee at the age of 15 or 16 and observe their development over the next couple of years,” he explains. “You see their confidence levels increase at home, or at school or college. They become much more comfortable about taking decisions.”
“You learn about commitment, and how to set and work towards goals. Being a referee can greatly enhance people’s overall life skills – I think there’s no doubt about that…”