"I'm still trying to gather my emotions," said Esther Staubli as she spoke to UEFA.com about being chosen to referee Sunday's UEFA Women's EURO final, and her journey to the top.
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Sunday's UEFA Women's EURO 2017 final is set to be a special occasion for the players from both teams, but it will be no less memorable for Esther Staubli. Appointed to referee the decider between hosts the Netherlands and Denmark in Enschede, the 37-year-old Swiss official, who comes from Berne, is savouring the opportunity.
With the big kick-off approaching, she sat down with UEFA.com to share a little glimpse into the life of a tournament referee and her journey to the top of her profession.
UEFA.com: Congratulations on being selected to referee the UEFA Women's EURO final. How proud does it make you feel?
Esther Staubli: It's really amazing. I remember saying it was an honour when I had the [2015 UEFA Women's] Champions League final, and it's another big honour to have this final. It's a little bit of payback for all the efforts put in year after year, all the training. I'm still trying to gather my emotions, but they're not there yet. They'll come when I fly back home on Monday.
Can you describe a day in the life of a referee at UEFA Women's EURO 2017?
After breakfast, we go to training for two hours: we have a physical session and a practical session with balls. Volunteers pretend they are football players. In the afternoon, we sometimes have debriefings, but mostly massages and a little time to relax. On matchdays, you wait for the game in the evening. I personally always go for a two-hour nap before the match; that's very important to me.
How old were you when you took up refereeing?
I was 21. I was a football player in the top women's division in Switzerland, but I knew my skills wouldn't be enough for the Swiss national team. So I was looking for a new challenge in football, because football is really my passion. I found a solution: I became a referee. And I get pleasure from it. For me, every match is a new challenge.
Do you referee for a living?
No. In Switzerland, it's not possible to live from refereeing. I'm a teacher in an agricultural school. I teach 16 to 20-year-olds how to milk cows and feed pigs.
Have you ever been injured and how do you avoid injuries?
In my first big tournament, in Germany in 2011 [for the FIFA Women's World Cup], I had a stress fracture. I had to go home after one week, and was out for six weeks. I probably got injured in the lead-up to the tournament because I was training too much. That was one of my hardest times in refereeing. I had to learn to train in a different way, to do recovery training, or do spinning, cycling – not always running. I try to mix up different sports and not just run.
It's not just about the injury. When you go home after one week in your first tournament, you've reached the bottom and you need to get up again. But it makes you stronger. Mentally, to find the focus again was hard. You have to tell yourself: "I want to do this effort again."
How will you prepare for the final?
We're lucky in this tournament because, for the first time, we have a match analyst who gives us clips and very good input about how the teams play, how they organise their set pieces, corner variations and counter-attacks. That helps a lot in our preparation. It also helps to organise our priorities as a refereeing team and our positioning, so that we're aware of situations.
How important is player management in a game?
It's one of the skills that referees need to have. You also have to have a good football understanding: fouls, tactics, potential issues, etc. But you have to manage players in a game if something happens. You need to talk if it's necessary, just like the players, and you have to find the right moment when it becomes necessary to speak.
What goes through your mind when you line up before a final?
Not a lot. I try to keep my concentration, but standing for the national anthems is emotional. I try to enjoy that moment.
What does the word 'respect' mean to you?
I always try to treat people the way I want to be treated. For me, that's respect.
Do you have a message to any girls who might like to become referees?
I would recommend taking up refereeing to any girl. It's one of the greatest educations: to handle people is the most interesting thing, and if you like football, you get to be involved in a very interesting sport. The positives vastly outweigh any occasional negatives.