European Ref – A Week In The Life
4 days, 15 ties, 33 matches, 1942 points scored.
My trip to this year’s European Team Championships held in Helsinki during the last week of April could be summarised in the above sentence – and yet the reality is always much more than just the bare facts and figures that the paper trail leaves behind.
The annual overdose of squash that is the Euro’s is a huge event – for many of those taking part it is the highlight of their year (if not their career) and it also comes at the end of a long and often arduous season – and I’m just talking about the referees here!
But seriously, it is an intense 4 days of squash for all those concerned. The players are representing their countries and fighting hard for every point as finishing positions are often crucial for national funding, never mind pride. On top of that, the event is used as the only regular assessment tool for referees to be put under the spotlight and our performances monitored – as if the players didn’t put enough pressure on us already!
I have now been a part of 8 European Team Championships along with 2 Mens World Teams, 2 Individual World Juniors, 3 European Individual Championships and many PSA and national competitions and I still get those butterflies in my stomach at the start of each match. It’s like Forrest Gump’s momma’s box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. But what you can gurantee is that over the course of the 4 days you are going to see copious amounts of sweat, possibly some blood and more than likely a tear or two.
You are also going to see players push themselves to their very limits and sometimes beyond as they find that extra something that only seems to come to the surface when they are playing under their national flag. This year, two of the matches I reffed stood out for me as being examples of all that is good about squash – and this particular tournament:
In the mens division 1 playoff group, the local hero Olli Tuominen, ranked 48 in the world and 38 years old was playing against Nicolas Mueller (rank 34, age 28). Nicolas went 2 games up – but the veteran was not going down without a fight and only after 64 minutes of gruelling squash did the Swiss player come out the winner in the fifth.
In the ladies division 2 playoffs, Tinne Gilis from Belgium was playing Zuzana Kubanova from the Czech Republic. Tinne is 75 in the world at 19 yrs old – 35 places ahead of her opponent and 14 years younger – and yet, after 70 minutes of thrilling squash and great athleticism it was the elder Czech who emerged victorious.
Both these matches were significant as they were at a crucial time in the tournament and final placings and possible relegation to lower divisions were at stake – and yet, despite the pressure on the players and the extremely competitive nature of the games, there were only 11 decisions in the ladies and 10 in the mens! I felt privileged to have been there to witness them up close – never mind be a part of the action.
Along with all the squash, there is a major social aspect to the Euro’s. For many of the amateur players involved it is often the only time they get to see many of their counterparts. As a referee, it is a chance for me to meet up again with other refs from around Europe who I may have worked with before – and also to make new friends and acquaintances. It is definitely hard work – the days are long, tiring and frequently stressful – but we get to see some of the best players in the world in one of the largest squash tournaments in the world – I wouldn’t miss it!