Diary of a Socca Ref. Jorg Oppers



Jorg Oppers from The Netherlands

When Martin invited me in January 2019 to officiate at the Socca World Cup I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I did some intense research about Socca as I wanted to be fully prepared for the task ahead. I started watching hours of footage of the World Cup in Lisbon and I got very excited after seeing the professionalism and the standard of the players.

I have been great friends with Martin, Head of Refereeing for the ISF, for over 20 years and he was already aware of my abilities as a 11 aside ref. We had met in America at a Tournament called The USA Cup and stayed friends ever since. It was great to have a photo again together and as you can see we haven’t changed much in 20 years !!!!

20 years of friendship

He told me that a lot of the skills we have in the 11 a side game were transferable to Socca and I would also fit in due to me speaking English, German, French and a little Spanish. I always have a positive outlook on life and he said this is also very important to the group.

All referees were added to the ISF World Cup Referees app group were we first digitally met up. This was also ideal for exchanging questions and for Martin to send instructions to us either written or via video.

Together with Ronnie, my Dutch Colleague, we flew from Eindhoven to Crete on Friday October 11th. Everything was organized very professionally as we were picked up from the airport and brought to our hotel were we met with some of the Teams who were playing in the World Cup. We soon got to meet our fellow referees from all over the globe as we had our instructional meeting at the fantastic pop-up stadium at the beach. There were people were working very hard with the final preparations to get the pitch and stadium prepared for the opening games. It was very impressive.

We simulated different practical refereeing scenarios to get us mentally prepared and used to the surroundings. One of which were the “Socca pens.”

The ISF have introduced a way to decide the result of a game if the game is drawn at full time. It is called “Socca Pens” It’s an idea of the ISF Honorary Vice President Tim Ollerenshaw. Tim’s back ground in Sport is Hockey and Socca Pens are similar to a Hockey Penalty in that you have 10 seconds to score. The ball is placed on the centre spot and you have 10 seconds to score. If you shoot and miss, make a foul, the goal keeper saves it, it goes out of play or a goal Scored, the Socca pen is complete.

We set up the Socca Pens and the Egyptian Team turned up to look at the pitch so we asked their goal keeper to go in goal. A few of the refs took the Socca Pens against him and we all had a great laugh. It was a great way to bond the team of Refs and to learn what could go wrong. We also agreed to put refs on the goal line and one ref ran with play, interestingly we also had a ref who was time keeper on the pitch but faced away from the goal so they could not see the action. This would then take away any suggestion that the ref could be influenced by what was happened on the pitch before he blew for 10 seconds. We also ensured the head set coms kit was not on the refereeing time keeper for the same reason. It worked really well as a practice session and we were all confident in how to apply this rule.

later on in the Tournament I had the Socca Pen rule in my playoff game between France and  Slovenia. Being so well prepared we knew what to do and it was executed perfectly.

I knew beforehand that we were privileged to have Mark Clattenburg and Bobby Madley as part of the ISF team, both ex Premier League and FIFA referees there are both very nice people.

Mark was there for the first few days but Bobby was there for the whole tournament and proved to be a brilliant mentor/coach during the week and provided us with guidance and tips that really helped us as a team. He helped me immensely during the 10 days and I will always be grateful for his support and friendship.

Me, Bobby and Clatts

The opening ceremony was something special and made you feel proud to be part of this event. All referees sat together in the stadium. We were lucky enough to have been sponsored by Umbro and all our playing kit and off field clothing was supplied free of charge. We also had a free watch from Limit watches who are a very well-known watch maker in England and have been making watches since 1912. We also had free Nike Astro foot wear so we were very well supported by the ISF. Sitting in the stadium with all our sponsored clothing made us feel and look very professional and lots of fans wanted selfies with us. It really was an incredible occasion.

A great shot from the opening ceremony

The first game took a little getting used to but I have to say within minutes it felt very comfortable. Not in the least because of the communication headsets (sponsored by AXIWI) which we used to communicate with each other. This is very important for the communication of the team as you must know who covers which area during the game. We also could stay in to contact with the 3rd and 4th official. This helped greatly in making decisions as we had input from all of the team.

Genuinely I was very surprised by the standard of play. Not knowing what to expect my 2nd game was England vs Argentina and I could see that the England squad had played together before. Hearing them sing their anthem and seeing the nerves and focus on their faces showed me how much it meant to them to play and win in this tournament. This ensured that I wanted to be 100% focused on not making mistakes. England won the game 2-0 and I felt that me and my Slovenian colleague Aleš had a good game. I was happy to have been paired up with Aleš as he is, besides a very friendly guy, a very experienced Socca referee who also was at the first World Cup and speaks perfect English and German so commutating over the head sets with him was easy.

Now England vs Argentina was one the highlights the other one was the game between Greece and Egypt. The ground was packed with 3000 spectators and many others out in the street. The atmosphere was buzzing and the adrenaline was pumping through my veins. Greece scored twice but a very strong and technical Egyptian side equalized in the last minute. But what a great game that was under great circumstances. There was a “controversial” moment when an Egyptian player received a second yellow card for simulation. I am happy after seeing the replay that the decision was correct but I did understand their frustration. The excellent Egyptian team came back to draw 2-2 and it was a great game of Socca. I must admit we met the player who received as second Yellow a few day later in a Café and he was very friendly and we had a picture together. The Egyptians were a very popular team and everyone loved them.

My Egyptian Friend Abdallah Ahmed Hafez  who received a second yellow card in the Greece v Egypt game. A really nice man who I respect a lot.

The rest of the week was hard work with 3-4 games a day and I can not explain the mental stress this brings along. But we also had time for camaraderie and had support as a team as we got together at the end of the day for some beverages at one of the local pubs called Gorgona. This was great as we got the chance to exchange experiences and discuss situations, teams and tactics. It was also vital to have the opportunity to de-stress and just have a couple of laughs with each other.

It was good to see that Martin also joined us at the end of his hard working days. He was always first at the stadium and last to leave. The amount of work he put in this tournament to make sure everyone was fine was impressive. I noticed that not only was he looking after us but he was also answering questions from teams to spectators to players to staff to management. He also had meeting with managers of some of the teams as the tournament went on discussing certain situations that happened in games. I later found out that he also had to do discipline reports for some games that he could only do when he got back to his hotel room. He always had a smile on his face and was upbeat, as I knew him as a friend, I could tell he had a lot to deal with.

At the end of the week the big games came and everyone was excited to find out which game we got appointed to. I was very happy to find out I was part of the team of officials for the final. This was a great honor. The final was the perfect commercial for Socca as it was a great game, high tempo, five goals and no cards. All in all the perfect ending of a great week.

Before the ISF Socca World Cup Final

I can say I looking back at the highlight of my refereeing career and am thankful to the organizers for letting me be a part of it. Not just because of the games and the atmosphere but also because I have made new friends.

I hope to see many of them at the next World Cup but until then I hope every one is safe and well, wherever you are in the World  #Spirit

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