I was reminded of my own experiences when reading that all the referees selected for this summer’s World Cup had been gathered together out in the middle east for what I can only imagine being something to do with the weather being better than it would currently be in Russia.

I was lucky enough to go through something similar twice, and just to help set the scene for those younger readers among you, the 1998 edition was the first to feature 32 instead of 24 participants. The following one, in 2002, was the first and last World Cup to be shared between two hosts, but I promise you neither were in black and white… it wasn’t that long ago! Both came along at the time when the ‘other’ Ronaldo, the one from Brazil, was dominating the world stage and scoring freely.

Unlike the recent get-together in Qatar, ours were held in the same countries, and the same hotels, as were scheduled to be used for the actual event. In those days you did not know in advance exactly who your team, or ‘crew’ would be composed of, either, as they do now, and while English was obviously a mandatory FIFA language, so, too, was Spanish, and this led to the European group being divided along northern European and Hispanic lines.

Kim Milton Nielsen

While the British representatives in France ’98 were Paul Durkin and Hugh Dallas, and I well remember Ireland’s Eddie Foley being a part of our group, Graham Poll came in for Paul four years later and Phil Sharp joined us as an assistant, as did Jens Larsen from Denmark.

We started in Korea before convening in Tokyo, much as we did by the end of the finals themselves, although I remember Urs Meier having to catch up with us later because of his appointment at the Seoul semi between South Korea and Germany.

At these camps held ahead of the tournament, both of which were held in March as I recall, there would be every kind of medical test as well as the kind of rigorous fitness checks you would expect. Naturally we all shared the fear that, having come so far in being rewarded with our selection, things could all fall apart at the last minute by falling at some random hurdle or other. Bear in mind the time differences and jet lag as we all sat down for written tests in a foreign language and you will understand that the shared anxiety was high.

It wasn’t all homework, of course, and I remember buying my first digital camera on that Japan trip at Easter. Not only were they a good nine months ahead of what was available at home, the actual cost turned out to be around a third of the Danish retail prices, too.

When it came to the tournament itself we would wind up those less technically minded by telling them not to forget to buy film for their new purchases, even though film was not required!

While we made firm friends and promised to stay in touch, our competitive natures probably made sure that rarely happened. However, while we were actually together, for up to five weeks in some cases, I can vouch for the fact that we had each other’s backs.

We all felt as badly for Graham after his problem which led to his leaving early in 2002. There was a genuine feeling of all for one and one for all, and that every success and failure was shared by the group. You might recall how Jens contributed to Graham’s unhappy time in charge of Italy versus Croatia, for which he was cut from the group, and we really were all sad to see him go.

Until next time, vi ses, or see you later.


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