Courtesy: The FA.comBirkett leading the way in Europe
by Matt HardyTuesday, 08 May, 2012English Futsal official provides an insight into his fledging refereeing career.
With Futsal still being very early in its development and growth here in England, major success on the international front has been few and far between.
Whilst the England team is improving with each and every game, Peter Sturgess and Michael Skubala have yet to deliver major finals qualification, though England inch closer with every passing year.
However, when the Futsal Euros kicked off in Croatia back on 31 January, English eyes were on another man representing his country, a referee called Marc Birkett.
Birkett is widely recognised as one of the biggest success stories of English Futsal’s short history. Having begun refereeing Futsal back in 2004, he quickly rose through the ranks of referees, entering the FIFA list just four years later.
“I first began working with Futsal whilst I was Development Officer at Sheffield FA”, explained the 34-year-old from Derby.
“I’d been working to get the game up and running in the area and we had an Elite League running out of the University of Sheffield.
“I was asked if I could officiate and began as a time-keeper, but quickly made the jump and began whistling on the games.”
Birkett was an active Level Four, 11-a-side official at the time and for a period he juggled refereeing across the two variants of the sport. However, his qualification for the FIFA list in 2008 meant that he had to make a choice. His choice was Futsal.
“Choosing to officiate one form of the game was a pretty big decision for me,” he added.
“It was becoming increasingly difficult to referee both alongside work commitments and my family.
“I was also aware that international appointments don’t come very often and it is important to go into each and every one fully focused.
“Being on the FIFA list is a huge honour for me and it was important that I was focused on the opportunity I had been provided with.
“Switching between Futsal and Football wasn’t giving me the right preparation so in 2010, I made the decision to focus solely on Futsal.
“It has been the best decision of my life.”
When Birkett was chosen to referee at this year’s Futsal European Championship, he stepped in front of a stage that this country has yet to experience. Entrusted with the honour of officiating the opening game of the tournament live on TV, Birkett was refereeing in front of a crowd of almost 9,000 in Split, almost all backing the hosts Croatia.
“The Futsal Euros is an experience that I will never forget," he said.
“I am proud to say I was a part of such a showcase event for the sport and one which shows the size and exposure of the game on the continent.
“The Futsal community, my family and friends were all aware of what a big occasion it was but I think it will probably have gone unnoticed to the wider Footballing world.
“That is the nature of a developing sport. To go from our developing FA National Futsal League into televised games in front of full houses was quite a step.
“It’s a great buzz to be involved in such occasions and one which I will savour.”
His performances in Croatia did not going unnoticed, and after being appointed to the Hungary vs. Serbia World Cup qualifier in March, alongside fellow English FIFA referee Gavin Sartain, Birkett has been appointed to the AFC Futsal Championships in Dubai at the end of May.
“The AFC Championships have come completely out of the blue but I’m honoured to be appointed.”
“I had the fortunate opportunity to be a guest of the AFC back in 2010.
“I came over for their Elite Futsal Referee’s seminar so I will be working alongside friends from that trip and sampling another confederations style of Futsal."
After refereeing at this level, many will believe that Birkett is in the perfect position to assess just how far away the England team and The FA National Futsal League are from competing with the best that Europe and the world have to offer.
“Futsal in England has been steadily growing over the past few years and year-on-year, we are seeing better teams and in turn, better games," he claimed.
“We are very much at a turning point with the growth of the game in England and with everything going on, such as the growth and more professional looking National League, the University programme and a fledging Youth system nationwide, the game can only move forwards.
“It would be great to have a completed competition pyramid within the next five years and hopefully if this does happen, we will see the clubs and the England team benefit considerably.
“It will take the involvement of everyone involved in the sport to push the game forward, but with hard work and the right backing, I fully believe that we can see a professional league at some stage in the future.”
Marc, a number of other officials and the six best Futsal teams in the country will be in action next weekend in the FA National Futsal League Grand Finals at the Sporthouse in Barking.
You can follow Marc’s progress in the AFC Futsal Championships at www.the-afc.com.
Posted by Luca Ranocchiari