Hello from me, Dermot Gallagher, and welcome to this week’s blog. Let me begin by thanking you for such positive feedback regarding my South African sojourn last week – I am most grateful.
This week I’ve been asked to list the top five matches I would have liked to have refereed and why. It’s a task I’ve undertaken with great thought and illustrates moments encapsulating my career and the massive emotion football generates within me.
Let’s see if it’s even possible to arrive at five – here goes.
Number 5 – Barcelona v Real Madrid at The Nou Camp.
El Classico. The meeting of the top two supported and most famous teams in Spain. Added to that millions upon millions of followers worldwide.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Catalan city many times. A vibrant, passionate city adorned with the famous colours wherever you look. A city with a history of the most famous players – right up to Lionel Messi today.
I was even luckier to officiate there in the Champions League. They beat Porto 4-2 in front of 90,000 spectators. It was an incredible match and even more incredible experience.
The thought of being at the top of the tunnel and looking down the two lines of Spain’s fiercest rivals about to do battle is something to savour.
Knowing all the greats that had made that short trip to the pitch in the past is almost daunting – Cruyff, Kluivert, Figo, both Ronaldos – what acts to follow.
Number 4 – Euro ’96 final, Germany v Czech Republic, Wembley Stadium,
June 30, 1996 I entered this tournament on the back of the Champions League quarter and semi-final as well as The Brazilian and English FA Cup finals.
It was a competition I was so eager to get underway and after the first few group days my day dawned. I was the referee for France v Bulgaria at St James’ Park, Newcastle.
I felt great. I’d prepared properly and kicked the group game off at 4.30. It was fast, frenetic and flowing. I covered the ground easily and I felt comfortable.
How quickly that can all change. Jogging back towards the halfway line, after giving a goal kick, my left calf lost all feeling. I looked down horrified and attempted to regain power. Nothing! I’d ruptured my left Achilles, my tournament was over. To replace it I’d an 11 month rehab period ahead of me.
I watched the rest of the tournament with my foot in plaster to just below my knee and the prospect of the next six months on crutches.
Semi-final day arrived and England met Germany at Wembley. Shearer’s 3rd minute goal was cancelled out by Oliver Bierhoff. The game ended 1-1 and went to a penalty shoot out.
Gareth Southgate’s miss would see Germany triumph 6-5 and meet the Czech Republic in the final who had, ironically won their semi 6-5 on pens, eliminating France.
Oh, how I wished Gazza had managed to connect with Shearer’s last minute cross.
With England through I would have known I was ruled out of the final. Watching Germany’s golden goal win over Czech Republic will always make me wonder, what if?
Number 3 – Celtic v Rangers
Probably the biggest Club rivalry in the world both on and off the pitch.
I’ve been privileged to have been a spectator at both venues. It’s an intensity you can’t describe. Players, coaches and spectators alike get sucked into a match like no other. Like the River Clyde, it literally divides the City and means everything to those involved.
It wouldn’t matter which era the match would take place as the game would never lose importance. Glancing back there were the Jock Stein 1966-74 nine-in-a-row days emulated by Walter Smith’s charges in 1997 which started in 1989.
Like El Classico, the list of greats is a tapestry of talent; The Lisbon Lions, Larsson, Scott Brown (currently a nine-in-a-row Champion) across the city from McCoist, Laudrup or Gascoigne.
Who wouldn’t want to look back on their refereeing career and wonder what a game that would be to control? Not me for sure.
Number 2 – France v Ireland, Stade de France, November 18, 2009
Four days earlier Nicolas Anelka had given France a 1-0 win in Dublin. It was the first leg of the World Cup 2010 play off and meant Ireland had to win in Paris.
Robbie Keane’s goal saw Ireland do exactly that and the match went to extra time.
A ball was played over the Ireland defence and at the back post Henry controlled the ball before crossing for Gallas to head the winner and Ireland out of the World Cup.
I say controlled, surely handball. Replays show the ball strikes Henry’s hand and he then moves it on again by hand before crossing.
It was almost like history repeating itself. Shay Given gave chase towards the referee with his arm up simulating the fact he’d seen Henry handle the ball. A decision the referee didn’t appear to agree and after a lengthy stoppage the goal stood.
History you may ask. Yes, now I know how millions of England fans felt in June 1986 when Maradona handled past Peter Shilton and sent them away from the Azteca Stadium with dreams in tatters.
I was in an hotel room in Kuala Lumpar. I watched Shay in amazement. He was convinced. Just as Shilton was 23 years prior. They both pursued the referee, they both held their arms in the air simulating handball, they both saw their road in the World Cup terminated.
Yes, I’d have liked to have refereed that night in Paris. Yes, I’d have liked to have possibly seen the incident and yes, history does repeat itself. Ask the two goalkeepers!
Number 1 – the first match back in the Premier League
Without doubt we are living in strange times and not just football, but everything is on hold. It’s a very serious situation but one we are all having to deal with and take guidance from the scientists and experts.
That said, only when it’s possible, and guaranteed safe will football return.
I think when it does, in whatever guise, whether it be behind closed doors, at neutral venues or at staggered start times it will be a massive fillip to millions of fans throughout the country.
I have missed football so much throughout the last eight weeks – I’m sure I’m far from being alone. I eagerly await the day it’s safe to play again.
To that end, yes, I truly would want to be at the head of the two teams about to bring football back to the millions.
I hope, and pray, that day dawns soon. I know it won’t be me there but in my heart it will be.
Next week I’ll be answering your own questions both Law and some of my own incidents. In between, have a great week.
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