Ben Wilson, Football - World Cup 'buzz' for Aussie official

Soccer game in action
Author:  Cathy Reid
Issue: Volume 6 Number 1

Walking onto the pitch of a packed stadium in front of 60,000 boisterous fans during one of the world’s biggest sporting events — the 2006 FIFA World Cup — was the pinnacle of a 15-year journey for Australia’s assistant referee Ben Wilson.

‘It was such a buzz. The crowd was loud and colourful and everyone was enjoying themselves. I was living a dream … a dream I’d had since I was 15,’ Wilson said, with his feet now firmly back on the ground in Australia.

‘It was a great experience and a goal I’d set myself many years ago, so to finally get there and be part of such an amazing event was everything I could’ve hoped for.’

Canberra-based, Wilson was selected by FIFA to officiate at the World Cup in a team of three, alongside Brisbane referee Mark Shield and Taree assistant referee Nathan Gibson.

‘Officiating at an international level is all about team work, and FIFA has a concept of refereeing trios where the same three people always referee together.

‘The referee is the captain of the team and takes responsibility for overall performance.

‘The team concept was most evident for the fitness test all officials took before the competition.  If one member of the refereeing team had failed the fitness test, all three members of the team would have been sent home!’

Wilson believes the team approach is a good one.

‘There are also many benefits from working with the same guys so regularly.  We know what to expect from each member of our team.  This helps when there are crucial decisions to be made because we know that we've been in those situations before and have come through them in a strong and positive way.’

Getting to the World Cup was something Wilson had been working towards since he was identified as a teenager and fast-tracked through Australia’s Talent Acceleration Program.

He decided to concentrate on being an assistant referee, who runs the sidelines and rules on whether the ball is in and out of play and offside, rather than being the man out the middle.

‘For starters there is only one referee and two assistant referees on each match, so there’s double the chance of being selected.’

During his stellar rise Wilson has officiated during many internationals including the 2004 Olympic qualifiers in New Zealand, the 2005 Under 17 World Championships in Peru, the 2005 World Youth Championships in the Netherlands and the 2005/06 Hyundai A-League Grand Final.

It has meant a lot of time away from his wife Sam and two-year-old son Joshua.

‘My family has been extremely supportive and understanding as I've pursued my World Cup dream. The people closest to me are the ones who know how much hard work I've put in over so many years.

‘Once I was selected for the World Cup, my parents booked themselves tickets to Germany.  My parents were able to come and watch both matches live at the ground.  I think they were very proud parents.

‘However, it’s extremely hard being away from home for long periods of time, in terms of both family and work commitments.’

‘I am lucky that my employer, Airservices Australia, has been extremely supportive.  In the last 12 months I’ve requested an extraordinary amount of leave for refereeing and they have approved it every time.’

In Germany, the Australians officiated at two matches — Iran v Angola and Saudi Arabia v Tunisia.

‘When we walked out onto the field during the warm up we all took a moment to soak up the atmosphere.  But then we had to focus and think about the job we were there to do.

‘It wasn’t as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be.  All the years of training and lead-up work kicks-in and you just get down to business.’

Wilson is satisfied they did a good job and there were no controversies during their matches.

‘There were always some nerves walking in for the daily debriefing after our matches.  But there were no major dramas with our performances in our matches and we were happy with the feedback we received.

‘I learnt a lot of general things from the World Cup, watching so many of the world's best referees in such an intense environment.  They all handle themselves so professionally, on and off the field.

‘I've had exposure to large crowds and performing under pressure before, but the World Cup was a few more notches above my previous experience.  I also learnt that opportunity and experience comes with age and that this World Cup will stand me in good stead if I am selected again in 2010.

‘I think undoubtedly I am a better official for the experience.  The level of instruction and coaching was first class and you can't help but get better when you are training every day in that environment.  I think it gave me a taste of what being a professional referee would be like.’

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