It’s safe to say my preparations for this season have been far better than last year given I spent twelve weeks hopping around like long John Silver after ankle ligament reconstruction. My season ended on the 13th of May with the final SPL game between St Johnstone and Rangers, and while it would be great to down tools and relax for a few weeks, it’s just not possible.
We have a pre-season fitness test at our summer camp in St Andrews on the 9th of June so it is important we maintain our condition to pass and be eligible for appointments at the beginning of next season. I was given the added incentive to maintain my programme as I was appointed to an important UEFA Under-21 Championship qualification match between Denmark and Macedonia the midweek before St Andrews. I travelled with William Conquer and two trip debutants in Assistant Referee – Graeme Leslie and Fourth Official Paul Robertson.
The importance of staying focussed and fit during the domestic closed season paid dividends in only the third minute when there was difficult foul at the edge of the penalty area and card decision to be made. As a team we arrived at the correct decision and Denmark eased to a 6-1 lead with 65 minutes played. A remarkable change in attitudes from both sets of players allowed Macedonia to fight back to 6-5 and only be denied the draw by the combination of poor finishing and excellent goalkeeping. We were given a thorough work out and we knew we had the delights of the fitness test to endure in just three days time.
Given the quality of support, training plans and guidance we receive from our two dedicated sports specialists Graeme Jones and John McQuade (Jack and Victor) we are always in the best position to present ourselves for training sessions and assessments. We are given weekly pre-season sessions tailored to our individual needs, injury prevention and core stability exercises to ensure we cope with the demands of the modern game and dietary advice to make sure we don’t mince around the park like the Scottish FA’s Head of Referee Development John Fleming did in his hay day!
A quite exceptional 95% passed the fitness test in St Andrews and given the normal allowable amount for injuries and unavailability this was testament to the hard work put in by Graeme and John in the preparation and by all officials who now actively manage their fitness.
After St Andrews, I did manage to take ten days off and went on holiday to relax and do absolutely nothing. While I was away I received an appointment from UEFA to referee FK Vojvodida (Serbia) v FK Sudova (Lithuania) in the 2nd qualification round of the UEFA Europa League on 19th July. So no sooner was I home and sporting my typical west of Scotland sun burnt coupon and I was into a demanding three-week programme to ensure I was in the best possible condition for the match.