Interview: Katarina Milojkovic - The Ref You Can't Mess With

It's always the refs fault. All refs in Europe are horrible. - Well, not quite. And, we have a ref to prove most wrong.

One of the, hands down, best refs in Europe sat down with us and shared her (yes, "it's" a she!) experience on being a ref, on making tough calls and looking back at mistakes. We introduce Katarina Milojkovic.

Baby Steps

Like most stories in football, mine started by accident too. I actually wanted to play football, but, back then - almost a decade ago, there were no teams for women in Serbia. Football fever was just starting in Serbia and region.

It was one of the Novi Sad Dukes founders, Aleksandar Lazarevic, to tell me that I can enter the football world in a different manner - as a referee. It was back in 2005. I really didn't know what to expect, but, I decided I'll take the test. In 2006, I became a referee.

There were 3 women all total at that test, including me. I must add, I had the highest score. Later on that year, I was inducted as the best new referee. Unfortunately, although there was a tremendous support for women refs, the other 2 quit.

But, there I was. The Umpire Ref.

The first game I was scheduled for was Sombor Celtis vs Vrbas Hunters. There were 6 of us "newbies", and 1 experienced ref. I don't even remember the game that well, but all I can remember was that I was nervous because the main refs were there in the crowd.

The Most Hated On Person On The Field

When football was still developing in our region, we had the luck that there was a lot of attention focused on educating the referees. There's quite a number of Serbian refs who were invited to World and European championships, including myself.

During the first couple of years, we had a lot of refs coming in from abroad. We have a great relationship with FIDAF (Italian Federation). Last guest we had was the IFAF's ref committee president.

Now, I can't say that the problem doesn't exist. Just like the game is rapidly developing, refs need to develop their knowledge as well. Right now, the biggest obstacle between us as refs and upgrading our knowledge are the finances. We as refs finance clinics from our pockets. At this point, we put our salaries back in the "piggy bank" to be able to invite more experienced refs and have them host a clinic for us.

Everyone Makes Mistakes

We all make mistakes. Coaches, players, referees. There's only one thing that can be done - learn from the mistakes.

I can point out one of my worst. During the World Championship, I didn't call a Time out when team asked for it. I wasn't even aware of it. Later on, I saw it on footage. Places where we can learn the most are the tournaments, where we have a supervisor who goes over film.

What I do is that I will always watch film and write down my mistakes, so I could correct them and hopefully not repeat them, ever. And, that's the thing - after we're aware we made a mistake - we'll keep thinking about it. We can't just toss these thoughts away. The worst thing that can ever happen to a ref is making a bad call that affects the rest of the game.

We always remind the coaches to send us footage of various situations where they think we didn't do our job right. We'll always analyze it.

In addition to that, one of the worst things that can happen is blowing the whistle for the end of the play, when it's not really the end of the play, as we call it the inadvertent whistle. I remember one of my moments - When Kragujevac Wild Boars played in Poland against Wroclaw. Kragujevac WR was about to make the catch, I blew the whistle marking it as an incomplete pass... And, right after that he caught it and scored a TD.

Dealing With Teams

Sometimes it gets tough. As we all know - it's always the refs fault. Teams need to understand that we want to work with them and move forward. We all need to advance together. Solution is working together. And, most importantly - communication.

Right now, we have great communication and relationship with quite a number of teams and coaches. And I'd love to use this opportunity to invite more teams to participate in discussions. To share their film. Let us analyze it together and work it out. That's how we can all move forward, happily.

We are always there to explain why we made a certain call. Of course, some will approach us with intentions of starting an argue, but, that's where the communication ends. We always stick around after the games so team reps, coaches and even players can approach us and discuss the game with us.

Just recently you guys wrote about our call in the Serbian Playoff game - Novi Sad Dukes vs Kragujevac Wild Boars. "Incomplete Pass or Fumble". That was a very awkward play/situation. First thing we did as refs is that we sent the film to Bill Lemonnier (NCAA) who confirmed we made a good call.

Women In Football

I can freely say I never felt any discrimination towards me for being the "opposite sex". Sometimes, teams do tend to pressure me more than male refs, but, that stops as soon as they realize they can't get into my head.

I had the luck to be one of the refs at Women's World Championship in Vantaa, Finland. Besides TDEU's rep Charles McCrea who was on the sidelines trying to have me lose my focus on the game (laughs), it was a great experience.

There's not a lot of difference between women's and men's tackle football. However, the main difference is that the style of playing is a bit different since women are not as strong as men in this sport. Women still can't throw long passes. I can say that women's games did look like good juniors games.

I do wish that Serbia would organize women's tackle league. However, women's flag just started recently, so I'm sure the next step will be tackle after flag develops enough.

Moving Up The Ladder

I was one of the first 2 women to be the ref at the World Championship.

And, 'the list' began from there:
- Women's World Championship in Sweden, 2010.
- Men's World Championship in Austria, 2011.
- Men's European Championship - C group, in Austria and Switzerland, 2012.
- Women's World Championship in Finland, 2013.

Actually, the World Championship in Austria in 2011 was one of my favorite moments. Championship game, and, me as the umpire ref.

Also, when it comes to matches outside Serbia, I was a ref in Russia, Poland, Hungary, Italy, etc.

Effort and hard work always pays off. When I'm on the field I feel like at home. That moment when you step on the field - it's a completely different world, the feeling is priceless. Clinics and seminars are crucial. However, if one likes to work under pressure, make quick calls, thinks fast - this 'job' is perfect. Especially if you love this sport. And, on top of it all, you get to meet some of the most phenomenal people from all "levels" of football.

Mia Bajin