Saturday 10 August 2013
The new Barclays Premier League season begins on 17 August and over the summer clubs up and down the country have been working hard on fitness, tactics and formations to make sure they are fully prepared for the big kick-off.
But the players are not the only ones who have been busy training. The same effort and dedication is being employed by the match officials who will take charge of the 380 matches during the season.
We spoke with Professional Game Match Officials Limited referee Howard Webb, one of the most respected officials in the game, about how he gears up for the campaign ahead.
"The Premier League brings pressure, it’s an enjoyable pressure but it's a pressure nonetheless. It's an important product that we are involved in; it's worldwide, there’s scrutiny for everybody involved including us, so by the end of the season you are ready for a rest both mentally and physically. But soon enough you start to think, 'I can’t wait for next season again.'
"The off period is the same for us as it is for the players; you rest your legs, rest your mind and get away from football. You recharge the batteries so that you are ready to get back into some basic training that puts that foundation in place which is going to see you through for the rest of the season.
"We have some fantastic support behind the scenes. It’s very similar to what players at a Premier League club would have. We have full-time sports scientists who work with us and one of their key roles is to set us our weekly individual plans throughout the year. The plans are based on our commitments for that particular period of time, such as whether you are refereeing on a Saturday or a Monday or whether you have away UEFA Champions League or FIFA World Cup matches in the week.
"The difference with the pre-season plan is that it is the same for everybody because we are all doing the same thing, there are no matches and there is no travelling.
'We have quite a long pre-season programme which begins at the start of June after a three-week rest period.
"You wouldn’t just rock up on the first match day having done no training all summer. It’s important that we get this foundation work done. It is not so intensive at the beginning. It tends to be lower-speed stuff, so it might be a run for 30 minutes at 75% - it’s a really steady jog. The first week back we would do three sessions of that sort of work.
"The idea is to reintroduce training and build up the basic fitness level. Not that much would have been lost in the rest period but these sessions are just to get you back into it.
"The number of sessions over the 10-week training plan will increase as will the intensity of those sessions. For example, instead of just running for half an hour at 75%, you will run for three minutes at 90% with two minutes off and you will do that times four. Then you will something called an outback run where you run out for 10 minutes at a certain pace and then you have to run back the same distance and cover it in eight minutes. There are lots of variants.
"They mix it up. It has to keep you interested. If you just did the same thing, every single week, your body would plateau, you wouldn’t get the training stimulus because your body is used to what you are doing. And also you can become mentally fatigued, you get bored of it. One of the arts of the sports scientist or any fitness coach is to keep the stimulus because when you are doing so much training you need it to be interesting.
"We are on our own for most of the summer but we do meet up for a week when we train together, probably twice a day, taking part in sessions similar to what we have been doing individually. It normally incorporates a fitness test at the end of that time. We use a variation of the bleep test called the yo-yo test. It’s a bleep test but with a recovery loop walk, which has to be completed in a certain time period, before you go again.
"The emphasis of the week is fitness but we will take advantage of the fact that we are all there together, to look at issues from last season, the season ahead and the messages that are going to be given to the clubs when we visit them before the start of the season or in early season. We will watch a video compilation of situations and topics and talk about them as a group before those club visits.
"After all the work that has been done over the summer, we are ready for the start of the season. The first match is always a special place to be. When you look at the teams that have been promoted, to be in the Barclays Premier League for them is exciting and they are exciting games for us to be involved in as well.
"There are 18 of us in the Select Group and there are only 10 of us who can referee a match so some of us will miss out. You want to be at that first day so any of the 10 games on that first weekend will be nice."