I spent last weekend refereeing at the Iberian football championships in Pamplona and whilst it was a very tiring time it was also a very positive experience.

I left a cloudy Monaghan on Friday morning and flew Ryanair to Biarritz in the south of France. I was met at the airport by two members of the Pamplona Naomh Fermin GAA club, Havier a local lad and Lindy, a New Yorker who had been living in Pamplona for the past 11 years. The journey from the airport to Pamplona took about an hour and a half but the time flew as I chatted to my hosts and enjoyed the beautiful mountainous scenery. The countryside was so green – if you had told me we were in Wicklow or Kerry I would have believed you.
When we arrived in Pamplona I was met by the club secretary, Manu (a Basque who had spent some time in Ireland). Manu took me on a tour of Pamplona which really is a beautiful city. I seen the walls built to keep the invading French out many years ago, several beautiful churches, narrow streets full of character and of course I travelled the same route that the bulls take during the July Sanfermines Festival (9 day running of the bull’s festival). Later that evening I met Ger Nugent, an Armagh native who set up the Naomh Fermin GAA club.

The Tournament
On Saturday morning I arrived at the University of Navarra for the competition. I was to referee both the ladies and men’s competitions. The games would be played on a rugby pitch and would be 15 minutes a side. Four teams, Pamplona, Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid were to compete. The format was to be round robin with the top two teams then to meet in the final.
The day got going at 10am and the final ball was kicked at 6-15pm. It was super days football. Players from Ireland, England, Scotland, Spain, Catalan, the Basque Country, France, USA and Estonia took part. In total 11 matches were played with 40goals and 116 points scored. The Barcelona ladies team had six Catalans and a French girl playing while the Pamplona ladies team was made up of six locals and a girl from Estonia.
In an exciting lady final Madrid beat Barcelona 1-7 to 1-1. Only a point separated the sides at half time however Madrid’s experience told in the second half as they scored 1-4 and kept the opposition scoreless. Westmeath native Martina Rooney Captained the side while Wicklow born Catriona Kelly finished top scorer. Barcelona Captain Ardeline De Villiers, who hails from France, was named the most valuable players of the tournament.
In the men’s final Valencia claimed the title with a 3-4 to 0-7 win over Barcelona. The Catalan side led at the break 0-4 to 0-1 however Valencia were excellent in the second half and bagged three crucial goals to secure victory. There was some consolation for Barcelona as their ace forward Stephen Fee won the man of the tournament award.
While refereeing I wore a stepometer and at the end of the day I had ran 27, 653 steps and was I glad to see bed later that evening. The weather was superb (only one shower all day) and the organisers deserve a lot of credit for a brilliant day. Before heading to Spain I had no idea what standard of football to expect and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. All of the non Irish had a good level of skill and very few technical fouls where blown on the day. The standard of football was excellent and it really was great to see both Irish and non Irish play together.

Saturday Evening
The hospitality after the tournament was also fantastic. The Pamplona club provided a meal for all eight teams and after that everyone enjoyed a great night in O Connors bar. It was whilst there that you found out what a small world it is we live in. I met a Spanish lad, Arturo Domerco who had played on the winning Valencia team. During our conversation he informed me that he used to live in Monaghan and worked in the Four Seasons Hotel. I also met Louise Lenehan. She was from Collon in County Louth. Her mother was a first cousin of Seamus ‘Banty’ Mc Eaneney’s wife. I also had a craic with Michael Donaldson. He was born in Barcelona however his father was from Crossmaglen and he travelled to south Armagh every year to spend time with his relations. He actually wore Armagh socks throughout the tournament and then for the final he put on his Crossmaglen Rangers socks which were given to him by his cousin and Cross player John Donaldson.
Before leaving on Sunday I had another walk around the beautiful city of Pamplona. All in all I had a great weekend, a very positive experience and I can’t wait to be asked to do it all again!

Paul Swift (Referee).

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