For Irfan Peljto, his first reaction was shock and then a strong sense of pride on discovering he had been selected to referee Saturday’s Under-19 EURO final between Portugal and Spain.
“I was stunned,” the Bosnian match official says. “It didn’t sink in for a few seconds, but when my colleagues started clapping and I saw my name on the screen, it was fantastic. A referee from Bosnia and Herzegovina has never had this opportunity, so it’s historic for my country and for my football federation. We’re a football nation and for everyone from a small country when you do it for your country, it is huge.”
It is an honour and challenge that the Sarajevo-based lawyer is delighted to take on, having already refereed the Czech Republic v France and Spain v Italy group fixtures. He will do so with the same assistant referees as in those games – Romania’s Valentin Avram and Slovenia’s Grega Kordež – as well as fourth official Filip Glova from Slovakia. “They are very professional. They listen to what the referee wants from them. I believe in them 100%.”
But will there be any nerves given the size of the occasion? “I always feel a little pressure, but a positive pressure,” continues Peljto in an interview for UEFA, an international referee since 2015. “We have a very important job to do on the pitch and a lot of people are expecting us to do our job perfectly, so in every game there are some positive nerves, but immediately when we blow the whistle it disappears.”
During his time in Armenia, the 35-year-old has also blown out the candles on his birthday cake – a reminder of his wife and son at home, and the family life that helped form him as a referee. After all, his father Mesud is a former FIFA assistant referee. “I was born like a referee because my father was a referee,” he smiles, and that background meant he knew all about the role’s ups and downs before starting on his own path.
It was at the age of 18 that he turned to refereeing, having stopping playing football after realising he would not reach a professional level as a player. “My father never forced me to be a referee, but one day I went home and I was putting on weight as I wasn’t doing any exercise and I said to him, ‘Can I be a referee?’ And he said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Yes, 100%.’
“He said, ‘Take your running shoes and come with me,’ and he drove me to a running track and told me to run seven laps in 12 minutes. He said, ‘If you can do that, I can help. I can give you tips and support but I can’t run for you.’ I passed the test and started with refereeing. Throughout my whole career, he’s been the toughest observer because he always finds something to improve on, but overall he is very happy!”
And increasingly so, given his son’s progress. In April, Peljto refereed the UEFA Youth League semi-final between Hoffenheim and Porto in Nyon. Last October, he had his first taste of a UEFA Europa League group stage fixture when refereeing Salzburg v Rosenberg in Austria. “It was fantastic – a big stadium with a lot of people. It was a new experience and I’ll never forget it.”