Euro 2016: Willie Collum proud of referee performance

Dimitri Payet and Bacary Sagna of France with referee Willie Collum
Willie Collum refereed France's group game against Albania

For a spell in France, Willie Collum was anonymous. He enjoyed the experience, not least because it was part of operating at the pinnacle of his career.

Along with his team of officials - Scottish referees John Beaton and Bobby Madden were assistants along with Scotland's Francis Conner and Ireland's Damian MacGraith - Collum took charge of two Euro 2016 matches.

He likens the assignment to footballers being picked to represent their country, although for players the hope is that they will make an impact that reverberates. For referees, the hope is not be talked about.

Collum was referee for France's 2-0 win over Albania and Turkey's 2-0 win over Czech Republic, both of which passed without controversy. "One of the biggest emotions is relief that things have gone well," Collum says, "and hopefully nobody will be talking about you."

His time in France ended in the group stages, in part because the home nations and the Republic of Ireland all qualified for the knockout rounds. It was, though, a heartening experience for Collum, who has endured periods of intense criticism in Scotland.

Willie Collum shows a yellow card to Czech Republic midfielder Jaroslav Plasil
Collum's first game at Euro 2016 finals was Czech Republic against Turkey

"It was disappointing, unusually, to see all the home nations going through," he says, chuckling.

"Of course we wished them well, but it probably made it very difficult for us to stay, particularly because there were three British referees there and I'm the least experienced.

"I would rather come home with two good, solid performances under my belt than having made an error and been sent back for that reason."

Collum believes that the standard of refereeing has been high at the tournament because of the level of preparation in advance.

Every official received a DVD from Uefa full of information about each team, while the squads all received a DVD outlining the standards the referees were looking for and the tackles that would be outlawed.

Uefa's head of refereeing, Pierluigi Collina, also arranged for coaches to analyse teams and provide a report to referees in advance of matches, so that they would know what tactics to expect.

Relishing domestic return

Collum's next move is a return to the domestic game, which he is relishing. He has worked hard at developing his communication skills - aware of the perception that he has been aloof and officious - and says that Uefa praised him for his dialogue with players.

In conversation, he is softly spoken but confident, attentive and engaging. He advanced to the top grade of refereeing at a young age and, despite the controversies that have tended to flare around him, he seems more comfortable at handling games less dogmatically.

"We need to have dialogue with the players," he says. "I've tried to work hard at building a rapport.

"When you're a young referee, you need to set your stall out early on. It's only as referees become very experienced and mature that they're able to manage a game quite differently.

Willie Collum exchanges words with Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager John Hughes
Willie Collum has been a controversial figure at times in Scotland

"It's a two-way thing. We need the players and the managers to be able to communicate with us. At the tournament, I felt there was enough scope to manage a game without always reaching for a card.

"People have criticised me in the past for having a high card ratio, but if you look at the statistics last season, my card ratio was very low in Scotland."

The criticism has, at times, hurt Collum, not least because he reviews all of his matches afterwards and is often his own harshest critic. He understands it is an aspect of the game that all involved - players, managers and referees - must accept, but he has bridled when it has become personal.

Treated harshly

Some pundits, media and even managers have been pointed in their criticism of him and last season he was moved into the Championship for a spell.

"Sometimes I've been treated harshly," he says. "At times, I'm losing before I even blow the first whistle and that's unfair.

"If you look at the statistics, I don't think I make any more mistakes than any other referees. Many people think I'd like to be the centre of attention, but that's far from the truth.

"Sometimes I'm disappointed with the reaction of people and sometimes it's undeserved. I've never let it affect my confidence, because I don't think that any referee would attend Euro 2016 if they weren't consistently performing.

"I make mistakes, but I don't think I make any more than any other referees, but sometimes people get your name in their mind.

Willie Collum shares a joke with Dundee United midfielder Paul Paton
Willie Collum thinks he is developing a better rapport with players

"I try my best and I work hard at my game. Sometimes I need to hide my family away from the criticism and that's when it can be disappointing, when you become a newspaper or a media headline.

"It was difficult at times [last season], but it makes you stronger. Since February, I went on a very good run, my matches were clear of controversy, but if you isolate it, there were probably three matches which didn't go well.

"In a season when I refereed 59 matches, domestically and aboard, I don't think anybody could say that's a ridiculous statistic."

Having committed so much of his life to the game - 23 years, someone reminded him before the Euros - he is adamant that he won't allow criticism to affect his love of the game, or his profession. The games in France, he felt, were a reward for those years of hard work and the sacrifices.

"We need to accept criticism is a huge part of it," he says.

"What disappoints me at times is when people make it personal, or you feel it's a witch hunt and people are constantly talking about you. I would rather people focus on the positives."

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