Stark: “Every referee has its own style, which should not change in big games or final tournaments”

Wolfgang Stark had to end his refereeing career because he has reached the age limit. The last game of the man who has officiated the most Bundesliga matches ever was Borussia Mönchengladbach - SV Darmstadt on 20 May 2017. That was his 344 Bundesliga game, who recently surpassed the old record of Markus Merk (338). Stark has officiated at the 2008 Olympic Tournament, the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and Euro 2012 in Poland/Ukraine. The German referee was also appointed for the Europa League final in 2012 between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. He was interviewed in a recent issue of Schiedsrichter Zeitung, the official magazine of the German referees.
His Bundesliga debut happened on 4 April 1997 with the game FC Köln - MSV Duisburg. “That is what I always made myself aware of”. He tries to stay humble and tries to remind himself that what he had achieved was already awesome. So no worries about what will happen in the future, keep positive. That worked out well. Only two years later he became a FIFA referee. “Every referee has its own style, which should not change in big games or final tournaments”, says Stark. “If it is something that suits you, something you feel comfortable with, there is no reason to change it.” Stark says his focus is on allowing the game to flow. “Not many whistles, let the players to play their game. However, you have to remain in control. As a referee, you always have to know when to intervene. Refereeing finals is the icing on the cake”, says Stark. “Those are the games you will always remember, especially if you perform well. So you, as referee, do not want to be the subject of people’s talks afterwards”.
Unfortunately, games not always end that way. Not even for referees with World Cup experience. There are not many big errors made by Stark, but he also had some negative experiences in his career. “Admitting your mistakes is also part of our job”, he says looking back. He once showed Marcel Schmelzer a red card for a handball, but the ball has touched his knee. “Nobody is immune for making mistakes, so when you make them, make use of it for yourself.” Immediately after the game between Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg, Stark talked to the media about his error to send Schmelzer off. He gained a lot of sympathy by his honesty. And the card also got rescinded. Stark says that you need negative experiences, because you can learn a lot from them. “Probably these games are at least as important as games that only have positive aspects.”
The Stark family has some referee genes. Stark started when he was aged 14, with support from his dad, who was a Bundesliga assistant referee in the team of Aron Schmidhuber. “I had the advantage that my father himself was a referee. Even if he sometimes criticized me, he was also the one who praised me for my performances”. And that is what every referee needs, says Stark. He stresses that recognition is very import for every referee. As a Bundesliga referee, he is probably praised more often than referees on grassroots level. That is why Stark joined a special campaign to say “thank you” to referees at lower levels in German football. He wanted to honour the referees who are now refereeing at the levels where he once started his career. He did not forget where he came from and wanted to pay these referees some attention. Before the Bundesliga game between Hannover and Hoffenheim he honoured 63 local referees. He even put all the names of these referees on the back of his shirt and put it on while officiating his Bundesliga game that weekend. “Every referee needs recognition”, says Stark. “Referees should not get only negative, but also positive reflection. The performances from referees at grassroots level need to be appreciated. All Bundesliga referees started there and that is what we should never forget. As referees, we all belong to one big family”.

SR Zeitung