While most packed into Kiev's Olympic Stadium will only have eyes for the superstars on the pitch, one man at the Champions League final will take a special interest in the performance of the man in charge. Former World Cup referee Alan Snoddy first met Champions League final referee Milorad Mazic in 2010. The Carryduff man mentored the Serbian in his early refereeing days. His invite fulfils a promise Mazic made should he make it to the top. "Milorad had always joked with me that if he got a major final he would issue the invitation", Snoddy said. "True to his word, he's delivered after this long journey we have had together."
The Liverpool - Real Madrid final comes eight years after the Serb and the World Cup referee from Carryduff first met at a UEFA referee's talent programme. Snoddy, who officiated at Mexico 86 and Italia 90, was one of four mentors chosen to pass on their know-how-to some of Europe's most promising refs. In the years since the two men have kept in touch, and Snoddy has kept a close eye on his former student's rise to the top. "I followed Milorad very closely for a few years officially, watching his games, watching his highlights and clips from matches and giving him the best coaching advice that I could assist him with." While the programme came to a close, the friendship between the men endured. "We always kept in touch. We would always have been discussing his performance after each game as he moved up the ranks," the Northern Irish referee added. He said even as a young man, the Serb had all the attributes to succeed. "He was always extremely fit, he always wanted to pay attention to the small details. He was never satisfied after his games, even if they'd gone particularly well. He wanted to work hard, he listened to the advice. And step by step as he moved up the European ladder he continued to improve and develop," he said. The former World Cup ref said the final invitation came as "a tremendous surprise". The teacher and pupil had been joking for years about an invitation if and when Mazic got the big game call. "When he didn't receive the semi-final appointment this season, I think we thought that perhaps that this was his best opportunity," he added. Mazic's former mentor has only one hope for his former pupil - that when the full time whistle sounds "no one is talking about the referee".