By Mark Chaplin
An argument with a coach convinced Dagmar Damkova that she would not make it as a footballer. She turned to refereeing – and the result has been a new and rewarding career as one of Europe's top women match officials.
A 30-year-old English teacher from Pilsen in the Czech Republic, Damkova has enjoyed a meteoric rise since she took the decision to turn to the whistle a decade ago, and now faces a new challenge as part of the refereeing team for the forthcoming UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ finals in England.
"Up to about ten years ago, I played football," she told uefa.com, "but I had differences with a coach, and I felt there was no future for me as a player. I was asked if I wanted to take up refereeing – I love football, so I thought I'd give it a try."
Series of targets
The initial target was just to enjoy refereeing. However, Damkova found she had a knack for the job, and after a while began setting herself objectives which have helped her move up the ladder – and establish herself as the first-ever woman referee at the top men's level in the Czech Republic.
"When I started, I didn't really know how far you could go as a woman referee," she reflected. "I only began because I love football. Then, as time went by, I decided to change my lifestyle, focused more on training, and things went from there."
Damkova has been officiating at men's games in the Czech Republic since autumn 2003. Along with her Swiss colleague Nicole Petignat - the first woman to officiate at a UEFA club competition match - she has been one of the female referee pioneers who have helped break down many pre-conceived barriers.
"It's harder and easier at the same time to referee men's matches," she explained. "In many ways, you are treated with more respect – but the hard part is that everyone is focused on your performance as a woman match official. You have to show that you can do the job."
Damkova's progress runs parallel to the blossoming of the women's game over the past few years – something that will be evident to fans who watch the action at WOMEN'S EURO 2005™. She feels that women's football can only continue to move onwards and upwards.
"I often talk to male coaches in the Czech Republic – they tell me that they've seen women's games on TV, and that they're really impressed with how good it is," she said. "There's a lot of technique in women's football now. I hope that the championship will show this progress. I also hope that people will come to watch the matches in England, and that it will attract girls to play football."
Calm by nature, Damkova hopes that the fans will be entertained by what they see in England. "I hope I am too – I like taking charge of matches where the football is flowing, it's much better than having a game where you're having to constantly interrupt play," she said.
A hectic two weeks lies ahead. "I'm proud and honoured to be appointed. I decided that I wanted to go as far as I could, and I feel it's a reward for the work put in over the past five years," Damkova concluded. "Now I would like to keep at this level and go forward – and go to a FIFA Women's World Cup."
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