WA’S most celebrated referee, Eddie Lennie, caught up with the world’s most decorated – and recognisable – whistler, Pierluigi Collina, in Kuala Lumpur last week.
The occasion was the Asian Football Confederation’s biggest-ever Refereeing Conference, which brought together nearly 500 match officials and referee assessors from around the Asian region, and the world.
Collina, who is the chairman of the FIFA Referee Committee and refereed the 2002 World Cup final, was the guest speaker, while Lennie, who is an assessor/instructor for the AFC, was one of 65 assessors at the conference.
Lennie has been friendly with the legendary Collina since they both refereed at the 1996 Olympic Games in America and in the 1998 FIFA World Cup finals in France.
“We’ve stayed in touch over the years and occasionally bump into each other at various conferences around the world, so it was good to catch-up in Kuala Lumpur,” said Lennie, who was in charge of 27 FIFA ‘A’ internationals in his career as well as officiating at a record four NSL Grand Finals. He was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame WA in 2005.
Another big name at the conference was former top English referee David Elleray, who was in charge of the 1994 FA Cup final and the EURO 1996 final between Germany and the Czech Republic. He is the Technical Director of the International Football Association Board and gave a talk on the impact of the VAR system around the world.
The charismatic Collina had a glittering 28-year career of refereeing. He is considered the greatest whistler of all time and was named FIFA’s “Best Referee of the Year” six consecutive times.
It was Italian-born Collina’s larger than life personality that earned him such a respected stature.
In 1995, after he had officiated at 43 Serie A matches, he was placed on FIFA’s Referees List. He was allocated five matches at the 1996 Olympic Games, including the final between Nigeria and Argentina, and he refereed the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Manchester United.
In June 2002, Collina reached the pinnacle of his career, when he was chosen for the World Cup final, between Brazil and Germany.
He refereed the 2004 UEFA Cup Final between Valencia and Marseille. In February 2005, as he reached the mandatory retirement age, Euro 2004 was his last major international tournament. His last international match was Portugal v Slovakia, for a 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifier at Estádio da Luz in Lisbon.
He also became well known to a big audience outside football. In July 2002, he appeared in cartoon form in George Michael’s video “Shoot the Dog”, where he was shown giving the red card to Tony Blair, the then UK Prime Minister.
Collina was chosen as the cover figure for the Konami video games Pro Evolution Soccer 3 and Pro Evolution Soccer 4, appearing alongside compatriot Francesco Totti and Thierry Henry for the latter. This was unusual, as football games had come to almost exclusively feature only players and managers on their covers.
In September 2005, Collina appeared in a television advert for the Vauxhall Vectra. In 2006, he appeared in another television advert, this time for MB Pivo, a beer brand in Serbia. He also appeared in an advert of a Turkish GSM operator, Aria, due to his popularity in Turkey.