We kick off 2022 by chatting with referee Anthony Taylor who has taken charge of matches at the highest domestic and international levels and remains a passionate supporter of the grassroots game, and now the grassroots defibrillator fund.
As the man in the middle for the Euro 2020 fixture in which Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest, the official witnessed first-hand how rapid-response medical care can be effective in saving lives.
Taylor calls on the community to learn CPR skills and shares his support for the Premier League Defibrillator Fund, which is providing more than 2,000 life-saving devices for grassroots facilities.
You were referee at the Euros when Christian Eriksen collapsed. What role did the speed of response play that day?
The key thing in that situation was to make sure that Christian received the medical attention he needed.
From my own perspective I was fortunate that I was quite close when it happened and I was able to ask the medical staff to come on to the pitch as quickly as possible.
A combination of quick thinking by Denmark captain Simon Kjær to recognise the seriousness of the situation and start CPR – and the quick actions of the medical staff who used a defibrillator and were able to resuscitate Christian – undoubtedly saved his life. They were the real heroes on that particular evening.
The earlier somebody who has a cardiac arrest gets that necessary treatment significantly increases the chances of making a full recovery. Every minute without CPR or defibrillation reduces the chances of survival by up to ten per cent.
What can be learned from that situation?
Sadly, a sudden cardiac arrest is not something that can be predicted. It can happen to seemingly fit and healthy people at any time. But there are actions we can take to reduce the risk in that situation.
Simon Kjær’s ability to perform CPR played a role in saving his teammate’s life.
So, it’s quite a simple message. Learn to do CPR. The technique is simple and it can be so effective. If as many people as possible equip themselves with these skills, you can make the football environment safer for yourselves and others.
What is the goal of the Premier League Defibrillator Fund and who is it for?
The Premier League Defibrillator Fund is about giving grassroots clubs and facilities currently without access to a defibrillator, the chance to have one onsite.
Particularly for the lower levels where the medical support is not directly there at the game like it would be in the professional game, it is vitally important that as many venues as possible across the country have the opportunity to have one of the machines fitted.
More than 2,000 devices are available to affiliated grassroots clubs that own or operate their own facilities.
If they do have to be used, the machines are straightforward to operate. Automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, give the user verbal instructions and will detect if a shock is necessary before it is delivered.
In my hometown of Altrincham, non-league side Altrincham FC have benefited from having a device and cabinet installed by the Premier League this season. Not only is this available for players and fans, but also for local people using the community sports hall at the football ground which hosts everything from local primary school PE sessions to Walking Football and yoga for senior citizens.
It’s estimated that the 2,000 devices the Premier League are funding could potentially benefit 1.5 million people.
What did you learn from refereeing in grassroots football?
Like all journeys in football, mine started with grassroots. I refereed in local leagues, through the Cheshire League, through the Northern Premier League and into what’s now the National League.
It’s probably more difficult than top level matches sometimes because the ref is very much on their own.
It is about being honest and humble. The games aren’t about the refs. We have to use the framework of the law to make a decision, do that to the best of our ability and communicate with those on the field. It’s important we educate people why we take decisions and the process we go through.
Improvement is an ongoing process. Inevitably you make many mistakes on the way. That doesn’t necessarily make you a bad referee. Like a player may miss a penalty kick, it doesn’t mean the manager drops them for the next five games. You strive to learn from mistakes, be at the top of your game and the challenge is to keep that standard and enjoy yourself.
I’d encourage anyone contemplating shouting from the sideline to keep quiet and first be prepared to give refereeing a go themselves.
Would you advise young people to get into refereeing?
I like to get involved in training and developing refs in my local area. I’m involved in two leagues in terms of helping support and train the referees.
A lot of grassroots referees will be under the age of eighteen so we have a heavy focus on mentoring them through games. It’s not just about being a good ref; we try to think about developing them as individuals, too.
Refereeing can be very useful for teenagers to develop people skills that can even help outside of football, like decision-making, confidence and communication skills.
Even if you don’t continue to be a referee there are a lot of careers you can look at, be it a teacher, a police officer or any role where you’re working with people where that becomes beneficial.
But most of all, grassroots referees do an amazing job and help lots and lots of kids and adults enjoy football every single weekend. Play on!
How to apply for Premier League defibrillator funding:
Grassroots clubs affiliated with the FA that own or operate their own facilities can apply for funding at: www.premierleaguedefibs.org.
Clubs playing at Steps 5 and 6 of the National League System and clubs playing at Tiers 3 and 4 of the Women’s Pyramid may also apply.
All devices will be registered to www.thecircuit.uk, the BHF national defibrillator network.
Where to learn CPR: A free Sudden Cardiac Arrest eLearning module, which includes CPR technique, is available at: www.thefa.com.