Still calling the shots at 75
At 75, Heidi Wegner is the oldest referee still active in Germany
DFB presented her with its badge of merit in 2014 for her volunteering efforts
Known as the ‘Football Granny from the Peene’
At 46 years and 261 days old, Dutchman Roel Liefden is the oldest player to have featured at a FIFA tournament after reaching this remarkable milestone at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Tahiti in 2013. Not a bad achievement, you might think.
Englishman John Lewis went a step further by refereeing the final of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament 1920 between Belgium and Czechoslovakia at the age of 65 years and 156 days.
While these are undoubtedly impressive figures, Heidi Wegner has outdone them both. The 75 year old is the oldest referee still active in Germany and is still keeping players in line today, having overseen several thousand matches from juniors to veterans during her long career.
"I refereed the district championships at the Peene shipyard back in 1968," Wegner recalled a few months ago in an interview on fussball.de, the home of German amateur football. "I was in good hands there, and initially spent two years officiating without a refereeing badge. I had already overseen more than 100 matches by the time I took my exam." For the sprightly pensioner who keeps fit by cycling and hiking, the idea of hanging up her whistle is out of the question.
"I have better stats than some younger referees," she explained. "I run around the pitch more than others do. Some referees only move around in the centre circle. We also officiate 90 per cent of our matches alone, so you have to be fit, get moving and keep up with the play." There is no doubting the veracity of this statement – Wegner covers several kilometres out on the pitch in a single game.
The ‘Football Granny from the Peene’, as she is affectionately known, discovered her passion for football at a relatively early age. "I started going down to the playing fields with my father when I was very young," she said. "I also played football out in the street and played handball at school. My parents virtually had to drag me off the street every evening."
That passion has remained undimmed ever since. Wegner has been refereeing matches in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for more than 50 years and knows the Laws of the Game inside out. Referees must sit an exam three times a year, and Wegner has never failed it.
In 2014, the German Football Association (DFB) presented the athletic 75-year-old – who shares her birth year with footballers such as Sepp Maier, Jurgen Grabowski and Gunter Netzer – with its badge of merit to acknowledge her voluntary work. Wegner spent more than 30 years as a youth team coach at FC Rot-Weiss Wolgast, organising tournaments and keeping tabs on the club’s financial affairs as its treasurer.
"I do it for the joy of it and to keep fit," she explained. "I go and help wherever I’m needed."
Heidi Wegner is a remarkable woman who undoubtedly laid the foundation for the current generation of female referees in Germany, including Bibiana Steinhaus, who became the first woman to officiate matches in the men’s Bundesliga, and Riem Hussein, who became the second woman after Steinhaus to referee in the professional men’s game.