AEven a few weeks after the European Championship, Katrin Rafalski remembers a scene that most fans should have long forgotten. England versus Norway, the 15th minute of the preliminary round game: the linesman saw an offside position that didn’t exist. She literally “waved away” England’s Lauren Hemp’s regular goal to make it 2-0. “Fortunately, the video assistant saved the goal,” says Rafalski, who, despite the faux pas, has worked her way into the front row of the German referees. In the summer, the DFB named her “Referee of the Year”, for the second time after 2015.
What titles and trophies are for players, they are for referees in big tournaments and special games. Rafalski, who has been a referee since she was 14, has attended world championships and the Olympics, and in 2013 she officiated the DFB Cup final – and now the opening game of the Bundesliga. Not much more is possible. “It was a huge honor to be part of this game in front of this backdrop.”
More than 23,000 spectators turned the goalless draw between Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayern Munich into an atmospheric record game – more fans had never followed a game in the women’s Bundesliga. Sometimes she heard the audience through her headset rather than the voices of her assistants. “We don’t even know the volume from Bundesliga games,” says Rafalski of the FAZ
The referee whistling for TSV Besse from North Hesse did her job completely calmly: in the first half, for example, when Bayern player Giulia Gwinn fell to the ground injured and Rafalski quickly ordered medical help from the Munich bench. Or a few minutes before the end of the game, when after a handball by Laura Feiersinger, she left it at a warning and a serious look at the Frankfurter instead of drawing a card.
Excitement, even hectic in the eagerly awaited first Bundesliga game after the European Championship? Two yellow cards were enough for Rafalski to restore order in the Frankfurt Arena.
The 40-year-old referee relies on dialogue. Tanja Pawollek experienced the referee as “very open”. “Katrin talks to us a lot. This makes it easy to understand their decisions,” says the Frankfurt captain. Svenja Huth sees it similarly: “She regulates many situations on the field with her great experience, takes the players seriously and communicates on an equal footing.” strong personality and absolute enrichment for the women’s Bundesliga.”
Better in the supporting role
Rafalski’s effort at the start was remarkable for two reasons. She doesn’t really like being in the spotlight. Interviews with her are a rarity, unlike Deniz Aytekin, who won for men, she is probably unknown to many football fans. And: For the opening game, she gave up her real territory – the sidelines.
Rafalski feels more comfortable in the supporting role as an assistant. After all, she doesn’t have to be the boss on the pitch. In her signature role, she caused a stir in autumn 2021: together with Riem Hussein and Christina Biehl, she formed the first team of referees in German professional football in a men’s third division game.
For the North Hessian, who works full-time in a clinic, sport was extra income at the time – and it has remained so. As an X-ray assistant, she is glad that she doesn’t just have to think about football. As a part-time job, Rafalski dares the balancing act between the stadium and the soccer field, between the European Championship and the district cup. Because every now and then she is still on duty in her home country, far away from the limelight. “I don’t want to make a mistake there or in front of a full house. It doesn’t make any difference to me,” says Rafalski.
Today she uses games in lower classes to instruct young referees in her team. Rafalski’s commitment to young talent is one of the reasons for her award. In any case, Dieter Matheiowetz has never identified airs and graces at his best. “Katrin is not too bad to help out at the base with us,” says the referee chairman of the Schwalm-Eder district, who only hesitated once: two years ago, he wanted to use her as game director of the district cup final – a game that could only be played in the local press was mentioned.
Rafalski, who already had a busy schedule back then, agreed. However, the highly decorated referee did not want to be the center of attention in her home country. The 2012 Olympic participant had one wish before the game on the village sports field in the small town of Uttershausen: Is it okay if someone else whistles and she is used as a linesman?