Former Bundesliga referee Guido Winkmann
Professional soccer: Last whistle
His career ended where it began: in Berlin. And the last game was just as he loved it: a nail-biter. Last-minute victory in the 92nd minute. Fan chants. This is how referee Guido Winkmann (47) left the pitch - after 20 years of professional soccer.
Streife editorial team

May 2021, the last matchday of the season and the last game refereed by Guido Winkmann: Union Berlin against RB Leipzig, 2:1. His main job is as a chief detective inspector at the LKA, focusing on financing organized crime. "Streife" meets him in his office two days later. "At 47, you've reached the age limit in soccer. How does that feel?" He was expecting the question and laughs: "It's all so fresh. There are still a lot of impressions. In any case, I don't feel old."

Dark jacket, blue shirt, gelled hair. "Can I get you a coffee?" Is that the referee with the black jersey, headset and concentrated look we know from the sports show? Foul, whistle, no discussion. He sips his coffee: "Of course I'm a different person in the office than I am on the pitch." But this interview is mainly about soccer: Memories. Emotions.

"There were moments when I knew minutes later that I'd whistled a huge piece of crap." March 2012, Hertha against Cologne: Scuffle, scuffle. Podolski is sent off. "I was in the 'Bild' for a week, got death threats," recalls Winkmann. It was nine years ago now, but you never forget something like that. It was a heated match. In the 76th minute, the assistant referee informed him: Number 10 has choked his opponent. The referee reaches for the red card. Cameras captured the moment: the whistle, the outrage of the players, the boos of the fans.

Later, the TV analysis revealed: it was a wrong decision. The referees had to appear before the DFB sports court. How do you withstand so much pressure? Winkmann says: "When you're in the middle of a circus, you have to react - immediately. Mistakes happen. It's important that the management stands behind you."

As with the police. "We also have to rely on each other," says the commissioner, who started two parallel careers in 1993: with the police in Linnich and on a pitch on the Lower Rhine near Nütterden, Kreisliga A. Winkmann moved to the LKA in 2001. By then he was already an assistant in the 2nd division. Nine years later, the next leap: Division 1, organized crime. That year, he refereed 28 Bundesliga matches, 15 of them in the top flight.

Google the name Guido Winkmann and thousands of images and articles pop up. For example, 2015, Frankfurt against Paderborn: Marvin Bakalorz runs him over. "Bild" asked: "How can you miss a referee?" Or 2018, Mainz v Freiburg: Winkmann brings the teams out of the dressing room at half-time and allows a penalty to be scored. The video assistants from Cologne's basement only informed him after the final whistle. The soccer world is confused. Correct or not? Winkmann stuck to his guns: "Handball. The decision was correct."

He has refereed 161 games in the top flight and has been involved in 500 other professional matches. There is a lot to tell: of victories and defeats, trembling stadiums, happy and grieving fans. Unforgettable experiences that didn't make the headlines. May 2010: Greuther Fürth's promotion match against St. Pauli. Winkmann became a father. He doesn't want to say any more. His private life is taboo. He is also monosyllabic when it comes to his job. Just this much: he is the head of the new task force that uncovers child benefit fraud. Together with a team, he has developed the "Missimo" project, which compares data from youth welfare offices, school administration offices and residents' registration offices.

Friday late from the office, catching a plane. Whistle in some stadium on Saturday. Interval, coordination and strength training during the week. The referees' steps are measured. "I ran up to twelve kilometers per game." How did he manage it all? Sport, career, family?

"You have to be a talented organizer," he says. But you also have to make compromises: "Because referees don't qualify for sports funding, there was never any special leave. I work part-time - 30 hours - so that I can also see my family."

And now a sports pensioner? Before he left, there was a discussion about whether the age limit of 47 was antiquated. Three referees wanted to continue. "After the coronavirus year, I would have liked to say goodbye in front of a full stadium," says Winkmann wistfully. And speaking of retirement. "That's a long way off. I'm continuing as a video referee at the Cologne Video Assist Center."

The farewell from the pitch was nevertheless emotional. Before the game, Winkmann strolled through Köpenick, looked down from a bridge into the Spree and said to himself: "In life, all things come to an end." The highlights of the past 20 years replayed in his head: matches in Paris, Milan, Lisbon, Donetsk and Minsk. Fan chants. La Olas. Euphoria. Disappointment. Hope. Adrenaline.

The final whistle blew at 3.30pm on May 22. There are photos showing the referee in a red and black crowd of players. Wild discussions. The typical Winkmann facial expression: concentrated. In the second half, he briefly thought: That's it. 2,000 Union fans cheered. "I don't touch the whistles anymore," says the referee, who has rarely been able to please everyone. To this day, they are still in the bag that accompanied him to every game for 32 years. The zipper broke on the last one. "A sign," says Winkmann.

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