Williams Lake soccer official Viktor Stamenov recently had an opportunity of a lifetime when he was asked to be an assistant referee for a pre-tournament Women’s World Cup friendly match.
BC Soccer flew Stamenov to Vancouver to work the June 3 contest between Australia and Switzerland.
“Both national teams were part of the World Cup and even though it was a friendly game both sides desperately wanted to win,” said Stamenov. “This was something special and totally new for me. I am very grateful to BC Soccer for making this happen.”
Stamenov, 24, has lived in the lakecity since 2012 when his family immigrated to Canada from Macedonia, a breakaway nation from the former Yugoslavia granted independence in 1991, located in southeast Europe. Like most European households, he was introduced to soccer (football) at a very young age.
“I spent my first 20 years in Macedonia and soccer is the number one sport that I was introduced to and familiar with from a young age,” said Stamenov.
Despite not officiating his first game until 16, Viktor was always a proponent of fair play and the concept of being a referee actually began growing inside him during his childhood.
“I remember even as a young boy about 10 years old playing street soccer with my friends I was always the one encouraging fair play and rules,” recalls Stamenov. “I’d also watch soccer on TV with my dad and we really enjoyed talking about the game and comment on the ref’s decisions and our point of view.”
Stamenov is very proud to be a part of his adopted country and hopes to one day represent Canada as a FIFA official.
“I still have the same dream when I was a kid. I want to be one of the best. I set my goal pretty high and I am absolutely aware that it’s not easy, but with hard work, lots of practice and a little luck I know that’s possible,” said Stamenov. “I hope that one day I will be honoured and represent Canada to my best abilities in the FIFA world.”
Viktor’s family chose Canada because of the major opportunities and he feels they made a great decision.
“I thought it would be nice to try and experience something new, and after three years I still think I made the right choice — it’s been great so far,” said Stamenov. “My first time stepping on Canadian soil was at the Calgary airport and then we flew right away to Vancouver then Prince George and then drove to Williams Lake.”
The lakecity is the only place in the country Viktor has called home and his first job was at the local McDonalds and then West Fraser Sawmills where he recently completed his final day this June after nearly two years of employment.
During his tenure at West Fraser, Viktor was extremely dedicated and travelled most weekends to Prince George, Kamloops or the Lower Mainland to officiate collegiate level games.
“It was totally worth it and I really enjoyed it and tried to get as many games as I could because when you are on the field you always see, experience or learn something new,” said Stamenov.
Stamenov is currently on holidays in his native Macedonia until the end of August visiting family and friends. When he returns to Canada he will be moving from Williams Lake to Burnaby where he will start his studies in a Geomatics Engineering Technology Program at BCIT.
Viktor has been a steady fixture as an official in the local men’s, ladies’ and youth soccer leagues, as well as playing in both the men’s outdoor and futsal leagues. His brother David and cousin Darko, whose family originally immigrated to the lakecity ahead of his, also play in the local leagues.
“Having David here to support me made coming to Canada so much easier and I couldn’t ask for a better brother,” adds Stamenov.
Viktor is very grateful for all the support he has received since arriving in Canada and after a tough initial few months he has adjusted very well.
“I am a lucky man, pretty much everyone that I met in Canada helped me and are still helping me somehow. I was lost my first few months here but from the first day people around me tried to make me feel at home,” said Stamenov.
“My English was not very good — they showed patience with me and showed me a totally different culture and society.”
Viktor also gives a special thanks to Canadian national referee Rubinco Smilev, who is also originally from Macedonia and Jose Branco, the Referee Development Coordinator at BC Soccer. He is also grateful to all the referees and assessors back in Macedonia and Canada that have helped him on his journey.
“None of this would’ve happened if Jose was not around — he has helped many young referees with his endless time and energy,” said Stamenov.
Viktor also had the honour of officiating in the Dallas Cup in April, one of the biggest youth soccer tournaments in North America with a 36 years history featuring clubs and officials from all over the world. Here Viktor met legendary FIFA official Howard Webb from England who refereed the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa between Spain and the Netherlands.
“I learned from the best referees in the world including Mauricio Navarro — considered by many the best Canadian soccer referee ever,” said Stamenov. “He worked closely with us Canadians and having a great man like him on our side was something special. I remember he said to me ‘the little things make a big difference.’”