Friday 14 December 2012
Martin Atkinson is one of the most experienced match officials working in the Barclays Premier League. Appointed to the Select Group in 2005, the 41 year-old is one of three referees PGMOL has at FIFA Elite Level, the highest rank in world officiating. Here Martin gives unique insight into the world of professional refereeing and how the job might entail more than people may think…
1. We are prepared – it’s not just turning up at 2pm and checking the nets
We are aware that Barclays Premier League games are seen all across the world so we need to uphold the standards of the competition. Our preparations are exactly the same as at a football club: me and my assistants will usually meet up the night before. On the pitch it’s vital we work closely as a team and know our roles prior to the game. The fact that you do work as a team means that if you do well throughout the season then the appointments for the more high profile games come with it.
2. You can’t ref the same each week because we officiate such a diverse range of matches
People sometimes forget that we’re not Premier League but Select Group officials and we work across all competitions. This is probably best summed up a fortnight in May 2011 when I refereed a Barclays Premier League game, then a Europa League semi-final, quickly followed by a match in the Championship and then The FA Cup Final. That’s three different styles of football there so you’ve got to be flexible in how you officiate. But, that’s why we’re at the level we are, because we can adapt.
3. As Select Group referees we take training incredibly seriously
There are players in the Premier League who are half my age, plus the demands of the game and the skill level of the players is increasing every year. That means you’ve got to work hard to look after yourself and prepare right. Luckily we have a very good team behind us developing individual plans for a wide range of refereeing ages. But there’s motivation to be at your peak: do well and there’s rewards like The FA Cup Final, let things slip and there’s 29,000 referees across England who want to swap places with you.
4. Our skills can be put to use in our local communities
My career prior to becoming a full-time referee was a policeman. I am fortunate that I can combine my careers to still work one day a week for West Yorkshire Police. I work on a project called the Safer Schools Partnership in Leeds. When a policeman goes in the school, it’s preventative and pro-active policing to try and ensure problems don’t escalate and to stop kids getting criminal records. A great advantage of being a referee is that it helps breaks down the barriers; they see you on TV and they see you as a person rather than a uniform.
5. Refs across the world benefit from our knowledge
PGMOL does a load of work within England within the county Referee’s Associations but also across the world. At the end of the season Howard Webb and I went to Japan for the Kirin Cup and we did two workshops each attended by over 200 people. They wanted to know our thoughts on practical things like dead ball management, advantage, management of the game and our way of dealing with players. It’s about passing on our experience; they see us as the guys who ref as it should be done and that reaffirms that we are doing a good job here in England.