You were an assistant referee in the EFL and the Premier League before going on to referee in both competitions too. What are the main differences between both roles and what are your main memories of carrying out each role?
“The obvious difference between both roles is that referees have a whistle and assistant referees have a flag.
“That being said, in the past, assistant referees were known as linesmen and women with the role primarily being focused on offsides and whether the ball was in and out of play.
“However, within the laws of the game, linesmen and women are now referred to as assistant referees and the role has grown to doing as the title suggests, and that is to assist the referee in any way required during the course of a match.
“Now that each team of match officials in the elite game have communication kits, the referee and their assistant referees – as well as the fourth official – are involved in on-field decisions and play a far bigger role within the game than I did back in the era when I was known as a linesman.
“In terms of my journey in the game as an official, I initially joined the Football League as an assistant referee and at the end of my season, I was appointed to two play-off semi-finals.
“That was an exciting start to my career and a big moment early in my journey as I had not covered an abundance of games prior to that.
“It was a fantastic experience and, after that, I did another season in the Football League before being promoted to the Premier League where I was an assistant referee for one season.
“Following that season as an assistant in the Premier League, I was then promoted to the Football League as a referee before going on to referee in the Premier League after five years in the Football League.”
In addition to refereeing in the Football League and the Premier League, you also took charge of the 2009 League Cup final and the 2010 FA Cup final. How proud are you of those achievements given the hard work required to reach that point?
“I had to put in a massive amount of hard work to get to that point and earn those opportunities. At the start of my journey, I was refereeing locally in Warrington, then across Liverpool before going onto the Northern Premier League list and the National League list.
“I served a long apprenticeship before reaching the Football League as an assistant then as a referee. During my five years refereeing in the Football League, I was still in full-time employment so I had to balance my day job, my training, refereeing games at the weekend or in midweek whilst also bringing up my daughter and striving to find a good work-life balance.
“Like players and staff at a football club, I would be refereeing during bank holidays and over the Christmas period. I recall travelling to Brentford on Christmas Day ahead of a Boxing Day game at Griffin Park when my daughter was five and her asking me where I was going, and not understanding why I had to leave, having worked all week.
“The level of commitment and travel required in order to succeed was challenging, especially with a young family, and is an aspect of the role that is not often spoken about.
“I wouldn’t have had the career that I enjoyed without the support of my wife and my family which meant that refereeing at the highest level of the game in England was something that was a special achievement for all of us.
“I was one of the first group of referees to become part of the select group of referees in 2001. The Select Group made us full-time professional referees and meant that I went part-time at my day job with the majority of my focus now on refereeing rather than it being balanced the other way.
“Working alongside the other Select Group officials was such a great learning experience for me as we trained together as part of a dedicated training plan – it was exciting to be a referee and that excitement never left me in my career.”
What are your standout memories from refereeing showpiece cup finals at Wembley?
“It was a dream come true to be able to referee such occasions as the League Cup final and the FA Cup final.
“Refereeing in the Premier League taught me a lot and I learned to battle adversity and build a strong level of resilience as any referee has to.
“You are always striving to referee at the highest level possible which the showpiece finals at Wembley are.
“All of my finals came in relatively quick succession as I refereed the League Cup final between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in March 2009, then in the August of 2009, I was the referee of the Community Shield between Manchester United and Chelsea before refereeing the FA Cup final in May 2010 between Chelsea and Portsmouth.
“It was an honour to referee all three of those occasions at Wembley and to do so within 14 months of each other was special.
“Fortunately, I had experience of refereeing at Wembley before those occasions as I refereed the first competitive final at the new Wembley which was the FA Trophy final in May 2007 between Kidderminster Harriers and Stevenage.
“It is a surreal feeling when you receive the phone call to inform you that you have been selected to referee a game of such magnitude. I remember just thinking ‘Wow!’ when I was given that news. It never got old or changed when it happened more than once.
“The big thing for me was that I would tell my wife first before ringing my father because he was the one who got me into refereeing. After, I had told both of them, the excitement and ecstasy of what was to come hit me and my focus turned to the game itself when it arrived.
“There is no feeling like refereeing a national cup final in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley. It is an incredible moment because it takes you back to the start of your refereeing journey when you were refereeing in the local park.
“I will always cherish those memories and the career that I was fortunate to have as a whole at every level of the game that I worked at.”
Finally, Chris, the number of opportunities to enter refereeing is growing and you have been involved in the Elite Referee Development Plan which plays a vital role in the recruitment of new referees. How exciting is it to see expanded opportunities for people to enter refereeing just like you did?
“The Premier League and FA developed the Elite Player Performance Plan with the objective of developing more and better homegrown players.
“Similarly, within refereeing, the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), has developed the Elite Referee Development Plan with the same vision in mind for match officials.
“They want to provide even greater support for match officials across all levels because coaching is vital to continuous development which is beneficial for the whole game.
“Mentoring opportunities are also available and dedicated training plans are also built into the plan to improve the training data that officials have access to, all of which helps them prepare for matchdays.
“Performance analysis, sports scientists and sports psychology are engrained within the plan to ensure that there are ample opportunities to review, support and pre-plan your matches and your professional development aims as a whole.
“We are also looking to encourage more current and former players into refereeing because we want to attract as many high-potential individuals to become match officials as possible.
“When you become a referee, you can also be promoted mid-season which means that you do not need to wait as long as I did before making the step up certain levels and that is also vital for development and attracting the best possible officials of the future.
“The number of opportunities within refereeing is absolutely incredible and it is a really viable career now. People say never look back, look forward but whenever I am asked, would you do it all over again now? My answer is emphatically, yes.
“With the Elite Referee Development Plan and the strong work of the PGMOL and the FA, there has never been a better time to become a referee.”