10 Iconic Football Referees from the UK

Martin Atkinson Premier League referee

Who’d be a ref, with the constant scrutiny, criticism, and online mockery? Luckily, lots of people, as a football match without a referee doesn’t work at all. Leading down to the cream of the crop, here are 10 of the best football referees the UK has ever produced.

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Jonathon Moss

Over 50 now, Jonathan Moss is still going strong and has been refereeing for more than two decades. Born in Sunderland, Moss began refereeing in 1999 for the Northern Counties East League and Northern Premier League, prior to becoming an assistant referee in the Football League. Since 2005 and 2011 he’s refereed matches in the Football League and Premier League respectively. In 2015, Moss was the referee overseeing Arsenal and Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final. He’s a bit chattier than some refs on this list, and while his decisions have sometimes drawn criticism that’s true for pretty much every match official.

Steve Bennett

Hailing from the Kentish corner of Greater London, Steve Bennett began his long climb to the heights of officialdom by handling matches within the Kent League. Further steps towards the EPL were the Isthmian League and Football Conference, and his first Football League match (as an assistant referee) was in 1992. Seven years later Bennett took on the Premier League and retired in 2010. He certainly had some moments, including criticism from FIFA’s Sepp Blatter in 2004 for sending off a player who removed his shirt after scoring, and getting tired of Javier Mascherano’s nonsense and sending off the midfielder in 2008 when the footballer refused to stop antagonizing Bennett.

Peter Walton

Nowadays he’s familiar to most footie fans as a pundit chatting about VAR on BT Sport (which has led to some meme fame online), but Peter Walton also had an extensive career as a match official. An assistant referee in the Football League then the Premier League from 1993 to 1998, Walton started officiating at Football League matches as a referee before taking on the Premier League from 2003 to 2012. After his on-pitch duties ended he became the general manager of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) in North America from 2013 until 2018. A career highlight was his role as an assistant referee during the FA Cup final in 1996.

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Mark Halsey

Some referees are sticklers and disciplinarians, and others view cards as a last resort. Mark Halsey was very much in the latter camp, and during his 279 EPL matches, he issued fewer cards than any other similarly experienced referee. Cancer caused a hiatus to his career but was not enough to stop it, and after a break in 2009 and 2010 in which to recover, Halsey was able to make a comeback and kept officiating at top-flight matches until 2013 when he retired. Some of his most notable matches included the 2007 FA Community Shield and the 2008 Football League Cup final.

Graham Poll

Graham Poll is the perfect example of a great referee who had a long and distinguished career, but who sadly is best known for a single (albeit almighty) error he made which has overshadowed all his previous good work. This happened in 2006, at the World Cup, when Poll handed out three yellow cards to one player, a lapse that drove him to swiftly retire from the international scene. It’s a shame, as Poll refereed over one and a half thousand matches in a career that spanned decades, including the 2005 UEFA Cup Final.

Michael Oliver

Michael Oliver is still one of the active referees at the time of writing and began refereeing professionally in 2003 when he officiated in the Northern League. A couple of years later he was handling the Football Conference and started overseeing Football League matches in 2007. And in 2010 he completed his rapid ascent through the rungs of refereeing and began officiating at Premier League matches. As might be expected, Oliver’s career is strewn with youngest ‘ever’ milestones, such as being the youngest man to ever officiate at Wembley (in 2007 when he oversaw the Conference National play-off final). His father is also a referee, and the two officiated on consecutive days when they refereed the 2009 League Two play-off final and 2009 League One play-off final.

Mike Riley

Hailing from Leeds, Mike Riley’s first taste of officiating occurred back in 1989 as an assistant referee in the Football League. Five years later he graduated to the status of referee, and shortly thereafter moved onto the Premier League. In 1999, Riley was granted FIFA status, which he retained for a decade. The man himself cites the 2002 FA Cup Final between London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea as the highlight of his time as a referee. For fans, another key milestone was his role officiating in 2004 when Manchester United brought to an end Arsenal’s 49-match unbeaten streak. Riley’s career drew to a close in 2009, when he was made manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOB), a position he still holds at the time of writing.

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Mark Clattenburg

In stark contrast to the next entry, Mark Clattenburg was very much content to remain in the background of sporting spectacle, simply helping to run the show. He came close to a triple century of Premier League appearances (292), and in 2016 oversaw the notable double of the finals in both Euro 2016 and the Champions League. Despite making a few mistakes, it was only a year later that he opted to retire from the EPL, which surprised some as he was one of the highly regarded referees and certainly young enough to have had many years ahead of him.

Mike Dean

On the longevity scale, Mike Dean scores very highly indeed. His first foray into refereeing for the EPL in 2000 followed years as a Football League assistant and then full referee. At the time of writing, Dean is still going strong, more than two decades after his first match in charge of an EPL game. This period also included a decade as a FIFA listed referee, and significant matches officiated include the finals of the FA Cup and Football League Cup. He’s been doing the gig so long he’s handed out literally thousands of cards (more than 100 of which were red). His meme status of playing up to cameras does make him a little bit of a divisive figure, however.

Howard Webb

When it comes to the best British referees, one name that looms above all others is Howard Webb. Himself the son of a referee father, Webb began his Premier League adjudicating career in 2005, and refereed in the top flight of the EPL until 2014. It doesn’t get much better than being the ref at the World Cup, and Webb achieved this career pinnacle in 2010. Even more impressively, he was the referee for the Champions League final in the same year (a record first). In 2011, for services to football he was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire).

That wraps up our look at great referees from the UK. None are perfect, certainly, but without them, football couldn’t exist as a sport.

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