Martin Atkinson caught 'the bug' for refereeing when he was just 15 years old and described the lifestyle choice as both a 'roller coaster' and a 'privilege.'
The now 48-year-old has risen to the very top of his trade becoming a Premier League referee in 2005 and officiating the Emirates FA Cup final in 2011 as well as the 2014 EFL Cup final and 2015 Europa League final.
The West Yorkshire man was most recently in the middle for Bournemouth v Arsenal in their Emirates FA Cup fourth round meeting and has answered some questions on his career and experiences to date...
Level of refereeing: Select Group
Location: Leeds (West Yorkshire)
How did you first get into refereeing and why?
I got involved through my local team, Drigglington Boys, I was only 15 but I was just like any other referee really – a frustrated footballer.
I had a good worth ethic as a kid too and had a few paper rounds I did during week alongside the refereeing so money was a big motivator for me as well.
I took my course at Leeds United, back then it was a ten-week programme, but as soon as I finished it I just caught ‘the bug’ and that was it for me.
What happened in the last game you refereed?
Bournemouth 1-2 Arsenal - 27 January 2020
Being involved in the FA Cup is just brilliant anyway because there are a lot more away fans in the stadiums and that changes the atmosphere and the feeling around the ground.
Arsenal had a lot of their young attacking players involved in the game and in the first half they moved the ball around really quickly so it was a case of just staying out of the way and let the game flow.
In the second half the tempo of the game changed but that is normal because managers have had their say, tactics start to change, and it became a more physical game.
As officials we had to change our tactics too in the second half, so things we were letting go we were then stopping the game for, just to bring it back to us and gain a bit more control.
And injuries break up play too, our main concern is the safety of the player and it can be challenging for players when that happens, but you let the treatment take place and keep track of the time to add on.
The atmosphere changes then when that happens and it gives the players two or three minutes to re-focus and go again so you have to be ready for that when it happens.
Is there one moment from your early experiences of officiating that springs to mind and has stayed with you ever since?
I was really lucky when I first started that I had a lot of help and encouragement from those around me – I was quite mature for a 15 year old so I think that helped me.
But I learned from a really early age how to deal with players and how to hold my own because it is very strange, when you first start out, to have people looking at you to make big decisions.
What are the main benefits or enjoyments that you take from officiating?
It’s just an absolute privilege to be involved in the game and you realise every time you walk out and you pick up the match ball.
I’m so fortunate that officiating has turned into a full-time career for me but my background in the police has certainly helped me because you learn to deal with different people in all sorts of ways.
Did you ever have specific ambitions to reach a certain level in the game?
At the very beginning you just want to be involved and you want to enjoy it but I am a very ambitious person and once I set out to achieve something I do my very best to see that it’s done.
But I realised that not every referee gets to be in charge of an FA Cup Final or a World Cup final – it’s only a chosen few – so I knew I would have to put the work in to get where I wanted to be.
You’ve got to want it, nothing in this game is handed it to you, and that is the way it should be because you’ve got to have that level of commitment to get to the top.
Have you ever had a role model who you looked up to, or someone who has played a part in your success as an official?
As select group referees we sort of mentor off each other and there are people within the group that I am close friends with and I respect their opinions.
You’re never the finished article and I’m always looking to improve and I don’t think that will ever stop.
As officials we are more high-profile now than we have ever been and I think that will continue as the game evolves and social media continues to evolve.
But we do a lot of work to give back to the next the batch of top referees that are coming through with workshops at County FAs and all the other things we do behind the scenes to help bring young referees through.
How do you keep yourself busy outside of football?
The job is full-time and I love everything that comes with it – I spend Monday to Friday preparing for the game, deliver it, recover and then move on to the next fixture.
It is a real roller-coaster sometimes but I love it an everything that comes with it.
I try and play a bit of golf with my friends too but now I’ve got ‘the bug’ for that too and it is the most frustrating game you can play so that doesn’t help much.
I love my cycling too, that keeps me fit and saves me having to run, and I’ve done some big charity rides too which were well worthwhile and we raised a massive amount of money too.
What would your advise be for anyone who is thinking of starting out?
You’ve got to give it a try because you can’t describe to people the feeling and the enjoyment if being involved in refereeing.
I’ve been so lucky to get the opportunities I’ve had but whatever level you take part at you will get so much enjoyment from it and the vast positives by far outweigh any negatives around refereeing.
Atkinson tries to keep control during Tottenham Hotpsur v Chelsea in their 2011-12 FA Cup semi-final
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