On Sunday 1st March 2020, Mitchell Dixon, 14 years of age and member of Sunderland Referees Association, acted as an Assistant Referee to Select Group 1 and Ex FIFA Elite Referee, Martin Atkinson.
The third team took charge of a charity football match in aid of Jenna Carrington who was tragically diagnosed with an aggressive and fast-growing brain tumour, that unfortunately is unable to be treated.
Atkinson volunteered to referee the game and was appointed Mitchell Dixon (14) and Tyler Dutton (17) as assistant referees. Kieran Downey acted as 4th Official. Mitchell qualified as a Level 8 Youth Referee, late in January 2020; he had never acted as an assistant referee before and had never taken charge of an adult’s game of football. What better way to experience something new, a brand-new skill, than working with one of The Premier League’s top match officials.
Martin has a wealth of experience behind him, after starting his refereeing career at the relatively early age of 16 years of age, as the local team did not have a referee to oversee matches. By 1998, he had been promoted to the Football League's list of assistant referees. Martin has been officiating on the premier leagues list of referees since 2005, including a long stand of being on the FIFA list of referees from 2006 until 2018.
Atkinson’s vast wealth of experience extends both domestically and internationally. Some examples include the 2006 FA Community Shield between Liverpool and `Chelsea, the 2011 FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Stoke City and the 2014 Football League Cup Final between Manchester City and Sunderland AFC. Internationally, Martin has taken charge of numerous UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League games, Euro 2012, Euro 2016 and UEFA European Championship.
Steve Smith, Mitchell’s grandfather told us, “Martin was absolutely fantastic with him, he spent an hour pre-game with him, gave him some great advice regarding the game and what he needed to do along with some invaluable tips and guidance regarding his future refereeing journey. He was over the moon to be working with Martin but very nervous the night before and in the build-up to the game. He said that absolutely changed once he met Martin. He said he was brilliant and made him feel really at ease, offering him lots of advice and told him to enjoy the game and a new experience. He told Mitchell he'd be fine, which relaxed him no end. Mitchell's ambition as a referee is to continue learning, improving and progress through the levels. He is determined he wants to be a full-time professional referee with his ultimate goal being to referee in the premier league. Mitch loved the day and Martin absolutely became his own refereeing hero and referee to watch.”
To round off a great day and wonderful experience for both Mitch and Tyler, Martin gave him an official medal and a set of thermal sportswear as a thank you and to remember the day by.
We are sure that this will have be an invaluable day for the Match Officials to work with Martin, giving an insight as to what can be achieved by the willingness to learn, develop and progress along with hard work.