Dream appointment

Martin Atkinson waited 25 years to referee The FA Cup Final. Now, he urges more people to get involved and follow in his footsteps…

Article taken from the 2011 FA Cup Final programme, Manchester City vs Stoke City.

While the players take to the field today, looking to make a name for themselves by becoming a match-winning hero, Martin Atkinson and his team of officials will be happy to have a quiet game and be a part of a classic FA Cup Final at Wembley.

More after the break

The 40-year-old from Wakefield – who will be supported by assistants Adam Watts and Simon Beck, fourth official Lee Probert and reserve official Jake Collin – has already experienced an FA Cup Final at close hand and encourages others to get involved in refereeing with so many opportunities available.

Atkinson was a teenager when he first picked up the whistle and after 25 years of dedication – and a telephone call from The FA – he now leads out Manchester City and Stoke City for what he says is a dream appointment. “Officiating at The FA Cup Final is at the top of every referee’s wish list,” admitted Atkinson. “It’s such a huge honour. When you start out as a referee, you just want to do as well as you can and get as high as possible. You can only dream of refereeing The FA Cup Final, so to actually do it is wonderful.

“I got a phone call from The FA saying that they’d like me to referee The Final, but I had to keep it under my hat for 24 hours, which was quite difficult, because you want to shout about it.

“I was lucky to be involved with the 2009 Final (as fourth official) with Howard Webb as referee,” Atkinson continued. “You get a glimpse of what to expect. It’s good going into this match with experience, as it’s sure to be a long day and a sapping game, both mentally and physically. It’s all about how we prepare.”

With the build-up taken care of, Atkinson and his team met yesterday morning for their final preparations. But despite this being such a big occasion in the football calendar, he says the officials will treat the game just like any other, including his pre-match musical ritual.

“It’ll be an early start, about 8am, and I’ll meet the team for breakfast, then we’ll be focused on the game,” he explained. “We’ll probably get to the stadium an hour earlier than a normal matchday, go to the changing rooms, check our kit and have a walk around to familiarise ourselves with everything.

“Team sheets will be exchanged at 2pm. We’ll have a quick word with the two captains, which is something they’ll be used to, then prior to kick-off we’ll go through the usual drill of warming up. 

“A lot of the time, music is on in the dressing room to help us relax,” Atkinson revealed. “There is also a song I play prior to walking out for a game and I’ve listened to it for the last five or six years. I won’t say what it is, but it’s a song that’s close to me. “It’s important that we go out and enjoy a game like this. It’s a one-off for all of us. The reason why we are together as a team for this game is because we have all done well, so we want to enjoy the occasion.”

Having reached the pinnacle of English football, Atkinson, who also refereed in the Champions League this season and was fourth official for The Final in Madrid a year ago, has nothing but encouragement for young referees looking to get into the game.

“I started refereeing when I was 15 – the local team were short of officials, so they asked me if I’d do it to earn a few extra pounds at the weekend,” he explained. “They sent me on the course and once you get the bug, that’s it. “There are so many opportunities for young referees now and they can progress to whatever level they want.

Even for a referee starting at 40 or 50 years old, there are still targets you can reach, local finals and different leagues. There’s always that next step if you do well. “I really enjoy the camaraderie among the referees and I have so many close friends through football and refereeing,” Atkinson continued. “That’s the fantastic part of being involved in the game.

“Just try it, go on the course and do the games. Stick at it and once you get into it, with the support you’ll receive, there is so much you can achieve. 

For more information about how you can become a referee, visit TheFA.com/Referee 

Watch the full interview with Martin at TheFA.com/FATV

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