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Newest ref in Premiership to boss Fulham

last updated Thursday 07th January 2010, 11:26 PM
Michael Oliver
Michael Oliver
For a young man whose local watering hole goes by the name of The Block and Tackle, a career in refereeing would seem an ideal choice.

The name of the pub in Ashington, birthplace of Sir Bobby Charlton and brother Jack, refers to lifting equipment. But that is equally apt given how quickly Michael Oliver has hauled himself to the top level of his profession.

The 24-year-old from Northumberland will tomorrow become the youngest referee since the Premier League began in 1992 when he takes charge of Fulham's home game against Portsmouth.

The game is the next landmark stage in Oliver's rapid rise in the world of officiating which has seen him follow in father Clive's footsteps, although Oliver Snr has never had the honour of blowing his whistle in the top flight.

Record breaking has been Michael's stock-in-trade ever since he turned his back on playing the game as a youngster despite earning a place at the academy of his beloved Newcastle United.

Having cut his refereeing teeth as a 14-year-old in the Coast Colts League in Northumberland, a week after his 16th birthday Oliver was officiating at senior level in the blood and thunder of the Morpeth Sunday League - not for the faint-hearted. By 18, he had become the youngest Conference referee and the milestones have continued to be passed ever since.

The roll call is as follows: youngest Football League linesman, youngest Football League referee, youngest referee at Wembley and youngest fourth official at a Premier League game.

Oliver, although admitting to be 'chuffed to bits' by his appointment, says: 'I have been lucky. All the way through I have got the record for being the youngest but I don't set out to do that. I just get my head down and work.'

Unsurprisingly, he counts his dad as a major influence on his chosen career path which has gone hand in hand with him studying for and earning a BSc degree in sport and exercise development from Sunderland university. 'I got interested in refereeing from watching my dad when I was younger,' he says.

'And he is the perfect coach to have. He's willing to listen and lend a hand but not afraid to tell it like it is. We don't analyse each other's games as a rule but if something has happened we tend to sit down with the DVD and ask for an opinion.'

Dad is not the only person on hand to make sure Oliver Jnr's feet remain firmly on the ground. Having received some newspaper flak from Stoke boss Tony Pulis after a defeat by Preston at Deepdale in February 2008, Oliver recalls: 'When I went into university the next day they had it stuck on the wall, so you can laugh about it.

We are sent DVDs and you look to see what you could have done differently. But then you move on to the next game.'

With managers queueing up to blame referees for the team's demise, Oliver has had to develop a thick skin very quickly. There was some stick from Birmingham's Maik Taylor after he awarded a penalty to Plymouth in last season's 1-1 draw at St Andrew's before sending the veteran keeper off.

And by way of an initiation ceremony, Oliver was not spared a ticking off from every referee's favourite manager, Neil Warnock. The Crystal Palace boss was livid after Oliver disallowed a Jose Fonte header midway through the second half of his side's 4-3 FA Cup fourth round defeat to Watford last January.

Warnock described the decision as 'a disgrace' before adding: 'I don't see how referees can have the understanding of the game at that age. Stuart Attwell was the same and they are sprinting before they can walk. The way they are going he will be in the Premier League next year.'

Mystic Neil has proved to be spot on with his prediction. And although Oliver is supremely confident in his abilities, the fall-out from Attwell's 'phantom goal' fiasco, when the referee awarded Reading a goal against Watford when the ball didn't go between the posts, means he knows he will be subjected to similar treatment should he make a mistake.

'Only afterwards, if I get a decision wrong, or if Stuart gets one wrong, is age mentioned,' says Oliver. 'It isn't just a wrong decision, it's a wrong decision from a 24-year-old.'

Oliver is used to making tough decisions. After all, he awarded the first penalty and showed the first red card at the new Wembley during the Conference play-off between Exeter and Morecambe three years ago.

But should there be any signs of him turning into one of those referees who delights in being the centre of attention now that his career has hit the big time, then he has the regulars of his local to bring him back down to earth.

'Despite all the travelling involved with the job, I still feel very much at home in Ashington, having a kick-about with the lads from the pub,' he says.

Indeed, Oliver still gets the opportunity to see the game from the managerial side of the fence by taking charge of the pub team when he gets the chance. But should his Craven Cottage debut go according to plan, his top-flight commitments are likely to see The Block and Tackle side in the market for a new boss.















































































Source Simon Cass at Daily Mail

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