iCanRef: Mark Dwyer
Tell us about how and why you got involved in refereeing?
At 14 my dad suggested I get a paper round like my mates, but I didn’t fancy the early mornings! As he coached my junior team, I knew that there was a shortage of refs and the match fees were fairly decent, so I enrolled on the next available course. I then spent 6 Mondays in the corner of a Working Men’s Club learning the laws and then passing the written test. I then started refereeing junior games in Lichfield, Staffordshire whilst still playing junior football. I soon caught the refereeing bug and would be doing 2 games a weekend as well as 3 small sided sessions which was much more profitable than a 5am paper round! I continued to referee in the local leagues, progressing into adult football when I was old enough and often found myself doing 3 games a weekend.
I then went to York university and continued to referee when I could and still did games in Staffordshire when I returned home – I ended up being promoted to a level 4 Supply League referee and Contributory League assistant referee -I literally had no idea what this was or what it could lead to! In fact, my first official game as an assistant was on the Contributory Leagues at Brigg Town – it was a real sink or swim moment that wouldn’t happen now but luckily it went fairly well!
What do you enjoy about refereeing?
Refereeing is a great hobby. Starting out at the grassroots level as a young 14 year old gave me self confidence and management skills that helped me immensely in my university study and when I got a job. It is also extremely enjoyable and rewarding. and that’s not just the match fees! As I’ve progressed up the levels every game is a reward as I’m going to grounds and officiating at a level I would never have played at and it’s great that I can share this with family and friends who have helped and supported me.
Who are your role models in refereeing?
When I started out there wasn’t the structure in place as there is now, there wasn’t mentoring, coaching, CORE, RDOs. A lot of the time it was me with my mum or dad driving me to a game and they would be my sounding board on the way home. Having the support of my family is also hugely important as I have had to give up a lot of time with them travelling to games and training camps up and down the country.
In Staffordshire, there was a Premier League assistant called Andy Martin who got a group of young referees together and got us into the academy at Aston Villa. We would officiate games on a Sunday morning and he and a few others would give advice, coach and mentor us. This was a great experience and helped me immensely. When I moved up to Yorkshire, I was fortunate that Castleford Referee’s Association is packed with experience and Steve Rhodes at West Riding FA helped me find my feet in the local area. I also worked at the same school as Andy Madley for a few years so we came up through the non-league ranks and could discuss incidents at work. More recently, I have Dave Babski as my assistant refereeing coach, and he will analyse incidents and give feedback and advice to help me improve. I also train with Adrian Holmes as he lives around the corner and having someone to run the miles with always makes it easier.
In terms of a referee who I admired – that would have to be Pierluigi Collina. When I was growing up, he was a fantastic referee and the way he controlled and managed a game was outstanding – if only we all had those eyes!
What are your greatest achievements in refereeing and why?
Progressing to become a Select Group 2 Assistant Referee is my biggest achievement to date as I never dreamt that I would end up officiating some of the biggest clubs in the country and in the best stadiums in the world. I have officiated at Old Trafford, Hillsborough, Elland Road, Villa Park to name a few and been involved in games with Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United. I never thought what started out as something to earn a few quid when I was a 14 year old would turn out to be such a big thing in my life and give me so many unbelievable experiences. Every weekend I have the best seat in the house to experience football at these iconic venues. I have acted as assistant referee for the Women’s FA Cup Final, FA Vase Semi-final, EFL Trophy Regional Final, UEFA Youth League Semi-final.
What is your best memory of refereeing?
On the field it would have to be getting appointed to the Woman’s FA Cup Final and getting my 3 lions badge. This is a goal for all match officials and to achieve this is definitely a highlight. Other highlights include being assistant on the East Anglican derby and walking out on Boxing Day at the Stadium of Light for Sunderland v Bradford in front of a full house, the atmosphere was fantastic.
Off the field, it’s the friends I have made. The assistant referee from my first supply league game in York, Paul Tomes is now a really close family friend as are numerous other match officials I have met and worked with over the years.
What are your goals in the sport?
My ultimate aim is to get to the Premier League. I’m working hard at improving what I do and hopefully I will achieve this. I also want to walk out at Wembley and officiate a game there. There are only a couple of chances to do this per season, but I will work hard to try and get there in one of the finals.
What are the biggest obstacles you have faced in refereeing?
To start with it was relying on my mum or dad to get me to games as I wasn’t old enough to drive and they had to take me everywhere! Then it would just be managing refereeing around everything else - the training, administration and matches does take time out of your week but the reward of doing a match at 3pm on a Saturday is well worth it. Being organised and having an understanding family and boss at work has helped with this as occasionally you have to move plans to fit everything in.
What advice would you give to people wishing to get involved in refereeing?
It is definitely worth it! Taking charge of matches at grassroots level is a challenge and can be tough but coming off at 90 minutes knowing you have controlled and managed a game of football is really satisfying.
With the help and support in place from West Riding County FA, Referees Associations and the PGMOL there is also now a clear pathway for match officials to progress to the very top level. If you want to there is no reason that you can’t get onto the Football League, Premier League or even FIFA if you are committed and good enough. I had no plans on officiating in the professional game when I started out and didn’t even think it was possible but if I can do it then anyone can!