Mark Haywood iCan

iCanRef: Mark Haywood Q&A

Referee Development Officer and former EFL Referee Mark Haywood shares his story

Tell us about how and why you got involved in refereeing?

I worked with a grassroots referee who, every Monday morning, had to endure my rants regarding the referee I had seen that weekend whilst watching my team Sheffield United.

He challenged me by saying, “If you think you can do any better then take the course”, so in traditional Yorkshire style I said “Reyt I’m gunna!”.

I signed up to the referees course delivered by 2 legends of the refereeing community in Leeds, Peter Lister & Fred Smith, for 7 evenings over 7 weeks at Leeds United conducted in the players’ lounge and I went nowhere near a pitch!

I committed to the Leeds Combination Sunday League and went to my first appointment: Division 6 St John’s Centre (Wortley) v The Red Lion (Hunslet) at Kirstall Abbey.

From there I signed up to the West Yorkshire League as a linesman which gave me the opportunity to be guided by experienced and supportive referees such as Paul Long, Alex McGeorge, Phil Bramley, Len Lothian, to name a few.

Some of who I still ring for advice to this day.

Progression took time including the Huddersfield League, Central League & The West Yorkshire League and also being an Assistant Referee on the Northern Premier League.

Again, working with referees who were absolutely class, Gary Kellet, Gary Britten, Nigel Bannister, all of whom achieved Football League or Premier League levels.

Even at this level I was in awe of my colleagues I worked with and they were pivotal in helping me achieve the level that I was fortunate enough to achieve.


What was the highest level you refereed at?

I was fortunate to operate at the higher levels of the game, refereeing on the Football League for 15 years after initially being an Assistant Referee.

I refereed over 400 Football League games including The Championship, League 1 & League 2 fixtures.

I also performed the role of a 4th official at Premier League level.

Achieving the dizzy heights of being a match official at Wembley on two separate occasions which was an absolutely immense experience to be a part of.

I also achieved my FA 3 Lions of which I am immensely proud of.

I refereed at all the Football League grounds in England and only missed Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and Aston Villa stadiums as ones I had not officiated at in some capacity.

I have worked with some of the best officials in the world, including Howard Webb, Martin Atkinson, Anthony Taylor, Michael Oliver and of course, both of the Madley brothers.

Having the chance to meet the likes of Phil Sharp & Mike Malarky, who took assistant refereeing to a new level, plus Amy Fearn and Sian Massey who have been the female trailblazers along with Wendy Toms within the game.


What did you enjoy about refereeing?

I began refereeing as a bit of a hobby and as I always say, “it got a bit out of hand!” and it has developed into a career and is now is my full-time job.

I have met some fantastic people and when things have been difficult there has always been someone available, at any time of the day or night to talk to and provide any necessary support, which is something I try to reciprocate now.

In developing a passion for refereeing, the rewards have been unbelievable.  

A huge part of refereeing is down to communication and managing people, which is something I enjoy, hopefully the use of humour has helped me along the way too, but it has been key to appreciate when an individual needs time, space and a supporting word if they are in a difficult place.


Who are your role models in refereeing?

My current wife has had and still does have a huge impact on my refereeing, my family have had to miss out on me attending many events throughout my career and have never questioned the sacrifice.

Every New Year’s Eve I would disappear early having to be ready for my game on New Year’s Day, birthdays and social events were also impacted usually because I was driving back from a game on a weekend.

I have met some good people in refereeing, the list of those who have supported me is never ending (and still grows), many of whom have become friends.

Gary Kellett, Alan Kaye, Martin Atkinson, Jon Moss, Paul Long, Alex McGeorge are all colleagues who I have admired for all the right reasons.

I also have a sense of pride in seeing how well Andy and Bobby Madley have done in their refereeing careers and continue to do so, having worked with them both since they began their individual journeys. 


What are your greatest achievements in refereeing and why?

I have many moments that I cherish from my career and to identify one singular event would be very difficult, however an abiding memory would be the Wembley appointments and obviously being presented with my 3 lions by The FA was a huge honour.

I also was delighted when people said I had the best music playlist in the changing room of any referee on the list!

I remember Nigel Clough commenting on it at a team sheet exchange as the Jam was playing in the background, with him saying “well at least you listen to proper music!”


What is your best memory of refereeing?

Again, I have many to choose from and I am so lucky in that respect.

Meeting Prince William, Elton John, the legendary Jack Taylor, as well as some of the greatest players such as Zola, Beckham, Rooney, Billy Sharpe and Tony Currie, obviously!

There have been some really strange moments though, such as when I was the 4th official at Man City v Hull City fixture and Phil Brown kept his players on the pitch at half-time, down to a Leeds Combination Sunday Cup Final that was postponed due to the goalposts being sawn in half during the night.

I always got a buzz whenever I stepped on to a pitch to referee at professional level and more so leading the teams onto the field and I was never as proud as when it was an FA Cup game.

Simply awesome.

What were the biggest obstacles you faced in refereeing and how did you overcome them?

I have always struggled with the context of fitness.

I have never been a natural athlete and have always had struggles with my weight, so I had to work hard to attain my fitness levels and I found that training with other referees did benefit me immensely.

I had to consistently watch what I ate to achieve the required standards of fitness which enabled me pass the fitness and bodyfat tests and continue refereeing at the professional level until my early 50s.

Mentally it is difficult when during a game you have got a big decision wrong, say a penalty.

You have to be mentally strong and have the ability to move on from such an incident and ensure it does not impact on the rest of the game.

All this whilst you are in the middle of a game that players, official and spectators are all passionate about is a great responsibility, mental toughness is an acquired skill that takes time to achieve.


What advice would you give to people thinking about getting involved in refereeing?

It is not easy, but having been a professional referee myself plus my role as RDO at West Riding FA this does give me a great insight as to the challenges new referees may face.

Andy Madley said at a recent meeting that it is harder to referee at grassroots level than it is in the Premier League and I totally agree, but the skills you can acquire from refereeing will help you not just in the game of football but also in the many challenges that life may throw at you. Managing people and their emotions is difficult as football is such an emotive game, as we know, but if you want to be the very best that you can be and achieve amazing things then refereeing can give you that chance.

It certainly gave me pride and helped me become the person I am today.

What I would say is “If you want to be a referee then just see how much you are willing to commit and see how much you can achieve and how far that can take you.”


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