iCanRef: Mike Riley Q&A

Former West Riding Referee Mike Riley who officiated on the Premier League for 13 seasons tells his story. Mike is currently the General Manager of the PGMOL.

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

 At the age of 13 I got injured playing in goal for the school team – 20 stitches in my kneecap from diving at the feet of their star centre forward. 

As I was recovering, I went to watch games, started running the line to keep warm and got bitten by the refereeing bug.

What was the highest level you refereed at?

I was lucky enough to referee on the Premier League for 13 seasons (as Martin Atkinson will tell you that’s not quite as long as him) and was an international referee for 10 years. 

I now have the privilege of working with the 650 referees and assistants who operate within PGMOL which is as thrilling as being on the pitch.   

What did you enjoy about refereeing?

I have loved football all my life. 

Busted kneecap apart, my playing abilities wouldn’t have bothered any talent spotter. 

However, the chance to have the best seat in the house, with some of the best players in the world was magnificent. 

Refereeing gives you that ability to enjoy the game at whatever level and the chance to progress if that’s what you want. 

I will always treasure the friends that I have made through refereeing and the great spirit and fun that exists amongst match officials wherever you may be.


Who are your role models in refereeing?

 As a young referee my heroes were George Courtney and Peter Mikkelsen from Denmark. 

I was lucky enough to meet both and they more than lived up to their reputations – and that’s after they both gave me less than stellar assessments! 

In my current role I have had the privilege of working with top quality referees who are brilliant role models and ambassadors for the game. 

Without wishing to get harangued at the next Select Group meeting the following immediately come to mind: Mike Dean, Martin Atkinson, Howard Webb, Sian Massey-Ellis,

Mike Mullarkey, Rebecca Welch, Sam Allison and of course Anthony Taylor and Michael Oliver.

What are your greatest achievements in refereeing and why?

I was lucky to referee some great games, both domestically and internationally and I got to represent England at the 2004 UEFA European Championships. 

However, my greatest achievements, even if I didn’t realise it at the time, was to get back on the bike after a bad game or experience. 

As a less experienced referee it can be hard to understand that everyone makes mistakes, everyone has bad games. 

The important thing is to learn and grow from each one. 

I was fortunate that every time I threw my kit bag in the corner and said ‘never again’ I had the support and encouragement of my senior colleagues and I owe them a great deal. 

What is your best memory of refereeing?

My last match was the final of the Westmann Islands U10 football tournament. 

It’s a great weekend of football with over 1,000 children from all over Iceland coming to play. 

Walking out in the pre-match line-up you could see just how much it meant for all the players and how excited they were to be playing in front of a 3,000+ crowd. 

It showed you the power of football and the joy it can bring to so many.  

It was a great game too – won with a last minute 30 yard wonder dribble.

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

Refereeing wouldn’t be the fun that it is without some obstacles and challenges! 

Probably the hardest for me was being out injured which happened to me 2/3 times. 

It can be hard training, doing the rehab whilst knowing that you won’t be out at the weekend. 

That’s where your friends and colleagues are so important – keeping you motivated and focussed on getting back on the pitch. 

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

Do it!

It is a great profession, with some wonderful people, opportunities and experiences and so many transferable skills that will help you in life.

You could be the next Ray Pike, who has been refereeing in Harrogate for over 50 years and is loved by generations of players. 

Or you could be the next Martin Atkinson – and if you are make sure you do more seasons on the Premier League than him!


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