As another nailbiting, squeaky‑bum Premier League season nears its end, the veteran referees Mike Dean, Jon Moss and Martin Atkinson are hanging up their boots. Here, Big Brother-style, are their best and worst bits.
Premier League debut Leicester City v Southampton, 2000
Red cards 114
Yellow cards 2,026
Most controversial decision Showing West Ham’s Sofiane Feghouli a straight red for an innocuous 50-50 challenge with Manchester United’s Phil Jones – a decision described by pundit Niall Quinn as “rank bad refereeing” and later overturned.
It’s only right to start with the most controversial of our retiree‑referees, something he would no doubt appreciate, as there’s no lack of ego where Dean is concerned. Dean has the dubious honour of being roundly disparaged by pretty much all fans, but he might argue the adage that if you’re not pissing someone off then you’re doing something wrong.
It’s very easy to piss Dean off: he hands out cards with the abandon of a leaflet-thrusting religious zealot on Oxford Street. He has been a Premier League referee since 2000 – that’s 559 matches and counting – and in that time he has issued an unprecedented 114 red cards and an almost unbelievable 2,026 yellows, awarding 184 penalties. Those figures, as you might imagine, are well clear of other officials in the league.
But flourishing cards isn’t all for which Dean is known: there are the high-jinks, as when he hid the match ball from the hat‑trick‑scoring Sergio Agüero, and the showboating stepovers. It should come as no surprise then that “Deano” is a former ballroom dancing champion. (I would put money on a future Strictly Come Dancing appearance.) He has also pioneered the ostentatious “no-look booking”, like a whistle‑toting version of Roberto Firmino.
There’s an argument that Dean has made the game livelier because it’s great to have a theatrical pantomime villain to boo. But there’s also the argument that nobody forks out for a ticket to see the referee, nor to sit through endless stoppages so, maybe, you know, cool it.
But refereeing is an often thankless task and, appearing on That Peter Crouch Podcast, Dean told of how, for 16 years, he would get up at 3am, go to his job slaughtering 140,000 chickens in a factory on the Wirral (strong vibes of Margi Clarke in Letter to Brezhnev) then on to his part-time refereeing job in the afternoon. That’s the kind of dedication which won’t get the plaudits of a teenage Mo Salah’s nine hours spent on 10 different buses en route to training, but is nonetheless impressive.
Perhaps the most pervasive rumour about Dean is that he is a Spurs fan (he’s actually a diehard Tranmere supporter) thanks to two infamous incidents where it very much looked like he was celebrating Tottenham goals during matches he was officiating. First there was the hop, skip and jump after a Louis Saha strike in a 2012 north London derby (after Dean had played an advantage), then the outstretched arms after a 2015 Mousa Dembélé goal against Aston Villa. (Dean has since clarified that what he was celebrating was, essentially, his own genius decision-making, which is peak Dean.) Arsenal fans’ particular animus against him once resulted in 100,000 of them signing a petition to get him banned from the game.
It isn’t just fans who have beef with Dean, though; he’s irritated plenty of players and pundits. Sky Sports’ Alan Smith accurately assessed that Dean “wants to be the centre of attention” and Gary Lineker, Martin Keown, Stephen Hunt, Alan Shearer and a host of others have let their feelings be known over some of his performances.
Other Dean highlights (or lowlights) include that time Louis van Gaal threw himself to the ground in a mock-dive when trying to sway Dean, who was acting as fourth official. Dean isn’t done annoying people just yet – he’s said to be taking a full‑time spot at Stockley Park, and he’s already served as a VAR official before now.
Premier League debut Blackpool v Birmingham City, 2011
Red cards 39
Yellow cards 892
Most controversial decision In a season which will once again be decided by the slimmest of margins, Moss was roundly criticised for awarding Manchester City a possibly title-deciding penalty when the ball hit Wolves’ João Moutinho’s armpit.
Moss is a lower-profile official than Dean, but he hasn’t escaped his own accusations of arrogance – and he has certainly caused his own headlines. In a trigger-happy 2014 game between Manchester City and Tottenham, Moss awarded no fewer than four penalties – only two of which could be objectively considered definite (or, in current parlance, “clear and obvious”).
A couple of years ago Moss was investigated – and then backed – by the Football Association after telling the Bournemouth player Dan Gosling: “I’m not the reason you are in relegation trouble – you are!” Tellingly, however, Moss did not deny the remark, but he was cleared on the basis that it was “a very challenging game for Jon and his officials”.
On a lighter note, Moss was good-naturedly but mercilessly mocked for having his nickname, “Mossy”, embroidered on the boots he wore for the FA Cup semi‑final. Ally McCoist laughed: “I’m not having ‘Mossy’ written on his boots, I’m not having it. If you’re David Beckham I’m having it all day, but he shouldn’t be doing it!”
Perhaps Moss’s second-most embarrassing moment was when a pitchside microphone picked up him saying to his assistant Eddie Smart in the 87th minute of a Liverpool v Spurs fixture: “I’ve got no idea whether Lovren’s touched the ball to be honest with you … I’m giving the penalty.” Which doesn’t seem like particularly sound decision-making and led to Jürgen Klopp declaring in his press conference that his honest opinion of what transpired would lead to “the biggest fine in the world”.
In another game featuring Liverpool the Aston Villa manager, Steven Gerrard, was not happy with Moss’s performance and, told Moss was retiring this season, responded cuttingly with: “Good.”
Off the pitch Moss has, somewhat surprisingly, established his own record store in Leeds, describing his youth as: “Spending [my] student grant on records … playing football Saturday morning, then Saturday afternoon go round the record shops.” What does he stock? Joy Division, the Beatles and Tracy Chapman. Gerrard, one assumes, will not be paying a visit.
Premier League debut Crystal Palace v Manchester City, 2004
Red cards 67
Yellow cards 1,485
Most controversial decision Not a single decision, but Atkinson was “given a break” after a poor performance throughout a Chelsea v Burnley game in 2015.
Atkinson has been officiating in the Premier League since 2004, but he actually started as a professional referee as a 16-year-old. The confessed Leeds United fan has had much beef with fierce Leeds rivals Manchester United over the years, due to accusations of anti-United bias during their matches. During an infamous 2009 match against Chelsea, Wayne Rooney muttered “12 men” to the camera, referring to his opinion that Atkinson was favouring Chelsea. According to Alex Ferguson, Atkinson’s performance was “why people lose faith in refereeing”.
But perhaps Atkinson’s nemesis is fellow former referee Mark Clattenburg, who once detailed the “war” between the two. According to Clattenburg: “We never got on. We were playing five-a-side in the gym. I caught him with a tackle. He threw a punch, and I threw a punch back.”
Atkinson was also caught snubbing a Leighton Baines handshake at the end of an Everton v Arsenal fixture – although nobody has been able to work out why. But one player he did like – telling one interviewer he “really got on with him” – was Arsenal’s Tomas Rosicky. Upon finishing his onfield career, Atkinson will join Moss in taking up a position at the PGMOL, guiding the new generation of officials.