I started refereeing in 1990 as a schoolboy who dreamed of playing for my beloved Newcastle United.
That dream was quickly dispelled by my PE teacher at Cramlington High School, who told me I should take up refereeing, as I was not that good at football.
This was the best advice anyone has ever given me… and without those wise words I would not have gone on to enjoy all the amazing experiences that refereeing has brought me.
My first big match locally was in the Northumberland Senior Cup, when there I was, a young referee still learning to manage players and coaches. I can still recall how very nervous I was beforehand and my lack of experience certainly showed during the match, as I got some criticism from one of the teams on my performance.
On reflection, I wish to this day that I could referee that match again, as, given all the experience I have now accumulated, I am sure that I would have achieved a better performance.
Many ex-referees went on to assist me in my early development: George Courtney, from nearby Middlesbrough, and Keith Hackett, from Sheffield, in particular allowed me and guided me to try and achieve my goals. Without their support, I am not sure I would have achieved what I have done in the game.
I was fast-tracked from non-league football to professional football in a matter of three seasons, but you need some luck along the way to do that. One match in particular will always stick in my mind. It came at the age of 22 and provided the perfect example of the importance of being in the right place, at the right time.
I was an assistant referee at Barrow versus Rushden & Diamonds in the Conference National League and the senior assistant referee said to me before kick-off that, seeing as I had a big future ahead of me, that I should be the senior assistant for the match instead.
The referee got himself injured during the first 15 minutes, which meant that I then had to referee for the remainder of the game. I got the maximum mark off the assessor that day, and the media and both clubs were very positive afterwards, which I’m sure went a long way to explaining how I came to be promoted at the end of that season.
Looking back, I have achieved so many great things in refereeing since that I am sure I could not ever have done as a football player, which includes: every domestic cup final in England, FIFA under-17 and under-20 Finals, the UEFA Super Cup Final, the UEFA Champions League Final and EURO 2016 Final, as well as being acclaimed as the World’s Best Referee in 2017.
Every single day I reflect on these achievements and keep pinching myself that this has all happened to a normal Geordie guy who had some luck, but, most importantly, worked hard to achieve his goals.
Now that I have joined You are the Ref as Academy Director I am looking forward to helping young referees in achieving and supporting their goals. The advice I would give to any young referee can be summed up very simply indeed: work hard, listen and treat every game you referee as a cup final.
You can hook up with Mark yourself by signing up to the You Are The Ref Academy.