This week the EFL announced that Craig Pawson would referee the Carabao Cup final with Neil Swarbrick taking on the role of VAR in the first showpiece occasion of the season.
Back in 2008 I remember getting that phone call from the Football League asking me if I’d like to referee, what was then, the Carling Cup final. I was of course overjoyed and filled with emotion at the thought of going to Wembley to officiate a cup final. I believe that the way I had refereed that season I had fully earned this opportunity.
Craig is a nice guy and it’s fantastic news for him his team, I’m pleased for him immensely and I hope he enjoys the day because it will come and go so quickly. I can recollect memories of every minute, from walking out to warm up on the Wembley surface, looking around seeing this incredible stadium fill up, all the way to the final whistle looking round seeing all the celebrations and heartache that a cup final can bring.
Now when I look back at Craig’s performances this season I can’t help but think that he wasn’t the best referee available to the selection panel. If Craig is honest he knows his standards have not been what they should be, he’s ranked 15th in my Referee Rankings which attests to his indifferent season to date.
I look around at other referees and Neil Swarbrick is the name that sticks out to me as the one who should have been appointed. With the likes of Oliver, Atkinson, Marriner, Dean and Friend having already refereed this final, the first name that should have been in the reckoning is Neil. I know that he’s on VAR but that simply is not the same as being the man that leads the players out on match day.
I have Neil down in 9th but that’s not to say he’s had a poor season. In fact, apart from his first two games in August, he’s had a very good season. If you exclude those two matches where he missed two separate violent conduct acts, he’d be ranked sixth. The way he recovered from that poor start is a credit to Neil, since then he has delivered marks of 7 and 8 consistently, producing all round reliable and solid performances. That stretches back to last season as well by the way.
The players know he’s played the game at a decent level before and so appreciate his understanding of the game. This respect means he can comfortably engage with them as they trust him, but he’s never afraid to make a big decision when needed.
So I feel a bit sorry for him because you would expect the people in charge to pick the man in form, the man most deserving, which he most certainly is.
You might remember Craig refereed the same fixture at Wembley last season in the FA Cup semi-final , but he drew plenty of criticism, so this will be a big test for him when he steps back out on the hallowed Wembley turf next Sunday.
I really do hope he has a good game however, and that we witness another exhilarating game of football where the referee goes unnoticed, as it should be. Good luck to Craig and his team!