HACKETT’S VERDICT: Play-off games are huge for referees too

HACKETT’S VERDICT: Play-off games are huge for referees too

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Yet this historic change has benefited the game, keeping the competition lively up to the last kick of the season. We can now look back over the years to see the huge success that it has been. Having myself officiated play-off games, there is no doubt they produce a good opportunity for match officials to display their skill sets in what always proves to be a competitive encounter.

With the finals played at Wembley it opens up the opportunity for a current EFL referee and his colleagues to be appointed and experience that walk out onto the famous stage. I officiated thirteen times at the old Wembley Stadium and every time it was a fantastic experience, something to be remembered for the rest of your life.

The game involving the two Championship clubs playing for a place in the Premier League and the vast increase in income that awaits them must be handled by the best in-form officials. That is why I would have no hesitation in appointing my referee of the year, Martin Atkinson.

The League One and Two finals should be awarded to referees such as Paul Tierney and those among the SG2 referees sitting at the top of the merit table.

Form should be the criteria for appointment, not rewarding service where we have seen some referees come to the end of their career struggling to cope with the physical demands placed on them, particularly if the game goes to extra time.

Atkinson and Tierney should get the call. Can I also suggest to the Football League that they stop the nonsense of presenting the medals to the match officials in their dressing room. It would be far more appropriate for them, like the players, to climb those steps and be recognised for their contribution to our great game.

Finally, on my way to Phoenix where I am currently with the You Are The Ref team, I bumped into Premier League referee Lee Mason who was on his way to officiate Chelsea v Southampton.

As you will perhaps be aware, I have been very critical of some of Lee’s performances on the field. However, it was nice to exchange a few words. He continues to be one of the nice guys in the cut throat world of officiating and a great ambassador for the game.

Those PGMOL get-togethers I remember allowed Lee to show off his terrific dry sense of humour and at the time have us all falling about laughing. I do think that the PGMOL should use this referee on a more regular basis next season to enable him to develop his form and confidence.

I know over the years he has worked tirelessly with young referees in Bolton. I hope that when he finally hangs up his boots and whistle, a place will be available for him to coach young talented match officials. I wish Lee all the best.