With the refereeing spotlight being concentrated on events at St James Park last Wednesday evening (5th April 2017), that little matter of the Premier League Championship destiny and the significance of a season defining game at Stamford Bridge was overshadowed. But make no mistake the Chelsea Manchester City clash was by any standards a big game, Rio Ferdinand speaking on BT Sport commented before the kick off that should Chelsea have won the match, that ‘ they would have one hand on the title’ . Ok then scene set, so it’s fair to say that there was immense pressure on the match referee and his team to deliver a ‘big game’ performance. I was pleased to report on Ref Cam that this was exactly what we got from Mike Dean and his colleagues!

We are often told by the experts that various creations, performances or works of art are masterpieces, world class or peerless. We take these things as said because they seem good enough to us to earn such praise, but more importantly because ‘experts’ are telling us! Well here at ‘You Are The Ref’ we are the experts on refereeing matters and regarding Mike Dean’s management of this particular game, we are telling you that this was an excellent performance by any standards which could only have been achieved by a few referee’s!

So I hear you say, why is that? In refereeing everyone starts at Park Level, for some referees that is as far as they go, it may be that commitments, injury or other factors, including the possible limit of their ability to officiate at that level, determine that this is as far as they go .But for others they progress to the next level of competition, although they would already have mastered the basics of the trade they will have then tested their ability to perform at that next stage. Invariably the skill level will have risen, but so too will the intensity and speed at which events are unfolding around them, not to say increased expectations and recriminations also, so this process continues at each new competition level that the aspiring referee will find him/herself officiating at. This process whittles down the number of referee’s the further up the pyramid that we go, right up to the Premier League itself.

I was fortunate enough to have officiated as an assistant referee and as a referee on the Premier League. In my days of running the line I was proud enough to have been appointed to the FIFA List, I say this not on grounds of vanity, but only to make the next point. Because I worked with the very best referees of the day I learned about the concept of ‘Time on the Ball’. This is a quality that all of the best sportsmen and women possess. That extra amount of time to play the next shot, make a wonderful pass, be aware of which team mates or opponents are around you. The principle is not exclusive to ball games it extends to motor sport and other competitions, martial arts to name one. Ever wondered why Messi is that split second ahead, why Murray, Djokovic and Serena Williams can play those shots, why Joe Root can play such exquisite stokes when facing a ferocious pace attack. It doesn’t end there, how the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Mark Marquez can hold onto the throttle that bit longer before braking? It is because these sportsmen and women are at the top of their game, they have the ability to create that extra fragment of time to ensure a more successful outcome in the heat of battle to take decision making to another level. Their cognitive skills are stronger and more durable when tested to the limit.

Refereeing is no different, currently in my opinion there are two Premier League referees who are in this category of sportsmen and women, Mark Clattenburg and Mike Dean, two others are getting there but have not mastered it just yet, namely Michael Oliver and Anthony Taylor. That’s not to say that other well respected referees are not good enough to officiate at Premier League Level, but in the case of Clattenburg and Dean you got the best chance of witnessing a ‘big game’ performance when you need it most, which is exactly what we got at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday (5th April 2017)!

You can read again in detail what I said about Mike Dean’s performance, the minute by minute comments are archived in Ref Cam https://you-are-the-ref.com/ref-cam/chelsea-v-manchester-city-3/ But I can best illustrate what I mean by describing an incident in the first fifteen minutes of the game. I can be that precise because in a game of such importance, it was fifteen minutes before the first careless challenge took place. During that period four players converged on the ball between Mike Dean and assistant Jake Collin, two of them went to ground, it could have proved an early banana skin for the referee, because you could have tossed a coin on which way a resultant free kick could have gone. But at that precise moment Mike Dean’s ability to refrain from penalising and squeeze that extra fragment of time from the incident suddenly saw the ball break free and the game moved on, all the players involved simply got on with it, a moment of refereeing excellence barely noticed, and why? Because Mike Dean took the pressure off himself and he continued to do that for the remainder of the game, as I commented on Ref Cam he allowed himself a higher threshold of player contact before he penalised careless challenges. He made it look easy, when it was anything but that. The point is this particular referee had created that extra element of time at his disposal to make decisions. I’m sure you’ll now be thinking, that’s good then for Dean and Clattenburg but what about the rest of us?

When I was coaching referees I always introduced the subject of ‘time on the ball’ for discussion. Let’s face it, moving up to officiate at a new level happens all the time, but here’s the thing, if we are conscious of this aspect of our game we can develop our cognitive skills to create that extra time sooner than it would otherwise naturally occur, to become aware of the benefits to our game and of the competitive edge that it will deliver us. Dean and Clattenburg are both supremely confident when they are officiating, that presence that they exude is there for all the players to see, it creates credibility in the minds of the players and a confidence in what they as referees will do. This can be achieved at any level of the game, every League competition played anywhere in the world has its respected referee’s, those who are trusted with the big games.

It wasn’t always this way for the likes of Clattenburg and Dean, they were Premier League rookies at one time and had to earn their stripes, they worked their way up to the position in the game they hold now, as I commented earlier there is no reason to suppose that Oliver and Taylor won’t join or succeed them. But on a night when events on Tyneside drew much comment, it was a masterclass in refereeing some 247 miles away that for me was the most encouraging and enduring talking point of the week.