Each week, both the official Premier League and Football League websites carry a list of Match Official appointments for the forthcoming matches in its respective competitions. It's a straightforward note of the man in the middle, his two assistant referees plus the fourth official allocated to each matchBut compiling that list is anything but a simple case; there is a strict criterion: factors to consider range from injury, geography and merit lists are all considered when it comes to deciding who will blow the whistle and wave the flag at each of the League's matches.

Around four weeks prior to each round of matches, a draft list is put together of where referees, assistants and fourth officials have been allocated, which is then checked off to make sure everything is in order – not that it then means it is set in stone, as things change very quickly.

“We do have a number of referees who clearly are excluded from certain clubs for certain reasons,” explains Dave Allison, The Football League's Referee Manager.


“Their son might have played in the Academy, or one member of their family may be a season ticket holder, or they may have played there as a boy or had a trial.

“There would be all sorts of reasons why someone won't be able to referee a particular team, and there are also geographical reasons why people can't referee teams as you can't have them officiating a team too close so there are those to throw in.


“Then of course all the clubs and all the assessors mark the referee on each game. That therefore produces a merit list, or league table if you like, of referees – which comprises two tables, one of the assessors’ marks and one of the clubs’.


“We then put them together to form a combined table and it is from that list that the Championship officials are taken, at the top filtering down.


“You can't hold fast to that because Leagues 1 and 2 are entitled to what they would regard as the better referees. “You couldn't just keep the same few in the Championship; they have to rotate down Leagues 1 and 2, dependent upon form.

“And of course, even though the appointments are drafted four weeks in advance, in those four weeks they get tweaked because of all sorts of things.

“Injuries may come in, along with sickness or illness, or simply a game becomes bigger than I first thought four weeks previously so then I will change the referee and put in a more experienced referee than perhaps the one I drafted.”

Dave's pool of referees normally totals around 60 on any given weekend with the Premier League having first pick of the full-time officials who make up the Select Group (currently 16) while those involved in Npower Football League games are generally from the National List, although normally at least three Select Group referees, who aren’t refereeing a Premier League game are passed on by Mike Riley to Dave Allison, and they get first choice ahead of the subsequent National List.

But of that 60 there will normally be a handful who are unavailable for a variety of reasons: injury, a family wedding, work commitments with those on the National List also having day jobs, and in the case of Danny McDermid (Hampshire), a Major in the Army whose forces duties can often see him posted thousands of miles away from home! He missed 3 months of the season from September to December away on Army business!

Officials are always on standby should they be required at short notice and the League's department in charge of match officials has a system in place to cater for all eventualities and make Dave's life easier when it comes to compiling the lists.

“We have the Match Officials Administration System, a secure site that I can log on to and find out which referees are available,” said Dave.

“A lot of my lads have jobs. Graham Salisbury, for example, is working in America at the moment so he's not available and that will be logged so it will flash up and tells me, if I try and put him on a game it will show he's not available.

“If someone is ill, we log that. If someone is working away, it may be that if he's working in Southampton and he lives in Newcastle I can give him a game in the southern area.

“I have to be mindful that my lads are part-time referees, they are not full-time pros, and for night matches I wouldn't want to be sending a lad from Newcastle down to Brighton unless he was working down there.

“It doesn't always work out because sometimes if I get in a hole I might have to ask someone but you have to take in those considerations if you can, and there are other things to consider.

“If referees from the south always referee in the south, and northern referees always referee in the north, then referees get into a comfort zone and perhaps clubs do, which is not what you want because a referee has to be totally impartial. “What I do try and do is move the lads about a bit so that it takes referees out of the comfort zone and clubs are not having the same referees.

“They want to see fresh faces, plus of course if you're a northern club going down to the south you want to be certain that the referee is not known by that club more than he is known by you.

“There are all these sorts of little considerations that I have to take into account because integrity is paramount."

Appointments are discussed each month with the Professional Game Match Officials management team and another important factor to consider is that of allowing officials the chance to progress up the ladder and take charge of games at a higher level when the time is right.

“Through a season, if you're going to have the Championship referees of the future you have to at some point blood the next generation and move them in," continued Dave.

“That means that sometimes more inexperienced referees will do a Championship game because it's like with a player, if you don't put him in the first-team and let him play, he won't develop into the player you want.

“Referees are the same, they have to have challenging games in order to become experienced referees - it doesn't just happen.

“There are other considerations. For example, first year referees will always start in League 2 for the first two or three months and they will then proceed to League 1, depending on how they're doing on those merit lists, and we will try to give them a Championship game. Perhaps one on their first year, and in their second year they get developed further.”

The merit lists form the basis for deciding which of the officials will take charge of the bigger games throughout the season, and the crucial Play-Off fixtures, with those who are higher up in the list having a far greater chance of getting the call for a plum tie.

“They know where they sit in the tables but not where anyone else sits, and if they are 42nd on one list and 53rd on the other they are not expecting a Play-Off Final,” said Dave.

“The Play-Offs and other major appointments to finals are always done from the top few on the merit list, and the other considerations.

“For example, if someone does the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final they might not also get the League 2 Play-Off Final because there is so little to choose between numbers one, two, three, four or five on the list.

“We do the Play-Offs very late, not until the end of season merit lists are in as that could change in the last three weeks because someone could have three poor games, and someone from eighth place could have three good games.”

And although there is a mechanism in place for clubs to mark officials based on their view of their performance that is as far as clubs' input goes when it comes to deciding who will be allocated where.

There is no opportunity for clubs, dismayed by a referee's previous performance against them, to contact The League and request his removal.

“The moment we ever allow a club to have any input into the appointments of referees we've got a big problem because integrity is paramount and that's why we have to be completely independent of the clubs," said Dave.

“They may ring up afterwards and say they don't think a referee has done very well, that's a different matter, but no club will ever be allowed to request that they don't have a particular referee.

“The game would be in disarray. I can tell you that no club, in my five years, has had a referee removed from anything.”