From Morpeth Sunday League to the world’s elite

Michael Oliver
Michael Oliver

PREMIERSHIP referee Michael Oliver, who used to officiate grass-roots football matches in Northumberland, has been promoted to the FIFA referees list.

Oliver, who used to referee in the Morpeth Sunday League, has repeatedly taken historic steps while climbing the officialdom ladder and begins another chapter at only 26 years of age.

Sixteen months ago he became the youngest referee to take charge of a Premiership match when he officiated the Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers game at St Andrew’s – and even then, his debut in the top flight had been put on ice by over half a year when first the Fulham v Portsmouth clash was called off in early January due to snow then Oliver was sidelined by an injury.

After becoming the youngest assistant then referee in both the Nationwide Conference and the Coca-Cola leagues, he took charge of the Conference play-off final between Morecambe and Exeter at Wembley in 2007.

Oliver, who lives in Cramlington, was one of two new additions – the other being Anthony Taylor – for the 2010-11 season in the top flight of English football when the pair replaced the long-serving Alan Wiley and Steve Bennett.

Ashington-born Oliver called it the ‘pinnacle’ of refereeing in England and said at the time: “My first step is to have a solid 12 months and progress from there.

“In the long-term, various things are possible but my first step is to get on and be solid throughout.”

Now into his second campaign as one of 16 elite officials, Oliver has been rewarded by this latest promotion – and his parents Clive and Debbie were naturally beaming at the news.

Clive said: “The English FA have to nominate personnel and it is not a guaranteed situation – as a referee you have got to earn it and therefore we were delighted to be told of Michael’s promotion just before Christmas.

“Michael had been in charge of the Wigan v Liverpool Premiership match and afterwards he was told about the FIFA situation by David Elleray, the chairman of the referees committee.

“Michael was ecstatic and rightly so because it is a fantastic achievement for him.

“He operated as an additional assistant referee in the early stages of the Champions League this season in the clash between AC Milan and Real Madrid, but there are only eight referees from our country on the FIFA list and this is fantastic news not only for Michael but also for my wife Debbie and myself – we simply could not have asked for a better Christmas present.”

Oliver wore his FIFA badge on his refereeing shirt for the first time on Bank Holiday Monday when he was in charge of the Championship match between Doncaster Rovers and Barnsley at the Keepmoat Stadium.

Syd Johnson, Morpeth Sunday League president and general secretary, was delighted to hear of Oliver’s promotion.

He said: “This is great news, and we are especially proud that Michael started his refereeing career in the Morpeth Sunday League and has made rapid progress to this pinnacle of referring excellence and ability.

“He has done tremendously well.”

Syd remembered: “He got through his referee exam and wanted to referee in the Morpeth Sunday League but I wouldn’t allow him to do so until he was 16, so I waited until the following season.

“Michael was a good referee straight away. He was right up to date with the laws and he carried that onto the field and he just went on and on.”