Michael Oliver has thanked the football community for their recent show of support upon being announced as the referee for this season’s Emirates FA Cup Final.
The Durham FA official was inadvertently thrust into the limelight after the Champions League semi-final second leg between Real Madrid and Juventus in the Bernabeu, following his decision to award a penalty to the hosts in the dying embers of the tie.
But the messages he received in the aftermath have boosted his confidence.
- Emirates FA Cup Final
- 5.15pm, Saturday 19 May
- at Wembley Stadium
- Winning club to receive £1.8m
- Live on BBC One and BT Sport 2
Oliver said: “It was a weird few days. But it was nice that so many people, both within the game and outside the game, were keen to offer their support. It was quite humbling actually and it meant a lot.
“I had people coming up to me in the street and people from inside the game were sending me messages of support. It’s a nice thing to know I’ve got that backing.”
However, the latest message he received is the biggest one of all; the phonecall from The FA asking him to referee the Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester United on Saturday 19 May.
“I was very proud and humbled to receive the call,” he said.
“When you start out, taking charge of the Cup Final is not something you even think about. As your career progresses it becomes a realistic target but it’s not a call you ever expect to take.
“This opportunity only comes around once in a referee’s career.
“It’s funny how things work out because the 1994 Final between Manchester United and Chelsea is the first one I remember watching. And now here I am taking charge of those two teams in an FA Cup Final 24 years later.”
The 33-year-old is widely regarded as one of the best referees around and his Cup Final appointment is thoroughly deserved after years of consistent performances at the highest level.
He is no stranger to Wembley, though, having taken to the hallowed turf on a number of occasions already.
He is the youngest official to take charge of a match at the national stadium when he refereed the 2007 Conference National play-off final between Exeter City and Morecambe aged just 22.
The Ashington native has now built an impressive Wembley CV, adding the 2013 League Cup final, the FA Cup semi-final between Millwall and Wigan a few weeks later and the 2014 FA Community Shield to his list of showpiece matches.
Oliver added: “I’ve ref’d at Wembley a good few times now and it never gets old.
“You still pinch yourself when you’re walking round the stadium the day before the game. You know where everything is, but you still go to acclimatise – and because it’s Wembley.
“The first time I did it there were only 40,000 people there. Each game I’ve done since the crowd has got a bit bigger and this will be the biggest game of the lot.”
Despite his big-game experience, Oliver, who played against Michael Carrick as a youngster at Bedlington Juniors, is not averse to asking for advice in the build-up to the Final.
“We’re quite a close group,” he explained, “so I’ll speak to the referees who have done it in the past to get a sense of the whole occasion and how they dealt with it.
“There are so many things that happen before the game on Cup Final day that don’t normally happen.”
Oliver continued: “I imagine I’ll be a bit more nervous before the game than I would be for any other game, like any player I suppose.
“But unlike players, referees only get one opportunity to get to a Cup Final.”
David Elleray, chairman of The FA referees' committee, added: “Over a number of years, Michael has shown that he has a wise and calm head on relatively youthful shoulders and he is an excellent role model for young referees.
“Michael quite clearly has the physical and mental capabilities, and the experience, to deliver an outstanding performance in the world's oldest knockout competition.”
Oliver will be assisted by Ian Hussin (Liverpool FA) and Lee Betts (Norfolk FA), with Lee Mason (Lancashire FA) the fourth official. Constantine Hatzidakis (Kent FA) is the reserve assistant referee.
Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire FA) will be the first video assistant referee (VAR) in FA Cup Final history, with Mick McDonough (Northumberland FA) the assistant VAR.
If you'd like to follow in Oliver's footsteps, get in touch with your local referee development officer and book yourself on a basic referees course.