“One of you guys could be in the Premier League in ten years.”
That’s what Mike Beverley, our course instructor, said on the first day of my very first refereeing course in Paderborn when I was based in Germany in 1994. I remember it as if it was yesterday.
We all laughed at him at the time, but I also remember thinking at the start that I was going to try and aim for that, without thinking that it was ever going to happen.
But it did and I feel fortunate to have had the breaks, being in the right place at right time, a lot of commitment and great backing and support from my family, the Army, The FA and PGMOL to get where I am. I have enjoyed every minute of it.
The first time I heard about the MBE was when my Commander, Colonel Phil Harrison, called to tell me. It came totally out of the blue and I was speechless. Proud as punch. It’s one of those things that you never expect.
Aside from the professional game, I do a lot with Army and civilian football as well and have been part of the Army Football referee executive committee for the last ten years or so.
Within the Army, I’m currently an RAPTC Warrant Officer responsible for anything that is related to physical development and sport in the north of England. I live in Gretna and although the office is in Preston, I am largely on the road, looking after unit business and sport across the north in places like Catterick, Preston, Hull and many more.
I’ve also been the chief referee instructor for the Army FA for ten years now, and each year we qualify around 100 referees so in that time, there’s probably been about 1000 or so referees who have completed the basic referee course in the Army FA.
Whenever anyone who's just starting out in refereeing asks me for my advice I always say to just enjoy what you are doing. Don’t look too far ahead, enjoy all the experiences you have, learn from them, whether they’re good or bad. If you look too far ahead, you'll miss out on what you’re doing at the moment.
When I look back to my early days, after that first course in ’94, I came through the system and refereed in Wales, England and Scotland. I was just trying to get as much experience as possible wherever I was posted to.
But when I went from England to Scotland, I had to start at the bottom of the promotion ladder up there, doing two pub teams so I did a lot of grassroots learning. Thankfully I was soon observed and quickly moved up the ladder, but every referee has had knockbacks in their career.
The key moment for me was when I first got into the Premier League in 2006 and I made a mistake in a game between Bolton Wanderers and Liverpool. I awarded a handball outside the box by Pepe Reina, from which Bolton scored and the decision was highlighted on television and everywhere else.
The experience from that incident made me a stronger person and stood me in good stead. It made me more resilient for the years ahead and I would say it was the turning point for me, as I almost considered finishing refereeing.
But I’m glad I didn’t. I dug in there and kept going. In my first game back after that, I had a huge decision to make again and it was correct, so that was when I knew I had made the right decision. I had to build my profile back up again from that and it helped my future career.
I’ve had a great career though, one I’m very proud of. I’ve officiated in the Premier League, in the 2016 FA Cup Final at Wembley and I’ve enjoyed every minute, so the MBE just caps it all off.
Has Andy's career and story inspired you to take up refereeing? It's never too late and you can sign up to a local course right now. Who knows, it could be YOU refereeing in the Premier League one day.