How Referees Are Selected

Ever wonder what (if any) thought goes into the Premier League referee appointments week in and week out?

While it’s something of a trade secret, I’ve managed to dig up an old list that seems to still be relevant. While these may not be the only criteria PGMOL use, this list seems pretty comprehensive.

  • The referee’s current form – We saw this recently when Mike Jones was skipped over after a poor performance, or when Howard Webb spent a weekend in League One after a rough couple of weeks.
  • Position in the merit table – As a rule, the best referees get the biggest games.
  • Overall experience – This is particularly important when you’re dealing with contentious derbys or difficult grounds. An experienced referee has a better chance to keep hotheaded players and fans under control.
  • How often they have refereed the Clubs involved – Frequently refereeing the same team leaves a ref open to charges of favoritism (as in Howard Webb with Manchester United) even if there is no statistical basis for the accusation (as in Howard Webb with Manchester United).
  • Proximity to the ground or city in which they were born or live – For instance, Mark Clattenburg can’t referee Sunderland because he lives close to the city. This also came up when Brendan Rodgers complained about getting Lee Mason, a referee from “Greater Manchester” (Bolton) for Liverpool’s match at Manchester City.*
  • The team the referee supports – Clattenburg can’t referee Newcastle, either, because he’s a lifelong fan. When he ran the Bupa Great North Run in 2012, he wore a Newcastle United badge on his back.
  • International appointments – These include UEFA matches like Europa and Champions League. Referees need a minimum of two recovery days between matches.

The last one is key. To ensure they get enough rest and recuperation time (these guys run a lot, and they’re not 18-20 anymore), they must get at least two rest days between matches. Essentially, if a referee has an international match on a Thursday (such as Europa), he can only do a game on Sunday or Monday of the following weekend. If he referees a Champions League game on Tuesday, the latest he could take a match beforehand is the Saturday before.

*It should be noted that the Manchester City v. Liverpool match took place on Boxing Day (December 26). It does seem that PGMOL try to keep referees as close to home as reasonably possible on that day, so that they can actually spend Christmas Day with their family and not traveling.


  • All those criteria seem sensible, for sure. One thing I’ve wondered (I admit to not having paid enough attention to figure it out for myself) is if the refs usually get the same assistants, so they work as a trio, or if those appointments vary week to week as well – I can see pros and cons for both approaches.


    • It’s a great question. In most leagues, they “share” the assistant referees between the center refs. For instance, Howard Webb’s team for both international play and the World Cup consists of Mike Mullarkey and Darren Cann. But neither will be on his team this matchweek. Mullarkey is with Phil Dowd at Newcastle, and Cann will be with Anthony Taylor at Hull City. (Interestingly, Sian Massey will be an assistant ref of Webb’s this weekend, and you usually only see her with him.) The Italian league is the same way; because of the sheer amount of refs they need between fourth officials and the two adds, linesmen have to be shared amongst the referees. Hope this helps.


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