The Premier League faces an unprecedented shortfall in experienced referees next season after Kevin Friend became the fourth long-serving official to quit the top flight this summer - to take a management role with the referees’ organisation.
Friend, 50, is the youngest of the retirees this summer, following Mike Dean, 54; Jon Moss, 51; and Martin Atkinson, 51, out the game. Between them the quartet have officiated in 63 seasons in the Premier League alone and leave the Professional Games Match Official organisation without stalwarts who have taken charge of big games and each officiated at an FA Cup final.
Friend will continue to work for PGMOL in the newly-created post of manager of the “Select Group 2” referees – those who take charge of games in the Championship. Retirement is a difficult step for even the most experienced referees and Moss, Atkinson and Friend have all taken the chance to accept long-term positions off the field which may not come up again for a long time. Dean, the most famous of the four, will not work for PGMOL with television likely to be his next career step.
PGMOL has come under scrutiny this season for referees’ performances and the application of Var, with Mike Riley, the general manager, under severe pressure from some clubs at the end of the season. He has responded by reorganising PGMOL, with coaching and management jobs for Moss, Atkinson and Friend and promoting younger referees into the “Select Group 1”. Tom Bramall is the one referee promotion this year, joining last summer’s new intake of John Brooks, Jarred Gillett, Tony Harrington and Michael Salisbury.
With the exception of Gillett those four were used sparingly in the Premier League last season by Riley and his select group director Adam Gale-Watts. This season there may be no other option but to throw the less experienced referees into games. The former Premier League referee Bobby Madley, brother of current Select Group 1 referee Andy, has been brought back into the fold and will be in the Championship next season. Gillett came from Australian football. The Scottish Fifa-list referee Bobby Madden has switched to English football, and will start next season in Leagues One and Two.
The Premier League is planning a major shake-up of refereeing with its elite referee development programme and the expectation is that Howard Webb, the 2010 World Cup final referee, will return at some point to a senior position at PGMOL.