The Best Referees in The Premier League History

Best Referees in Premier League

Last Updated on November 15, 2021

Given the plethora of top-class officials in the League, have you ever wondered who the best referees in the Premier League are?

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To become a top-level ref you have to be extremely resilient and good at blocking out abuse. Most people would inevitably crumble under pressure and this is what makes referees do so underappreciated.

However, in 2003, Pro Evolution Soccer chose to appreciate the referees. That year, Pierluigi Collina was featured as the game’s cover image. But it is hard to imagine that such will happen again.

Nonetheless, the refereeing job is still pretty much difficult in the Premier League. Despite the difficulty and pressure, we’ve compiled a list of the best referees in the Premier League. These referees are chosen based on their overall career performance in the Premier League.

10. Paul Dirking 

Paul Dirking is a retired Dorset-born referee who featured mostly in the early years of the Premier League.

At the 1998 world cup in France, Paul Dirking was the only ref from England that World Cup. He officiated one game at the tournament from Group B.

Also, he officiated the 1998 FA cup final and 2003 League Cup final.

Eventually, he retired in 2004. However, his overall performance remains in the heart of true football fans. Hence, he earns the right to be called one of the best referees in Premier League history.

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9. Martin Atkinson

Atkinson started refereeing at the age of 16. In 2002 the Yorkshireman officiated his first conference game (now the National League). 

Only 36 months after his first game in the conference, Martin Atkinson was in charge of Man City vs Birmingham Premier League match. 

It is also important to note that Atkinson holds the record for the most referee appointments in one season. He officiated 48 times in the 20009/10 season. 

In 2011, Atkinson officiated the FA Cup final match between Manchester City and Stoke City. The match ended 1-0 in Machester City’s favor.

Furthermore, in 2007 Atkinson was added to Fifa’s list of Referees. He has refereed UEFA champions league matches, World Cup qualifiers and refereed Germany vs Ukraine at Euro 2016.

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8. Mark Clattenburg

Clattenburg raced through the ranks as a referee being an assistant for a season before being added to the referee’s National List in 2000. He continued refereeing in the Football League including playoff semi-finals.

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Furthermore, Clattenburg was made a Premier League referee in 2004 with his debut being crystal palace against Everton.

In 2006 Clattenburg was made a FIFA referee. 

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The experienced referee officiated Fenerbaches 5-0 win over MTK Budapest in 2008, his first champions league game. In 2012 Mark was a referee for that year’s League Cup final and was the assistant referee at Euro 2012.

The next year, he was in charge of a Champions League quarter-final first leg match between Bayern and Juventus. He was applauded after the game for letting it flow. 

In 2016 the County-Durham-born ref was in charge of the FA cup final and European championship final that year. 

In 2017 he left the premier league to become the Saudi Arabian Federations head referee. Two years after, he announced he would be officiating in the Chinese Super League.

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7. Lee Mason

Mason started officiating in the Football League as an Assistant Referee in 1998. Two years later, he started refereeing in the EFL Football League.

In addition, Mason was made a Premier League Assistant Referee in 2000. Ever since then, he’s been making remarkable progress.

In 2006, he was added to the list of refs who would take charge of top-flight games.

Perhaps the performance Mason received the most praise for was in the League Cup in 2012 between Man United and Chelsea. 

Only 3 days after a heated battle in the League, he took charge of the game well and had to award three penalties.

It is important to note that Lee Mason is the Premier League’s first-ever person appointed just for VAR. This actually happened in the 2021/22 season.

Lee retired from officiating on the field in the 2020/21 season. But he is remembered today as one of the best referees in the Premier League history.

6. Mike Dean

Mike Dean is one controversial referee in English football. Football fans controversially accuse Mike Dean of being a Manchester United fan.

You can check out the overall stats of Mike Dean’s Manchester United matches officiated and draw a good conclusion for yourself.

Mike Dean has been refereeing in the Premier League since 2000 and is one of the most experienced in England. 

3 years after his Premier League appointment, Dean was added to FIFA’s list of referees. He would stay on for 10 years refereeing the World Cup, Euro Qualifiers, and the Europa League group stage matches.

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In 2008 he had the honour of refereeing the FA cup final between Portsmouth and Cardiff.

Notably, Mike Dean was the first referee to dish out 100 red cards in the Premier League.

Nonetheless, when you look at Dean’s overall career, he’s worthy of being called one the best referees in the Premier League history.

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5. David Ellery

Ellery was a Geography teacher Monday-Friday and also officiated at the highest level. His most prestigious game as a referee was the 1994 FA cup final, in which he was awarded a controversial penalty. After the match, the then UEFA president praised him for showing courage and making the decision. 

In 1999, Ellery gave Liverpool a penalty and sent off Denis Irwin in the Merseyside club’s eventual 3-2 win over rivals Manchester United. Subsequently, after the game, United fans sent Ellery death threats for his calls. 

After stepping down in 2004 he was president of the referees’ board until 2007. Since 2016 he’s been technical director of the IFAB (International football association board.)

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4. Michael Oliver

Oliver is one of the most recognizable and best referees in the Premier League.

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Michael Oliver started refereeing just at the age of 14 and quickly progressed through the ranks.

At the conference play-off final in 2007, he became the youngest ever ref at Wembley. In addition to his numerous career records, he is the youngest fourth official in the Football League and also the Premier League. 

Also, Oliver is the youngest ever referee in the top flight. He became eligible to officiate international matches in 2012 and was added to UEFA’s elite list 5 years ago. 

The Englishman received messages and abuse on his doorstep after handing Real Madrid a decisive penalty in the last minute against Juventus in a crucial quarter-final tie.

Overall, it is safe to say that Oliver has had a good refereeing career to date.

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3. Mike Riley

Mike Riley was an active referee from 1989 until 2009 when he assumed the role of Manager of Professional Game Match Officials Board

The part-time Accountant refereed his first Football League game in 1994 after being an assistant for the previous 5 years. 

Only two years later, he was appointed a Premier League referee. He served in this role for 13 years until his retirement.

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Notably, Riley took charge of the 2002 FA Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea.

In summary, over his career, he issued 109 red cards in 444 games. However, Riley is still regarded as one of the best referees in Premier League history.

2. Uriah Rennie

Uriah Rennie is one of the first black referees in English football. He officiated in local leagues and the Northern League for 15 years between 1979 and 1994.

He then was moved up to the Football League and remained there for 3 years until the Premier League added Uriah to their list of referees in 1997. 

Rennie remained in the top flight for 12 years and became a FIFA ref in 2000.

Uriah retired in 2009 at the age of 45 and became president of the local semi-professional side Hallam FC.

Rennie’s overall career performance is indeed worthy of recognition.

1. Anthony Taylor 

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Taylor began refereeing in 2002 in the Northern Premier League where he was quickly moved up to the then conference (now national league) in 2004. 

After a two-year spell in England’s 5th tier, Taylor was promoted to the football league in 2006. He would remain there for 4 years until he was added to the top-flight list of refs. His first Premier League match was Fulham vs Portsmouth in September 2010. 

Taylor was added to Fifa’s elite list and was in charge of a Euro 2020 group stage game. In 2017, Anthony Taylor was chosen to referee the FA cup final. 

This impressive resume means Anthony Taylor tops our list of best Referees in Premier League history.

Final Thought

In conclusion, every referee we see at the top has had to prove themselves time and time again and work tirelessly to make their way to the top. 

While we may question the odd decision or debate a recent sending-off, it’s easy to forget that these are the best in the business and refereeing is not a role your average football lover could take up. 

These guys’ steely nature towards players and fans shows a resilient attitude few can keep for a whole 90 minutes and that must be respected.

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