AFTER England’s abject World Cup, the Premier League hope 2010-11 sees a higher than usual number of home-grown debutants, but there is one they will not be shouting about from the rooftops.
Ashington’s Michael Oliver will be making his maiden top-flight appearance at St Andrew’s on Saturday.
At 25, he will make history as the division’s youngest referee, but the name of the current record-holder explains why the Premier League would love to smuggle Oliver in under cover of darkness.
Few fans would recognise Stuart Attwell in the street, but many associate his name with mistakes.
Attwell’s Wikipedia entry has a section devoted to his high-profile errors, most infamously the “ghost goal” which earned Reading a point at Watford in 2008 despite the ball going yards wide.
Despite plenty of positive career landmarks, Oliver does not have an entry – but it is perhaps one error away.
Fortunately he will have another league referee to fall back on – not that his dad Clive thinks he will need it.
Clive, who with Michael is thought to have formed the first father-and-son team of officials in British football five years ago, said: “He is as prepared as he possibly can be.
“Nobody knows what is around the corner but he has a good few years’ experience.
“If he was a 25-year-old player, no one would say anything. He has 11 years’ experience, five years refereeing adults, and he has been to Wembley three times.
“He has spent some time as a fourth official in the Premier League and that is all good experience for him, watching top referees. They are all miked up now, so you get to hear everything.
“When it (the major mistake) happens he is family so we will close ranks on him.”
As the Football League’s youngest linesman and referee, Wembley’s youngest referee and the Premier League’s youngest fourth official, Oliver Jnr should be well equipped to cope.
His dad said: “He has not had many huge incidents.
“Probably the biggest was giving a penalty and sending the goalkeeper off at Birmingham just before the play-offs two years ago. TV cameras proved it happened just outside the box, but he should have been sent off.
“It was picked up because it was a crucial time of the season, but any referee can have them.
“Michael is very good at man-management.
“Two incidents in different games do not get treated the same, and that is correct.
“It is down to the tempo of the game and the situation. You have to work out how the players tick and how best to deal with them.
“Howard Webb came out of the World Cup final with lots of good press, but if you just watched clips on video you would say he got some of the decisions wrong.”
Oliver’s debut was supposed to be at Craven Cottage in January, only for the worst weekend’s weather in his lifetime.
Soon after he found out he had been refereeing with a stress fracture of the ankle.
Clive said: “He has coped with it all well. He knew he had a problem with his ankle, he just did not know what it was.
“He would have refereed that Fulham game with a broken ankle, but the diagnosis was made a few weeks later and now it has been operated on.
“The Premier League told him not to rush back.
“He has another year under his belt now and he will be better for it.
“It is probably not much more than ten (Premier League) games since he was due to make his debut.”
At 14, following his dad saw Michael rediscover a love of the game lost on the treadmill of playing for Newcastle United’s academy, his school and county.
Now Clive is hoping for payback.after dragging him around Ashington and Bedlington.
He said: “I am hoping he can take me to the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu!
“I asked the Football League if they could keep me free when it (Michael’s debut) happened, and I am not refereeing at the weekend, but there is nothing I can do when he crosses that line.
“I have been to all his Wembley games, but I was refereeing when he made his Football League debut at Hereford.”
Is there any jealousy from Clive, slumming it in the Football League while his son prepares for the Premier?
He said: “It was a nice feeling for my wife and I when he made his Football League debut. I am very proud of him.”