From keeping your fitness levels on point to coping with differing views, life as an English Premier League football referee certainly sounds like no walk in the park.
But you won’t hear Tony Harrington complaining, as for a football enthusiast like himself, he knows it’s the dream job.
This week the 39-year-old from Hartlepool shared his experiences on the pitch with sports students at Bede Sixth Form College in Billingham.
“I absolutely love it,” said Tony, now in his second season refereeing in the Premier League.
A former PE teacher at North Shore Academy, Tony has been refereeing since he was 14.
“I started as part of my Duke of Edinburgh Award, and it just went from there,” he said, going on to join the Teesside Junior Football Alliance and working his way up through the English Football League (EFL).
Never dreaming it would turn into a professional career, the plan, he said, was always to be a PE teacher, today he doesn’t underestimate how lucky he is.
“There are only 19 professional referees in the Premier League,” he said. Trying to put the feeling of standing at the centre of a big game into words, he said: “Being part of games on the global stage week in, week out is special.”
Choosing his own personal highlights isn’t easy, as he said: “There’s different games that stay with you for different reasons.” Though he does mention two standout 2021 matches at Wembley, the EFL League One Play-Off Final, Blackpool v Lincoln City and FA Trophy, Hornchurch v Hereford, and then there was the Leeds United v AFC Bournemouth game in November 2022.
Of chatting to the Bede students, as part of the college’s Institute of Sport and Education and its developing AoC Sport Referee Hub, Tony said: “Getting out into the community and talking to people is a core value of the PGMOL and something I really enjoy. The students came up with some great questions today.”
For a professional referee you might think one of the drawbacks is that everyone wants to talk to you about football and Tony said this is the case. Fortunately for him, he said: “I love football, so I could talk about it all day!”