Mike Dean Lays Cards on Table to Give Peter Crouch a Referee's Insight
A man who seems so laid back he could probably serve as a draught excluder at the gates of Winterfell Castle, it spoke volumes that after a senior career spanning 19 years, it wasn’t until seven months into Peter Crouch’s retirement from professional football that the scales blinding him from the truth about referees finally fell from his eyes. A recent conversation with Mike Dean convinced the veteran of more than 600 games to realize that referees are human just like the rest of us, rather than unthinking, emotionless, card-brandishing cybernetic androids who simply materialize, fully formed like some sort of buzz-killing fun-assassins dispatched Terminator-style from the future.
A man who does not so much polarize opinion among football fans of various teams as pull off the impressive feat of completely uniting it, Dean once found himself the subject of an unsuccessful petition signed by more than 100,000 Arsenal fans calling for him to be forbidden from refereeing any more of their team’s games. Renowned for his showmanship, occasional pomposity and apparent desire to be the center of attention in any match he is tasked with officiating, he has for some time now been the best known and most unpopular of England’s top-flight refs.
It wasn’t ever thus, however. As an overweight, teenage couch potato on the Wirral in the mid-80s, Dean decided to take up the whistle, cards and notebook in an effort to shed some excess weight. Working his way through the ranks while holding down a full-time job as a mass-executioner of chickens in a processing plant, he swapped fowls for fouls on a full-time basis after 16 years. He has since gone on to become one of the most disrespected match officials in the country, the prevailing opinion of football fans being that he is truly terrible at his very difficult job. He isn’t, of course, but that’s beside the point. Despite the occasional high-profile rick, the very nature of refereeing suggests you don’t become as well known and reviled as Dean has over the years without doing plenty right.
“I’m sort of seeing the person behind the ref, y’know,” said Crouch to his co-presenters following Dean’s guest appearance on the most recent episode of the BBC’s That Peter Crouch Podcast. “I never really thought about what he did. In 1985 he started his referee’s journey when I was four years old and he’s still reffing at the highest level now, at 51. You have to give him some kudos for that. I never thought of the journey, or how he’d got there and I’m a little bit ashamed of that, honestly.”
Given the infrequency of public utterances from match officials, getting Dean to appear on his podcast was quite the coup for Crouch and his backroom team even if one could be forgiven for suspecting their guest didn’t take much persuading. Premier League referees are currently forbidden from speaking to the media immediately after games, on the grounds that their boss, Mike Riley, head of the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd, believes they could be too emotionally involved in “what they’ve just been through” and might say something ill-advised.
In a world where Dean’s colleague Jon Moss recently came under fire for mildly mocking Bournemouth’s Dan Gosling, it is difficult to imagine the more garrulous Dean being reluctant to pass up the opportunity to grab the microphone firmly with both hands to explain himself in the wake of a contentious match. He certainly wasn’t backwards in coming forwards with his opinions on That Peter Crouch Podcast, although the convivial, laid-back tone of the show meant he was unlikely to be subjected to a particularly tough grilling.
Having originated as a vehicle for its likable star to provide his unique and amusing insights into life as a professional footballer, the show’s decision to provide a working referee with the opportunity to lift the lid on his day-to-day life proved something of a masterstroke. Invited to demonstrate he is not the show-stealer bloated with self-regard many perceive him to be, Dean did not exactly go out of his way to disabuse listeners of any such notions.
“There’s a touch of arrogance about me when I walk out on the pitch; I know there is,” he said. “But it’s also a lot of confidence in myself because I believe in my own ability.” Moments previously, having explained that the passing of time means he is no longer able to run as far or as fast as he used to, Dean had explained “without being big-headed” that he can “make decisions from 30 yards away and the players turn around and because it’s me I’ll get away with it”.
Despite his high opinion of himself, Dean did come across as being extremely likable, good naturedly detailing – among other vicissitudes of the job – the tedium of constantly being “booked” by beermat-brandishing pub-goers when trying to enjoy a night out with the wife. As Tranmere’s most famous fan, he made headlines last May when footage emerged of him ostentatiously cheerleading in the away end at Forest Green after his side secured their place in the League Two play-off final. For all his grumbling about lack of originality, one suspects he will be even more forlorn when the beermat-waving stops.
In recent years it has become fairly customary for many live-match broadcasters to have a former whistle blower on hand to explain contentious decisions, albeit cloistered alone in what looks like a cupboard all the better to emphasize their pariah status. Fitness permitting, Dean hopes to put next season behind him before retiring but revealed his dread at the prospect of no longer being able to do his job. “God knows what I’ll do when I can’t referee again,” he told Crouch and his cohorts, although – like the man on whose podcast he guested – it’s difficult to imagine a man of his high profile remaining sidelined for very long.
The Guardian Sport