14 December 2023

Ex-player turned firefighter Sam Allison to fulfil goal as Premier League ref

14 December 2023

After putting out plenty of fires, keeping hot-headed footballers in check was never going to ruffle Sam Allison.

On Boxing Day, Allison will become the first black man to officiate a Premier League game in 15 years when he takes charge of Sheffield United’s home game against Luton.

Allison, 42, had played at Swindon, Bristol City, Bournemouth and Exeter before moving down the football pyramid into the semi-professional game.

After considering what to do when he eventually hung up his boots, Allison decided to keep them on for a while longer – but this time with a whistle in hand.

Allison took charge of his first match on a Sunday morning in his home county of Wiltshire, when a few things he had learned along the way helped him get through.

“I was lucky enough that I was able to sell decisions just based on my footballing experience,” Allison recalled in an interview with the English Football League website.

“I remember giving a penalty in the game and it was more of a guess rather than getting in the right position to give the right decision.

“It’s inevitable that having played at a decent standard, you can use that football intelligence to identify foul challenges, people’s intent, movement, anticipate play and look at trigger pass and people’s body movement and shape, and understanding phases of play.

“It just gives you that head start, I believe. And from that point onwards, it was infectious.”

As well as his love for the game, Allison also needed an income to help support the next steps of his referee’s journey.

In 2006, he joined the fire service part-time.

“I had to look at something that would give me the time and flexibility to do both careers,” he said.

“I’ve gone from being totally operational and ‘Fireman Sam’ getting out there fighting fires and wearing breathing apparatus and doing water rescue and rope rescue, to progressing as a station manager.”

Supported by the likes of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) and Football Association, Allison has been able to go on to take charge of more than 100 matches in the EFL.

A first Premier League exposure came in October 2022, when Allison was fourth official in the fixture between Brighton and Chelsea.

Uriah Rennie was the last black referee to take charge of a Premier League game in 2008 having officiated in the competition for 11 years up to that point.

Allison hopes the Boxing Day fixture will be the start of his own lengthy stint as a top-flight referee.

“I don’t hide that I want to reach the top,” he said.

“I want to be a role model within my community and show representation as a black man in football and being a referee at the same time. My desire has to be to reach the top just to show people that you can do it.

“Pressure comes with it, but when you are fighting fires and saving lives, that is a pressure situation.

“Having that visibility is key, but at the same time, you have to have ability, desire, work hard and take the opportunities when they come forward.”

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