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Mike Dean: The Premier League’s Most Controversial Referee

Referee Mike Dean
Credit: Getty Images

Mike Dean is a referee who polarises opinion. There are those who feel that Dean is an over-officious, attention-seeking, controversy-seeking, short little bald guy with a Napolean-complex.

Others disagree with that assessment on the grounds that he is not completely bald.

Either way, whether courting it or not, controversy never seems to be distant from the man who was born in Wirral fifty years ago and started refereeing at the age of 17.

Since being appointed to the select group of Referees for the Premier League in 2000, and the FIFA International Referees’ List three years later, Dean has become one of the most recognizable referees in the modern game.

Although intense scrutiny, and indeed criticism, are part and parcel of anyone’s lot when operating at the top end of football in the modern game, Mike Dean does seem to have the ability to unite a remarkable number of diverse groups and sections against him.

As we write, the most recent complaint against him comes from Tottenham manager, Mauricio Pochettino, who appeared to have a heated discussion with Dean after the defeat of his side at Burnley. A contentious decision went against Spurs that led to a chain of events which resulted in Burnley opening the scoring.

At the end of the game, Pochettino went to Dean, presumably to register his opinion regarding Dean’s decision to award Burnley a corner that led to their first goal, when cameras indicated he should have awarded Spurs a goal kick.

Although clearly not happy, Pochettino appeared to be satisfied in being able to have his say and then leave Dean as he walked back to the changing rooms. It was then he apparently heard Dean say something and thus spun around to confront him once more.

Whatever was said, it is a relatively rare occurrence for a referee to irk the ire of a manager in such a manner, but perhaps it is not something that should come as a total surprise when considering the career of Mike Dean.

Appointed to the full referees’ list in 1997, Dean has now been refereeing professionally for over twenty years. In that time he has completed a domestic clean sweep of officiating in all the major finals and big games in the English calendar.

He refereed the League Cup Final in 2011 when relegation-bound Birmingham triumphed over hot favourites Arsenal, the 2004 Community Shield clash at the Millennium which ended in a 3-1 victory for the Gunners over Manchester United, and Watford’s 3-0 2006 Championship play-off final success over Leeds United.

This last match was scant consolation for Dean in a season when he had been awarded the honour of taking charge of the FA Cup Final, only to then have it rescinded on the grounds that his hometown of the Wirrall was too close to that of the competing Liverpool.

Two years later this harsh decision was rectified when Dean was awarded the 2008 FA Cup Final between Portsmouth and Cardiff.

In 2015 Dean hit the headlines with regards to his handling of a Chelsea v Arsenal league fixture at Stamford Bridge. In a bad-tempered affair, Dean sent off Arsenal’s Gabriel for violent conduct and then failed to take any action against Deigo Costa of Chelsea who appeared to grapple with Laurent Koscielny.

Retrospective actions taken by the FA resulted in Costa being given a three-match ban and Gabriel’s red card being rescinded.

Notwithstanding the FA’s verdicts, Arsenal fans launched a petition to prevent Dean from refereeing another Gunners’ match. Although naturally doomed to failure, the petition raised over 100,000 signatures within a week.

Two years later Dean again had the humiliation of a decision of his being overturned retroactively by the FA. After just fifteen minutes of an Old Trafford clash between Manchester United and West Ham, the home side’s Phil Jones had a coming together with the Hammers’ Sofiane Feghouli.

To most neutral observers, Jones was the more likely of the two to have committed a foul, yet to the amazement of most, it was Feghouli who was shown the red card. That United went on to win the game 2-0 did not help matters, and not only was the red card overturned, but Dean was also demoted to a spell refereeing in the Championship.

This was a decision greeted with a degree of schadenfreude within the game, particular amongst ex-players now working as pundits who perhaps could not give vent to their feelings during their playing careers.

Ex-players such as Niall Quinn and Alan Smith described Dean as ‘arrogant’ and ‘attention-seeking’, while ex-Ireland international, Stephen Hunt, claimed Dean was ‘the most arrogant person – player or official- that I ever shared a field with’.

Dean has built up and utilizes a wide range of facial expressions and gestures on the pitch. These seem to be for the benefit of the cameras at times. There is the exaggerated shrug he gives when booking a player, the extreme furrowing of eyebrows and shoulder-hunching he is fond of executing when making a decision, the ‘no-look’ manner in which he brands yellow cards at transgressors without doing them the courtesy of looking in their direction.

I could go on.

YouTube, that ever-veritable source of amusement and research, has a whole host of videos dedicated to the national treasure that is Mike Dean. Amongst them are at least two videos where Dean appears to be celebrating Spurs’ goals.

Perhaps if someone pointed these out to Mauricio Pochettino it might cheer him up.

Then again, maybe not.