• Oliver Barefoot

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: WORLD CUP FINALS TO THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, MIKE MULLARKEY'S CAREER SET RECORDS


The most important day of his career so far and he was late. Stuck in traffic, with no idea of how long the delay would be. He sat back in his seat and waited patiently. The rest of his colleagues were with him, so he wasn’t alone.

Mike was nervous. This was what all the years of hard work had been building up to. All those break of dawn alarms, to run around in morning dew-soaked socks, with angry parents hurling abuse at him. Only to crawl back into the house carpeted in mud and shivering from the cold. But now Mike knew it was worth it.

The nerves didn’t scare him, instead they filled him with confidence. It was an early sign that he was prepared. Prepared for the career defining 90 minutes closing in on him.

With over 34,000 people watching his every move, the pressure was on.

Mike Mullarkey’s first game in the Premier League was a success. The game was West Ham vs West Bromwich Albion. He wasn’t even on the registered list of officials, but was appointed to the game as a development opportunity. And apart from his over excitable flagging for a corner, you wouldn’t have been able to tell. As the ball went out over the back line, Mike enthusiastically raised his neon yellow flag, striking it against the corner pole at full force and breaking his flag as a result.

This was a momentary blip in what was a hugely successful Premier League debut for Mike Mullarkey. His first game in England’s top division, a division that would soon become his home for the next 11 years.

As Mike drove home from the game under a blanket of exploding colours, as fireworks lit up the sky on bonfire night 2005, he was peacefully unaware, that he would soon make history in a sport he very nearly gave up on.

Growing up, Mike dreamed of one day becoming a footballer. But like so many kids his age, lacked the skill set to make dreams a reality. He was 14 when he first decided to venture into the sport he loved through other means. Through the persuasion of his ex-referee father, Mike Mullarkey decided to give refereeing a chance. Starting so young was a challenge. A 14-year-old controlling a game of kids with parents watching, was as it proved, no easy task.

Mike started refereeing adult games when he turned 17, but with limited experience under his belt and a lack of self-confidence, his current love of the job was nowhere in sight. Kids are one thing, but trying to control two teams of large competitive men, was as Mike found out, a whole other experience. Refereeing those older than him was a challenge, a challenge that without the support from his dad he nearly succumbed to. As Mike’s experience and confidence grew, his love of the role blossomed. And thanks to the advice from his father, which Mike is “forever grateful” for, his career gained momentum.

In a career that lasted 32 years, Mike Mullarkey established himself as one of the world’s best officials throughout the game.

After being involved in three games in his breakthrough season in the Premier League, Mike was officially added to the list of officials for England’s top division the following year, for the 2006/07 season. His name could be found on the list every time for the next nine seasons.

As the number of Premier League games under his belt grew, his global presence in the game started to get recognised and soon his career accolades included the Europa League. It wasn’t long, before Mike Mullarkey was a familiar name on the list of officials for Europe’s top competitions, with him ticking the Champions League off an ever-growing impressive list of competitions involved in.

In 2008, Mike was delighted to have been picked to represent England at the Euro’s along with fellow countrymen, Howard Webb and Darren Cann. This call up, was one of the first big steps for this prolific English trio, with the three embedding themselves in English officiating history, after being picked to officiate numerous finals in a variety of competitions. However, Mike’s first of three Euro tournaments will forever be remembered as his worst career moment.

Surrounded by over 51,000 fans, during Austria vs Poland, Mike side stepped his way down the line just below the 18-yard box, as Poland whipped a ball over the Austrian defence and to the back post. As Mike ignored calls for offside from the Austrian defence, Poland opened the scoring, with a tap in three yards out. Moans from irate fans echoed around the stadium, as he made his way back up the pitch for kick-off.

It wasn’t until after the game, that Mike realised his mistake, a mistake that cost Austria all three points. A blunder that affects the outcome of a game is always a low point for an official and as Mike accepted his error, he was overwhelmed with a feeling of devastation.

In a tournament that was supposed to be a career high for the English official, it had become a career low, with the mistake smearing all positivity.

However, Mike’s split-second mistake in a full 90 minutes, would later be insignificant in a history breaking career spanning over three decades. In the remaining eight years of his time officiating, Mike would go onto complete the set of the four most prestigious domestic finals in English football (FA Cup Final, League Cup Final, FA Community Shield and the Championship Play-Off Final).

His greatest success however, is an accomplishment only he has successfully completed, being the only English official ever to have been appointed to the World Cup Final; Champions League Final and the Europa League Final. Despite being incredibly proud of his success however, Mike claims his accomplishment wouldn’t have been possible if his career wasn’t dovetailed with Howard Webb’s or Martin Atkinson’s, two of the country’s finest referees - highlighting he wasn’t just a good person on the side of the pitch, but off it as well.

With his first Premier League game slowly feeling like a lifetime ago, the idea of retiring from the sport became a seriously considered thought. And so after much debate, Mike decided to retire in stages, starting with international football.

In one last hurrah, he decided to retire internationally after the 2016 Euro’s, meaning that even in the twilight years of his career he would achieve yet another impressive feat. By participating in the competition, it meant he had assisted in five consecutive major tournaments (EURO 2008; World Cup 2010; Euro 2012; World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016), yet another accomplishment very few can claim to have achieved.

However, when the opportunity to become Head of Assistant Referees in England became available, Mike Mullarkey made a sudden life-changing decision. Fearing he would regret not applying for this dream position, Mike applied for the role and after being successful, retired completely following Euro 2016.

And so as the game itself suffered the loss of a ground breaking official, future officials gained more than they could comprehend.