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Sam Allison: First Black Premier League Referee in 15 Years

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It’s been a long time coming for Sam Allison. That’s one of the many phrases of praise the referee gets whenever his peers talk about him. In December 2023, he became the first black referee in the Premier League for the first time in 15 years. However, it’s not been easy for Allison to get to the top echelons of officiating in English football. In this post, we’ll review his refereeing career.

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Sam Allison’s Beginning

Sam Allison’s story. Video Credit: Wiltshire FA

Allison was a footballer in several non-league teams. He spent his youth career at Swindon Town and began his senior career at Bristol City. He later had stints at Bournemouth, Bristol City and Exeter City. 

After that, he moved to Clevedon Town, Bath City and Salisbury Town. His longest stay was with a club at Chippenham Town, where he played between 2003 and 2011. He finished off his career at Frome Town.

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Officiating in Non-League

The former player started considering officiating before he stopped playing. He told English Football League (EFL) website that in 2004, he was thinking about what he could do next. 

A refereeing coach suggested the idea of officiating, but he overlooked it. Seven years later, he pursued it because it allowed him to be in the game. 

During his first game, he recalls that his football experience was vital in making decisions. He studied the players’ movements, body positioning and different phases of play to keep up and although he didn’t have someone to support him, he says it gave him a head start. 

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Becoming a Firefighter

Although he’d begun his officiating career, it wasn’t enough financially, so he took up a job as a firefighter. He did it part-time which allowed him to also continue working in the game. He even joined the firefighting football team. Sam progresses from being a fireman on the ground to a station manager.

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Premier League’s Ambitions

The match official has never been shy about expressing his desire to work in the top-flight league in England. Despite the challenges and level four of English football being described as a graveyard for many, Allison’s dream never wavered.  

The introduction of the Elite Development Refereeing Plan allowed him to become a full-time referee. He began officiating games at the EFL and in the 2023/24 season, Allison was promoted to the Championship.

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Premier League Referee

Sam Allison becomes a Premier League referee. Video Credit: Sky Sports

His dreams eventually came true when he was picked to officiate a Premier League match between Luton Town and Sheffield United. It made him the first black man to take charge of a Premier League match in 15 years. 

Although there’s still a lot to do to raise the number of black match officials, he acknowledged the support he received from the Football Association (FA) and the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited). He takes his position seriously as he realizes the impact it has on players of color. 

Sam Allison defied the odds to reach the highest level of officiating in English football. A career that was once viewed as a ‘white job’ is now a dream come true for him. He hopes to inspire and help other black people find their way into officiating, so this will not just be a one-off but have a lasting impact.

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