Referees in the Middle: Keith Hackett

Premier League Career: 1992-1994

First Premier League Match: Ipswich Town 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur (30 August 1992)

Final Premier League Match: Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool FC (30 March 1994)

The majority of Keith Hackett’s career was before the introduction of the FA Premier League but even though he had reached the planned retirement age before the reformation in English football, his exemption onto the list for the inaugural season showed how well-respected he was.

Hackett’s record is right up there with the best in the business. In a list maintained by the IFFHS (International Federation of Football History and Statistics), Hackett is within the top 100 referees. When he retired in April 1994, he had been refereeing for over 34 years.

Like many of his peers, Hackett began in the local leagues in 1960, taking charge of games across Yorkshire. He became a Football League linesman in 1972 and four years later, had progressed to the full list of officials. He was just 32 years old when this milestone was achieved.

His best period was the 1980s. He was one of the youngest referees to ever have the privilege of officiating at the FA Cup final which was in those days, the ultimate domestic honour in English club football. Hackett’s year for the showpiece was the 1981 classic between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City which finished 1-1 before the Ricky Villa magic in the replay days later.

Three years later, he was back at Wembley to do the all-Merseyside Charity Shield when a Bruce Grobbelaar own goal meant Everton beat Liverpool FC. The domestic set was complete when he got the 1986 League Cup final as Oxford United won their only knockout trophy, defeating Queens Park Rangers 3-0.

In 1988, Hackett was the English choice of official at the 1988 European Championships in West Germany. He took control of the hosts’ 1-1 draw with Italy during the group stages which was played in Cologne. Later that summer, he went to the Olympic Games to officiate in the football competition in Seoul, South Korea. Again, he looked after a West German match, this time the semi-final with Brazil which ended 1-1 but saw the South Americans win on penalties.

In October 1990, he had to deal with one of the toughest incidents of his or anyone’s career when a 21-man brawl broke out at Old Trafford during a league clash involving Manchester United and Arsenal. Hackett and his match officials handled a tricky situation with stern punishments for both clubs. After consultations between them and the FA, Manchester United were docked one point and deducted two points from Arsenal’s total. The Gunners’ still won the league championship.

When the Premier League began, the new league could trust on Keith Hackett’s judgement and control. He took charge of 36 Premier League matches, handed out just 38 yellow cards and didn’t dismiss a single player. In that period, he only awarded three penalties and two of those were in one match when Oldham Athletic lost 4-1 to Tottenham in the inaugural season. He retired just short of his 50th birthday in 1994 with his last match in the middle being a blockbuster encounter between Manchester United and Liverpool FC. United won the midweek match 1-0 with Paul Ince scoring the only goal.

After retiring from officiating, Hackett became a referees’ assessor and in March 2004, he replaced Philip Don to be appointed General Manager of the PGMOB (Professional Game Match Officials Board). His knowledge has also come through in publishing through books, cartoon quizzes and columns for the Observer and the Daily Telegraph.

He is honest enough in his assessments too. At the end of the 2016-2017 campaign, he stated in a strong article that the likes of Jon Moss, Kevin Friend and Roger East shouldn’t be retained on the current elite list.

Keith Hackett is still a strong voice in the game and he won’t hold back either. People listen to his frank and honest assessments nowadays, just like they did when he was controlling football matches in the middle.

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