Referees in the Middle: Matt Messias

Premier League Career: 2000-2005

First Premier League Match: Derby County 1-0 Coventry City (16 December 2000)

Final Premier League Match: Portsmouth 1-1 Bolton Wanderers (7 May 2005)

Matt Messias first took up refereeing in 1982 whilst he was still trying to play the game. In the end, officiating would be his way into professional football and he spent five years on the Premier League referees’ list.

Injury would put paid to his playing career. A recurrent cartilage problem in 1984 forced him to look at the other alternative of refereeing. He first took charge of games in the York and District Saturday League before progressing to the Northern Counties East League. This was a weekend job for Messias. During the week, he was a PE teacher at Filey School in Yorkshire.

He continued to climb the ladder as the 1980s ended and he made the assistant referees’ list in 1991 for the Football League, followed by a promotion onto the Premier League list for the inaugural campaign of the new era. However, it would be another eight years before he took charge of a top-flight game.

The match was unremarkable in December 2000. Nine days before Christmas, Malcolm Christie scored the only goal after nine minutes as Derby County beat Coventry City 1-0 at Pride Park. This match was the first of 85 Premier League matches that Matt took control of. He showed six red cards in total.

33% of these dismissals came in the same match. Fulham’s Rufus Brevett and Steve Marlet both saw red as they lost their discipline in a goalless draw with Birmingham City in November 2002. Messias’ most famous Premier League moment would come a year later and Birmingham were right at the centre of it.

Steve Bruce’s side travelled to Tyneside to play Newcastle United. The match was in its early stages when play was stopped and Birmingham’s Robbie Savage was on the ground. He was clutching his face. Only replays revealed later that Messias had accidentally elbowed Savage in the face as the midfielder went to run past him but was struck by a flying arm!

Three years after the incident, he told the Yorkshire Post: “I was putting my arm out for a free-kick and caught Savage, who crumpled in a heap. He needed smelling salts and when he got up he pretended to show me the red card. Funnily enough, (Newcastle striker) Alan Shearer came up to me and said, ‘We have been wanting to do that for years!’

Although he was a capable referee, Messias missed out on the majority of the top events. His biggest engagement was representing England at the 2004 UEFA European Under-21 Championships in Germany, taking charge of two group matches and a semi-final between Sweden and Serbia & Montenegro. He wasn’t lucky enough to referee the FA Cup final, although he was fourth official for Jeff Winter when Manchester United defeated Millwall in 2004.

His dream was to referee at the World Cup finals but those hopes were dashed when Graham Poll was selected ahead of him for the 2006 finals in Germany. This zapped his motivation and in January 2006, the PGMOL announced that Messias would retire from the Select Group. He later admitted that professional referees are under a lot of pressure and you “learn to deal with it – to control the controllable.”

His experience though has helped in his future. Matt had set-up a business which offered help in coping with stressful occupations using his own experiences to make this a success. He did stay in the game and helped mentor a local referee from Barnsley, Ryan Newman. Newman has made the Vanarama National League list thanks to the help of Messias.

In 2008, he decided to move to New Zealand for six years and resumed his teaching career in Auckland, teaching PE, doing coaching for a girls’ football team and become a deputy principal in Howick College. In July 2014, Messias returned to the UK to take up a position at the Atrium Studio School in Devon as a foundation principal.

Matt Messias has demonstrated that there is a life after refereeing in the world’s most envied league. He was one of the most under-rated refs during his time and was unfortunate not to get slightly better breaks.

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