Premier League Career: 1993-2000
First Premier League Match: Leeds United 1-1 Chelsea (24 March 1993)
Final Premier League Match: Manchester United 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur (6 May 2000)
Alan Wilkie’s Premier League career lasted for just over seven years. A strong-minded official, Wilkie’s time as a top-flight official is probably best associated with being the referee who sent off Eric Cantona at Selhurst Park in January 1995 on the night the temperamental Frenchman launched his kung-fu kick at a Crystal Palace supporter.
Like many of his colleagues and predecessors, Wilkie started out with ambitions of becoming a footballer. A serious knee injury meant his football playing dreams ended in the local leagues, so he turned his attention towards officiating instead. He became a Class 3 referee in 1977 and seven years later, became a linesman in the Football League.
Beginning to officiate as a referee occasionally in 1985, he became a permanent Football League official in 1988. His first match after receiving this promotion was a game in August 1988 in the Third Division between Mansfield Town and Northampton Town which finished 1-1.
Wilkie worked very closely with one of the best referees in the business in those days in Keith Hackett and in 1991, he was selected to run the line for Hackett in the European Cup semi-final, first leg between Marseille and Spartak Moscow. The French side won the first leg on home soil 3-1 and would eventually progress to the final, where they would lose on penalties to Red Star Belgrade.
Included on the list of Premier League referees towards the end of the 1992-1993 season, his first match in the competition came on 24th March 1993 when reigning top-flight champions Leeds United were held to a 1-1 draw by Chelsea at Elland Road. He didn’t take long to brandish his first red card in the competition either, dismissing Tony Cascarino of Chelsea in this match – one of 20 red cards he gave out in his 147 matches in the competition. Wilkie also handed out 428 yellow cards and awarded 27 penalties.
Wilkie, who continued as a Telecommunications electrical engineer throughout his referee days, endured a very busy 1994-1995 Premier League season. He took charge of 25 matches and with 68 yellows and five red cards; Wilkie was often in the centre of the action. In September 1994, Sol Campbell was sent off against Southampton for bringing down Neil Heaney with Spurs winning 1-0. Whilst the red card was probably correct, he also gave the Saints a penalty which was dubious as the foul seemed to start outside the penalty area. Southampton went on to win the match 2-1.
Two weeks later, he gave out a red card to Gordon Watson of Sheffield Wednesday after only six minutes of their game against Leeds United. It remains one of the fastest dismissals in Premier League history. Then in March 1995, he retired injured during the West Ham United vs. Norwich City fixture at Upton Park. One of his linesmen on the day, Martin Sims made a severe error by sending off the wrong Norwich player. He gave Andy Johnson his marching orders when Spencer Prior was the man who should have been dismissed. However, it was an incident two months earlier that would dominate Wilkie’s season.
In January 1995, Crystal Palace and Manchester United were playing at Selhurst Park when early in the second half, Eric Cantona kicked out at Palace defender Richard Shaw. The foul was spotted by Eddie Walsh and Wilkie had no hesitation and no option but to send Cantona off for the fifth time in his Manchester United career. As he was leaving the field, the Frenchman produced a kung-fu style kick at a Crystal Palace supporter who was taunting Cantona. Wilkie, who was talking to Andy Cole, later said: “It was only in the dressing room that one of the assistants told me what he had done.”
Wilkie became the first Premier League referee to handle 100 games in the competition. The match was his 10th appointment in the 1997-1998 season which was an uneventful 0-0 draw between Coventry City and Leeds United in October 1997. Three years later, he stepped out for his most prestigious appointment of his career which was the League Cup final involving Leicester City and Tranmere Rovers at Wembley. Sadly for Alan, he sustained a calf injury after 60 minutes and had to be replaced in Leicester’s 2-1 victory by the fourth official on that day, Phil Richards.
In his penultimate match, he endured a drama-filled afternoon between Bradford City and Derby County which ended in a 4-4 draw. Unbelievably, Wilkie gave four penalties and also sent off Rory Delap in the first half of this Good Friday goal fest at Valley Parade. His final Premier League match before retirement was the game in which Manchester United lifted their sixth Premier League title after beating Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 in May 2000.
In 2002, Wilkie published his autobiography with the title linked to the night he sent Cantona off at Selhurst Park. It was called “One Night at the Palace: A Referee’s Story.” He now acts as a match delegate for the Premier League and Football League and he also works for the FA as a regional manager for referees in North East England.