Referee Tom gets a taste of the big time at Villa Park

June 2016

He hopes to walk – and run – in the footsteps of top football referees like Howard Webb, Pierluigi Collina and Mark Clattenburg.

So when Tom Johnson, 17, was invited to take control of the whistle – and the red and yellow cards – for a game at Villa Park, he seized the opportunity.

Tom, a first-year Sport Performance and Excellence student, refereed a friendly match between Aston Villa men’s reserves and a Sunday league team.

He said: “As I walked down the tunnel, I thought about all the football stars and millionaires who have walked down there. It was a bit unreal.”

Tom, from Halesowen, started refereeing when he was 16 and now officiates every weekend, covering at least four matches over the two days. He has refereed, or run the line, at both male and female games but nothing quite compared with the experience of working at the home of Aston Villa – even if Tom is a West Bromwich Albion fan.

“The pitch is one of the best ever in the West Midlands, even at the end of the season. It was like playing on a carpet,” said Tom, who is being mentored by Premier League refs.

He got through the game at Villa Park having to dispense a single yellow card – for a “studs up” challenge.

Tom’s course at UCB, which involves two weekly work-out sessions, helps him to maintain his match-day fitness and he is considering a career as a professional referee.