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Match Officials

Men in Black - Mark Brown

11 September 2012

By Russell Kempson

Football League referees can take a fearsome ear-bashing from disgruntled fans, the chanting from the stands and terraces turning the air blue, and Mark Brown has heard it all. Well, not quite all. The mildly amusing 'taxi for Mr Brown' has yet to be hurled in his direction.

Should it be, though, 37-year-old Brown is ready. With perhaps a smile and a laugh because, in his day job, he is a taxi driver. He has retained a small share in a private hire car business that he owned for three years and, in his trusty Vauxhall Astra, takes on fares in and around Humberside, where he lives, and even farther afield.

"I've heard that chant before but only locally, where people know me," Mark said. "But not at League grounds. Quite frankly, I don't think I'd mind that one too much. It's quite harmless really, and I've heard a lot worse than that in the past.

"I had to sell my business because I wanted more freedom and flexibility for refereeing, especially as my career progressed, but I still work about 30 hours a week. I can still fit in the taxi work before games, and even afterwards sometimes, and it often leaves me free for late call-ups to matches so it's perfect really."

Brown is in his third season as one of the League's men in black, having been promoted in 2010 after seven years on the line, yet he still fondly remembers his early days in the Hull Sunday League - first, as a winger for Thompson Plastics in division 18, then as a young official learning his fledgeling trade with the flag and whistle.

One day, Brown, the winger, complained to a work colleague called Norman Bradley about the standard of local refereeing. Bradley, a referee, replied: 'Well, why don't you give it a go then?' So Mark did. And even though Plastics were surging through the Hull league, Mark decided to quit when they had reached division 5 to concentrate on his refereeing.

Mind you, he did have a few eye-opening experiences early on.

"It was a bit rough and ready in some of the parks leagues," he said, "especially if the lads had been in the pub beforehand. I did actually take charge of a Plastics game, when they had no referee, and when our centre-half had taken out the opposing centre forward, I was told that I should give him a yellow card. I said that I'd only just managed to get myself a whistle but was told, 'just show him your teeth then'.

"In the end, though, I had to stop playing. I'd climbed the ladder to Level Three referee and it was just impossible to combine the two. I was never going to make it as a player, anyway, not even as a semi-pro. Norman had told me that I'd got potential, which was nice of him, and it seemed the natural course to take."

Brown rose through the Northern Counties, the UniBond leagues and then the Blue Square North. Scunthorpe United and Oxford United provided him with his first match as an assistant in 2003 and Stockport County and Wycombe Wanderers were the opponents, two years ago, when he stepped up and into the middle.

"Yes, I was a bit nervous, but it went very well.

"After the game, Gareth Ainsworth, the Wycombe captain, came in and said that for my first game I'd been superb. What a lovely touch that was and it really gave me a lot of confidence for the future."

"We have some very good referees coming through and, at the moment, all I'm trying to do is maintain my standards," he said.

"Whatever game you do, you must take something from it - good or bad. I don't look too far ahead - you never know when it might be your last game, through injury or whatever - but yes, of course I'd like to referee in the select group in the Premier League. Everyone wants to operate at the highest level, that would be fantastic for me."

Mark gets away from it all by going horse racing at Beverley, his local track, or to Doncaster or York.

It is a sport that has captivated him since an early age, when he used to watch it on television on Saturday afternoons with his father, Dave.

"I suppose it was the thrill of picking a horse and hoping that it would win. Dad took me for the first time to York on Magnet Cup Day, when I was about 11. It was superb and I just got the bug.

"It's a lovely day out, especially in the summer. I probably used to go about 25 times a year but my refereeing commitments have cut that back to six or seven times. I might have a little flutter now and again, perhaps the odd fiver, but it's just great to be there."

Great to be there, as it is in the middle. Taxi for Mr Brown? Not quite yet. Perhaps not for a long while.

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