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Match Officials

From firefighter to match official: Sam Allison’s refereeing journey

23 March 2023

Fireman Sam by day and an EFL referee by weekend, Sam Allison is a true action man.

The 42-year-old enjoyed a successful playing career, plying his trade at high level of the non-league pyramid embarking on a dual career as both a match official and a firefighter.

But whatever he turns his hand to, Allison hopes to have an impact.

He became the third black referee to officiate in the EFL, following in the footsteps of Uriah Rennie and Trevor Parkes.

“I don’t hide that I want to reach the top,” he said. “I want to be a role model within my community and show representation as a black man in football and being a referee at the same time. My desire has to be to reach the top just to show people that you can do it.

“Pressure comes with it but when you’re fighting fires and saving lives, that’s a pressure situation.

“Having that visibility is key but at the same time, you have to have ability, desire, work hard and take the opportunities when they come forward.”

And he hopes he can be someone to look up to in his profession by breaking down more barriers.

Having started his journey with Swindon Town, Allison moved on to the likes of Bristol City, Bournemouth and Exeter City, even making a handful of appearances for England schoolboys and representing Great Britain.

He eventually dropped down into the semi-professional game with spells at Clubs including Bath City, Chippenham Town and Salisbury City. It was during one these spells that he began toying with the idea of trying his hand at refereeing.

“Whilst I was playing high non-league back in 2004, it was a case of ‘what can I do next?’” he said. “I had a secretary at the Club who was a refereeing coach and he tried to encourage me to be a referee and I said, ‘nah, not yet.’

“It wasn’t until about seven years later that I thought I might give it a go to stay in the game for longer. To cut a long story short, he said he’d support me and help me. Maybe 10 or 11 years later, I’m in the position I’m in now.”

He took charge of his first game in his home county and it’s a day he’ll never forget.

“It was a Sunday morning at a place called Bratton which is in Wiltshire,” he recalled. “Blowing that whistle for the first time was really daunting because there was nobody there to support me at the time.

“I was lucky enough that I was able to sell decisions just based on my footballing experience. I remember giving a penalty in the game and it was more of a guess rather than getting in the right position to give the right decision.

“It’s inevitable that having played at a decent standard, you can use that football intelligence to identify foul challenges, people’s intent, movement, anticipate play and look at trigger pass and people’s body movement and shape, and understanding phases of play. It just gives you that head start, I believe.

“From that point onwards, it was infectious.”


However, he needed something else to supplement his first steps into a career as a match official and he looked to the emergency services for a new career, which he now balances alongside being a referee.

Allison was initially taken on as an on-call firefighter before stepping up on a wholetime basis and making it a permanent career.

“My footballing career was coming to an end and I needed to find a career which would support football and refereeing,” he explained. “It was back in 2006 that I decided to try the fire service part-time because they supported sport. I could play for the fire brigade football team and they encouraged me to join.

“I’ve gone from being totally operational and ‘Fireman Sam’ getting out there fighting fires and wearing breathing apparatus and doing water rescue and rope rescue, to progressing as a station manager now. I had to look at something that would give me the time and flexibility to do both careers.”

Allison has outlined his ambitions to officiate in the Premier League one day and he couldn’t have got where he is today without those around him.

“The support mechanisms – PGMOL, FA, the coaches, the mentors – have been exceptional,” he added. “I feel very lucky and very privileged to be given those opportunities.

“We’re all on the same path in order to make change. For me, it’s about trying to make a difference in society and giving something back. That’s one of my biggest goals in being successful as a match official.

“I love football so much; it’s in my blood and it’s innate. I’d do anything to be involved in the game. Unfortunately, I didn’t reach the pinnacles as a football player but hopefully one day I can do it as a referee.”


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