EXCLUSIVE: Mike Dean on his colourful life with the whistle

EXCLUSIVE: Mike Dean on his colourful life with the whistle, hating being a VAR and how he will say it how he sees it as a Mail Sport pundit… and why he WASN’T an ‘arrogant’ referee, ‘just confident’

  • Mike Dean has dismissed the ‘myth’ that he was arrogant as a top-flight referee 
  • He has vowed not to sit on the fence as he critiques ex-colleagues this season 
  • WATCH: ‘It’s All Kicking Off’ – Episode 1 – Mail Sport’s brand new football show 

Mike Dean insists you will not find any splinters in his backside because there will be no sitting on the fence this season. Not in his columns for Mail Sport. Not on Sky Sports’s Soccer Saturday.

Though as recently as last month he was part of the PGMOL fraternity – the Premier League’s most famous referee-turned-VAR – his job now is to judge his former colleagues. If one of his mates messes up, he will say so.

‘I have no choice,’ Dean says. ‘Otherwise you lose all credibility. I’ve not been kicked out of any WhatsApp group between the referees because there wasn’t one. Or if there was, I was never invited into it! 

‘I loved being a referee. But I never fell in love with being a VAR. That’s why we mutually agreed it was best I leave and go in a different direction.’

It is the start of a new chapter for Dean and, from culling fowls to calling fouls, his story is indeed autobiography worthy. This down-to-earth 55-year-old Tranmere supporter from the Wirral started in refereeing while working in a poultry factory.

Mike Dean has reflected on his iconic career as a Premier League referee with Mail Sport

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‘Let’s just say the chickens came in alive and they weren’t by the time they left,’ he explains. 

‘I’d go to work for 5am, finish at 2pm, drive to Hartlepool or Carlisle or wherever to do a game and then get back for the next morning’s shift.

‘I still remember my first-ever assignment: Heswall Under 11s versus Alex Imps. I got locked in the dressing room before kick-off. Typical. I had to shout for somebody to come get me out. Some people probably wish they had left me in there for the last 25 years! 

‘It was just a hobby, something I enjoyed. There wasn’t an inkling it would go full-time.’

Yet it did. With Mike Riley as his mentor, Dean refereed 560 Premier League games and his final farewell was Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Watford at Stamford Bridge on May 22, 2022.

Dean played The Final Countdown on his phone in the referee’s dressing room beforehand as he had a group hug with assistants Ian Hussin and Darren Cann and fourth official John Busby. 

‘The clubs gave me signed shirts and Thomas Tuchel signed the back, “Congratulations on a great career”,’ Dean says. 

‘You could tell I was emotional walking out of the tunnel. It hit me this was the last time.’

Dean has strongly refuted the suggestions – he calls it a ‘myth’ – that he was ‘arrogant’ as a ref

His final assignment as VAR was Leicester’s 4-1 win over Tottenham on February 11, 2023. This time, the overwhelming emotion was one of relief. 



Easy. Man City v QPR, 2012. I was trusted with a game in which the title was at stake. Sergio Aguero stayed on his feet – despite Taye Taiwo’s attempt at a tackle, which would have been a penalty – and scored that goal.


Craig Bellamy. I think a lot of people say that, unfortunately! I’ve seen Craig away from football and he is totally fine. But you get this with most players: when they cross the white line, they’ve built themselves up with that much adrenaline that they’re ready to go and it’s do or die.


Now? Tottenham’s new stadium. I was lucky enough to referee there. Previous to that, Arsenal’s old Highbury.


I got along with most players but I’ll name Joey Barton and Robbie Savage. All the players that supporters seemed not to like, I got on with them! Even when Wayne Rooney was playing, people said, ‘Oh he must be hard work’, but he wasn’t at all.

‘It just wasn’t me,’ Dean says. ‘I’d been a referee for 25 years – 22 in the Premier League – and sitting in a booth in front of a TV never came close to that thrill. 

‘I’d drive 250 miles to London on a Friday and was in a negative frame of mind before I even got there.

‘I wasn’t suited to it. The PGMOL probably think I wasn’t suited to it as well, which was fine. 

‘I told them I was interested in coaching so that’s what I did from February to the end of the season. 

‘I focused on League One and Two and, as a Tranmere fan, that is football I don’t mind watching. 

‘I’d get to go to games and even just sitting in a stadium brought that buzz back.’

Dean missed refereeing too much, even the taunts he received. 

‘You’re going to get grief no matter what. It comes with the job. Nobody is putting a poster up of me or Michael (Oliver) or Anthony (Taylor) on their bedroom wall, are they?

‘Some people said I was “The Greatest Showman” because of the way I refereed. It maybe moved that way after Tottenham-Aston Villa. I’d played a great advantage, Spurs scored, I got sucked into the moment and it looked like I was celebrating.

‘Would I change anything I’ve done? Never. I was just being myself. Most of the players knew that. 

‘There’s this myth that I’m arrogant. I’m not. I was just confident.’

Dean says all the ‘constructive criticism’ he received from fans was worth it in the end, albeit the abuse did cross the line in February 2021 when he dismissed West Ham’s Tomas Soucek in a 0-0 draw with Fulham at Craven Cottage. Death threats followed.

‘Most supporters simply want to have a chat,’ Dean says. ‘You get on the train to London, talk football with a stranger and then hopefully by the end of it, they leave saying, “You know what? He’s not as bad as what he looks when he’s refereeing”.’

Dean was last working as a VAR official back at base but said it was a role that didn’t suit him

Dean senses the PGMOL are in safe hands with Howard Webb, whose no-nonsense approach has already seen him drop the officials who failed to award Wolves a penalty in their 1-0 loss at Manchester United. 

‘If a mistake has been made they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do,’ he says. ‘It won’t happen again.’

Those who have placed bets with bookmakers that Dean will appear on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing – he did ballroom dancing until the age of 13, after all – will be disappointed. Nor is he set for I’m A Celebrity. Dean is too busy.

The new Premier League season has started and, as someone who has sat in that VAR booth at Stockley Park, his focus now is on providing an unrivalled and unique perspective of life in that hot seat.

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It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football, launching with a preview show today and every week this season.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube , Apple Music and Spotify

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