FA Cup final ref Anthony Taylor Wwon’t be fazed by a raging Diego Costa or seething Arsene Wenger.. because he used to be a prison officer


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IF you’re taking charge of the most famous domestic football fixture on the planet, it’s useful to have a sense of perspective.

It’s worth realising that there are more pressurised jobs than refereeing the FA Cup final in front of half a billion TV viewers.

Matthew Pover

FA Cup final ref Anthony Taylor reveals pressures he faced as a prison officer

And when Anthony Taylor blows the first whistle at today’s clash between Arsenal and Chelsea, he’ll have just that.

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For as this  fan of non-league Altrincham made his way through the lower reaches of the football pyramid to reach the Premier League’s professional ‘select group’, Taylor, 38,  juggled refereeing  with work as a prison officer.

So it is unlikely that a raging Diego Costa or a seething Arsene Wenger will make him crack.

Not after Taylor’s challenging, sometimes harrowing, previous job instilled in him a sense of calmness under fire.

He said: “Working in a prison meant I needed a lot of communication and management qualities to deal with daily situations.

Chelsea striker Diego Costa is no stranger to combative exchanges with referees

Rex Features

Chelsea striker Diego Costa is no stranger to combative exchanges with referees

“I specialised in control and restrain techniques, educating staff on the best ways to control violent individuals and difficult situations that arise.

“I spent a considerable number of years working with those who suffered severe mental health problems, a lot of attempted  suicides, that kind of thing.

Anthony Taylor will be in the spotlight at Wembley, seen by half a billion TV viewers

Matthew Pover

Anthony Taylor will be in the Wembley spotlight, seen by half a billion TV viewers

“And experiencing all that can lend a massive amount of  perspective when you’re refereeing and in life in general.

“I’ve seen the depths that people can reach, sometimes through no fault of their own . . . ”

Referees are often perceived as robots and Taylor even uses the word himself during this rare interview. It’s the sort of perception which led to mockery when news of Taylor’s Marbella stag do hit the news — before he and guest Kevin

Friend both made high-profile errors the following Saturday.

Diego Costa is looking to complete the domestic Double for Chelsea in the FA Cup final


Diego Costa aims to complete a domestic Double for Chelsea in the FA Cup final

But during our hour-long  conversation, Taylor’s likeability shines through. He said: “There are skills which are interchangeable between working in the prison service and refereeing.

“It’s not about red and yellow cards, it’s about stopping things happening as much as you can.

“Trying to be proactive if you see a potential flashpoint between two players. It’s a lot like my experiences as a prison officer, you can almost head a problem off before it starts.”

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Taylor is  the patron of ‘Prison Me! No Way!’, a charity which educates young people on the causes and consequences of crime.

And he added: “The power of sport to influence behaviour is massive for me.

“And it’s under-used sometimes. You can use football as a vehicle to communicate to kids about hard work, respect, aspirations and overcoming  difficulties.”

After being awarded the once-in-a-lifetime honour of taking charge of the Cup final, Taylor took the famous trophy back to his old primary school, Heyes Lane in Timperley, Cheshire.

Manager Arsene Wenger will be under huge pressure to land the FA for Arsenal

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Manager Arsene Wenger will be under huge pressure to land the FA for Arsenal

His appointment has also been an opportunity to reflect on his route to the top —  a journey which started when his mother told him to either stop moaning about referees at Altrincham games or give it a go himself. Taylor did the latter.

He started with Partington Working Men’s Club v Station Flixton in the Altrincham  Sunday League.

Then came many fixtures at Wythenshawe Park, with “20 or 25 matches all crammed side-by-side” and many semi-pro players turning out for Sunday pub sides.

He was once physically  grabbed while refereeing on the parks but claims that parents and club officials are far more  dangerous than players for  grassroots officials.

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And Taylor, who referees in the Champions League and took charge of the League Cup final and Community Shield in 2015, admits that he had to put in some hard yards.

He said: “I look back at when I first refereed in the Football League in 2006-07 and think, ‘How the hell did I work a 40-hour week, including night shifts, in a prison’?

“I’d often start a shift at 6am then finish at 1pm, drive from Cheshire to London, do the game, drive back, then in to work at 6am after two hours’ sleep.

Anthony Taylor is ready for a fierce London derby in the FA Cup final

Matthew Pover

Anthony Taylor is ready for a fierce derby between Arsenal and Chelsea in the final

“A lot of lads are still doing this and people lose sight of that. It’s important to look back at those times, though getting the Cup final makes all that  worthwhile.”

Taylor’s self-proclaimed calmness under pressure came in handy in March —  when it was revealed  that he had held his three-day stag do with fellow refs before he wrongly awarded Burnley a penalty for handball  at Swansea.

He  laughed: “It’s not the only bad weekend I’ve had and I haven’t been on that many stag dos!” Taylor marries fiancee Anne-Marie next month and claims he is not nervous about either of his big days.

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He had originally agreed with boss Mike Riley to hold his stag party last summer, only to be called up as an additional  official, alongside Mark Clattenburg, at both the Champions League final and the Euros.

Taylor said: “Contrary to popular belief, refs are normal people.

“We have families, friends and social lives.

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“I was fourth official at Everton on the Saturday, we flew out for the stag do on Sunday, came back Wednesday.

“We’d got bit of sunshine, golf and, believe it or not, we were training there.

“So preparations for the following weekend were as normal.

“But I’m big enough and ugly enough to say that, for a ref of my experience, I made a really poor decision (at Swansea).

“I got it wrong because I was too static at a corner and the more static you are at a set-piece, the less you’re going to see.”

Anthony Taylor says many challenges as a prison officer are good experience for top-level reffing

Matthew Pover

Anthony Taylor says the many challenges he faced as a prison officer have proved good experience for top-level reffing

And this decision would have been pored over at one of the elite group’s fortnightly meetings at St George’s Park.

There, Taylor says, the analysis is ‘forensic’.

But good decisions are  highlighted as well as bad, while a sense of camaraderie is hugely beneficial.

He revealed: “There’s a   massive amount of reflection and analysis post-match  and no one hurts more about getting things wrong than we do. If there’s a really poor decision, it can take days to get over it, mentally.

“Of course you have to be thick-skinned. Nobody likes having abuse directed at you but, if you’re focused on the game, you often won’t even hear it.

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“I’ve had a couple of encounters on trains with supporters, saying, ‘Taylor, you cost us’. I  say, ‘Grab a coffee and let’s chat,  we can talk about your  failings in your job too’!

“People still don’t always agree with you but they have a bit more understanding.”

Along with assistants Gary Beswick and Marc Perry, fourth official Bobby Madley and reserve assistant Adam Nunn, Taylor will hope to go totally unnoticed on the greatest day of his career.

Ref Anthony Taylor is in relaxed mood ahead of the FA Cup final at Wembley

Matthew Pover

Ref Anthony Taylor is in relaxed mood ahead of the FA Cup final at Wembley

He said: “We have no desire to be the centre of attention.

“Our focus is on getting  decisions correct and letting everyone enjoy it.

“This is the pinnacle of my domestic career but you don’t want anyone to talk about you.

“I’ll just be saying to myself, ‘Imagine you are at  Wythenshawe Park again — and don’t speak to people any differently than you did there’.”

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