PREMIER League referee Mike Dean admitted stage fright got the better of him in his fledgling days as a big match official, writes Simon Parkinson.

Addressing a fascinated and enthusiastic audience of some 160 people, many of them registered grassroots referees, at an event organised by Gloucestershire FA and Somerset FA at Bristol County Cricket Ground, Mr Dean said: “Ten to 15 years ago I used to drive to a ground and be scared stiff because I’m refereeing in front of 60 to 70,000 people.

“You have to remind yourself that you don’t make mistakes on purpose and that you shouldn’t let yourself worry, because if you worry too much about a mistake you’re going to make loads of them.

“I do make mistakes but I don’t let it worry me because it’s not life or death.”

As part of a lively question and answer exchange, Mr Dean conceded he couldn’t be certain sin bins would work if introduced to the Premier League structure.

And when pressed whether his enthusiasm for officiating at top grounds was unwavering, he responded: “Yes, because I am quite proud to be in the same position 20 years down the line.

“I have to still get the buzz when I walk out otherwise I’d lose interest. I get myself psyched up about ten to 15 minutes before the game.”

Mr Dean pointed to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium as his favourite to officiate at and said the famous Manchester City-QPR final day 2011-12 Premier League fixture, which City dramatically won 3-2 at the death to clinch the title, was “one of the best I’ve refereed.”

He added: “Liverpool’s atmosphere is the best this season, probably because of the way the season is going there. It’s the first time I’d refereed at Anfield (for the recent Liverpool-Everton derby). Newcastle is always rocking too.

Mr Dean went on to describe the tackle by Birmingham City’s Martin Taylor on Arsenal’s broken leg victim Eduardo in 2008 as “the worst” he’d witnessed.

Mike Dean began refereeing in 1985 as a 16-year-old in order to “help with getting fit.” He became a linesman in 1991-92 with the Unibond League, now known as Northern Premier League, before becoming a referee with the competition in 1993.

As his meteoric rise continued Mr Dean began running the line in the Football League in 1995 and went on to become a referee at the level two years later before his big elevation to Premier League officiating at the turn of the Millennium.

Becoming a full-time man in the middle meant he could put ten years of working in a poultry factory behind him too!

In offering advice to aspiring referees, Mr. Dean stressed: “Don’t set your goals too high when you first start. If you’re at Level 6 or 7 statuses aim for Level 3 inside three years. If you’re at Level 6 now, focus on getting to Level 5, your next step.

“To get to the top you have to make sacrifices.”

Mr Dean went on to highlight Michael Oliver and Anthony Taylor as “two very good and highly-rated referees who will officiate at the Euros this summer and future World Cups” and suggested there are current Championship referees destined to make the move up to Premier League in future.

The 51-year-old Merseysider, a keen golfer reported to play off a 5 handicap, has caddied for several years the likes of female stars Sophie Walker (Britain), Whitney Hillier (Australia), Stacey Peters (Australia), Camilla Lennarth (Sweden) and, Lydia Hall (Wales).

He quipped too when asked whether he’d considered becoming a professional golf caddie upon refereeing retirement: “I’d have to get divorced first because my missus hates me doing it as it’s on a women’s tour. I don’t know why!

“As it stands I’m just so chuffed to be doing what I’ve been doing (as a football official) for the last 30 years.”