The Emirates FA Cup has made dreams come true for many football managers, players and supporters over the years, and that was certainly the case for Jamie Bishop earlier this season.
At half-time during the Second Round tie with Maidstone United, clubPlatinum member Jamie – a Level 5 referee and a partner of the Club for eight years through Osmo UK – was called upon to replace the Fourth Official who had been forced to take the linesman’s flag due to an injury to his colleague.
“It was at half-time and I was just popping outside when one of the stewards that I know stopped me and said the Club were looking for a referee,” he recalled in an interview with mkdons.com. “I waited and waited before getting the call.”
It was quite the step up for Jamie, a referee since 2001, who usually spends his weekends marshalling games in the Spartan South Midlands League.
“There were nerves and there was excitement. I’ve been a Fourth Official before so I knew how to work the board and stuff like that but I needed a little tweak up of my skills.
“I didn’t have time to prepare – I only had four minutes to get into the gear. I was lent some boots by the MK Dons kit man – I don’t know whose boots they were! I was also given the fourth official’s tracksuit but the trousers came up to my stomach and they were a little tight!”
After squeezing into the tracksuit, Jamie was sent out to the touchline to manage the technical areas, introduce substitutes and assist the match officials via the earpieces for the final 45 minutes of the tie.
“I remember it but I don’t – if that makes sense? I can’t really remember what happened in the game.
“I remember the officials constantly talking on the earpieces – the referee was always telling his assistants to watch this and watch that, what to let go and what to flag. The referee kept me updated with everything he was doing too. Being on the mic gave me a good insight into how the professional players speak to officials and how officials speak to them.
“Of course, because you’ve got an earpiece, the two managers constantly want to know what’s being said. That’s why you see them constantly walking over to speak to the fourth official – it’s not necessarily because they’re moaning, they are just asking a question most of the time.”
He continued: “Fourth officials get this image that they do nothing but it is a tough role. You’ve got to watch the bench, the pitch and even the tunnel too – you need to be aware of everything going on. You’ve got the substitutions board to program and there is the ear piece which you always have to be listening out on as you could be asked questions.
“And, of course, everything the referee does – we get the grief for!”
His favourite part of the afternoon?
“Probably communicating with Robbie Neilson. I remember the first time he came over to me – it was about a handball. I turned round and told him ‘while I can’t argue with you, you must have good eyesight to see that from where you are!’
“He asked me to speak to the referee, who told me he didn’t give it because it was ball to hand. He was fine with it and we gave each other a pat on the back and carried on with the game.”
Jamie certainly played his part in the Dons’ turnaround, introducing Kieran Agard and Peter Pawlett who both scored in the 4-1 success.
“The substitutions made a difference so I was clearly a lucky charm,” he joked. “I was sat with a couple of friends the other week and they told me I needed to get back out there because I’m good luck!”
He added: “When the Dons scored their first goal, I nearly jumped up – I forgot where I was! I suddenly remembered I was an official so managed to restrain myself.”
As is the case after every match, Jamie and the officials received a visit from an assessor, who evaluated their performance. The verdict?
“He said we did well as a group and the other officials said I did well too. They did all comment how loud I was speaking and it turns out it was because my microphone was turned up to the top – I was certainly able to get my word in!”
Having enjoyed the experience, Jamie now hopes to use it as motivation to further his refereeing career, with the aim to make officiating at grounds like Stadium MK a weekly occurrence.
“I’ve always had a passion for refereeing. I’ve progressed up from grassroots football through to the conference but unfortunately, I had a brain tumour a few years back so that’s knocked be right back. I’m slowly working my way back up through Spartan South Midlands League.
“It’s been a tough few years so to get to that experience at Stadium MK was unbelievable. It’s inspired me to work up to this level and do this regularly. It’s also made it a realistic target for me.”
What is for certain is that Jamie will be waiting in the wings should a similar situation arise in the future.
“I would definitely do it again,” he said. “In a heartbeat!”