MICK Russell has been appointed to referee the 2015 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final between Bristol City and Walsall on Sunday, March 22.
The 50-year-old from Hertfordshire will be in charge when the two SkyBet League One clubs compete for the 31st Football League Trophy at Wembley Stadium (KO 3:30pm, live on Sky Sports).
He will be assisted by linesmen Chris Powell (Dorset) and Richard Wigglesworth (South Yorkshire), while the fourth official will be Mark Haywood (West Yorkshire).
Philip Dermott – the Lancastrian who regularly officiates as a referee in the Evo-Stik divisions – will act as the reserve official.
It will be Russell’s first outing as the man in the middle at the national stadium, although he was the fourth official for the League One play-off final last season.
This particular showpiece is often awarded to experienced National Group referees towards the end of the career and this could be considered a final swansong for Russell, who is in his 11th season in the Football League and could retire at the end of the current campaign.
He made his debut in 2004 as Scunthorpe took on Rochdale in League Two and has since handled over 300 matches across all three divisions.
So far in 2014-15, Russell has overseen 22 games in all competitions – brandishing 59 yellow cards, sending off three players and awarding no penalties.
Only one of those matches came in the JPT as Coventry won 1-0 at Wycombe in round one back in September.
His last Walsall match came in their 1-0 win over Wolves at Molineux in September 2013, while he last encountered Bristol City in a 1-1 draw at Gillingham a few weeks earlier.
Russell – who is often selected for Championship games – is regarded as a card-happy official but looks to keep matches flowing as much as possible and manages the players well.
He was the man in black for the League One play-off semi-final second leg between Leyton Orient and Peterborough last May and has overseen two other such matches in his career.
Since taking up the whistle, Russell has only been avoided in one major controversial incident when failing to send off Sheffield Wednesday’s Jeremy Helan after showing him two yellow cards in the first 25 minutes of a Yorkshire derby against Huddersfield in December 2012.
He was taken off duty while investigated by the PGMOL referees’ association but it was considered to be an unfortunate administration error.
Just a few months earlier, Russell’s display in a key relegation battle between Doncaster Rovers and Portsmouth in the Championship was heavily criticised after he sent off Rovers’ Habib Beye and awarded Pompey two dubious penalties while one of the seven goals was clearly handball.
As a result, Rovers were relegated and Pompey kept their survival hopes alive with Doncaster’s chairman branding the match officials as “an absolute disgrace” and the standard of performance as “absolutely sickening”.
Nevertheless, Russell – as one of the most experienced referees – has served the Football League well over the past decade and has earned the day-out at Wembley for a final which is often incident-free.
A refereeing expert told me: “It’s good that the JPT Final always seems to go to someone who has put in good years toiling in the Football League.
“In an era where Talent Groups and accelerated promotions seem to be par for the course, it’s very pleasing that this particular appointment always gives that most special Wembley honour to one of the guys who, season by season, keep the Football League well officiated.
“Bearing in mind the number of times he has appeared in play-off matches which I understand are awarded strictly on the basis of the Merit Table, it is quite clear that he is fully deserving of this honour.”
Dean Smith’s Walsall will play at the national stadium for the first time in their 127-year history after beating Preston 2-0 on aggregate in the northern area final last month.
Fellow third-tier side Bristol City – who will feature in the JPT Final for the fifth time – advanced with a 5-3 win against Gillingham over two legs in the southern area as Steve Cotterill’s team will make their first Wembley appearance since 2008.
All 48 teams from Leagues One and Two compete for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy – which consists of five different rounds before the final itself.
The Capital One Cup Final also takes place next month at Wembley with Premier League referee Anthony Taylor already appointed to that particular fixture.
JPT Final: The last ten men in charge
2014: Andy D’Urso (Essex)
2013: Nigel Miller (County Durham)
2012: Tony Bates (Staffordshire)
2011: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire)
2010: Scott Mathieson (Cheshire)
2009: Phil Crossley (Kent)
2008: Phil Joslin (Nottinghamshire)
2007: Graham Laws (Northumberland)
2006: Anthony Leake (County Durham)
2005: Brian Curson (Macclesfield)