MIKE Dean will become the first referee to take charge of three Championship Play-Off Finals when Norwich face Middlesbrough next week.
The 46-year-old Premier League whistler will take charge at Wembley Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday, 25 May, as the two sides battle it out for a Premier League place next season potentially worth £120 million.
He will be assisted by Simon Long (Cornwall) and Stuart Burt (Northamptonshire), the Football League have confirmed.
Wiltshire’s Roger East – who oversaw Norwich’s 3-1 semi-final second leg win over Ipswich – will be the fourth official while Edward Smart (West Midlands) will act as the reserve assistant.
Dean was also in the middle for the 2006 final when Watford beat Leeds 3-0 at the Millenium Stadium and the 2009 final at the national stadium when he sent off Sheffield United’s Jamie Ward and Lee Hendrie in their 1-0 defeat to Burnley.
It ends his run of refereeing on seven successive weekends in the Premier League up until the final day of the campaign.
Overall, the Wirral-based whistler has handled 37 games in all competitions so far – brandishing 156 yellow cards, sending off eight players and awarding seven penalties.
Having overseen this particular fixture twice before, the appointment of Dean was somewhat surprising with many expecting the likes of Michael Oliver, Mike Jones or Anthony Taylor to be given the job of handling one of the most important games in the football calendar.
However, the Heswall-born official has a wealth of experience at the highest level and is always in consideration for high-profile occasions therefore is the proverbial “safe pair of hands” when there is no margin for error.
Former Premier League referee Jeff Winter believes it is “an excellent choice” but thinks Dean will need luck on the day for what is “probably the biggest domestic game in world football.”
He said in his Gazette Column: “Mike will need all his experience and bucket loads of luck to keep the lid on a game where tension, frustration and feelings will be as high as the temperature at pitch level.
“I have known Mike for a long time now, and away from the public image of a slightly eccentric man who makes his decisions in a rather flamboyant manner, he is a top bloke.
“He has not shirked responsibility in the past on the big occasion, and is not adverse to pointing to the penalty spot or issuing a red card or two.
“Fans with vested interests may disagree, but he is usually very consistent.”
Additionally, many qualified referees among forums and circles agree that Dean is the right man to referee one of the toughest games to officiate in football with a place in the promised land at stake for both teams.
One suggested he is the best Select Group official while another said he was the most consistent performer in 2014-15.
Dean’s season highlights include overseeing the first PL game between Manchester United and Swansea, both Arsenal-United games, a League Cup semi-final second leg, the Wear-Tyne derby at the Stadium of Light and several top-flight meetings of teams in the top five.
The only major criticism came when he was branded “arrogant” by Leicester boss Nigel Pearson after awarding a dubious penalty to Tottenham in his side’s 4-3 defeat at White Hart Lane back in March.
Earlier in March, Dean also awarded a spotkick to Southampton in their 1-1 draw at leaders Chelsea, whose boss Jose Mourinho questioned the decision following Nemanja Matic’s challenge on Dusan Tadic.
In January, another of his penalty awards was scrutinised after pointing to the spot for Arsenal in their 2-0 victory at champions Manchester City following Vincent Kompany’s perceived barge into Nacho Monreal even though the official did not appear to have a clear view of the incident.
It will be the fourth Championship game of the season that Dean has overseen – two involving title winners Bournemouth – but he has not encountered either Norwich or Middlesbrough.
Among the Premier League’s oldest officials along with Chris Foy and Phil Dowd, he has overseen over 350 top-flight games since promotion from the Football League in 2000 and spent a decade on the Fifa list until retiring from the position in 2013.
Dean has long since completed the domestic set of stellar appointments in his career including the 2004 FA Community Shield, the 2004 FA Trophy Final, the 2008 FA Cup Final and the 2011 League Cup Final.
He also served on the Fifa list for a decade before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 45 at the end of the 2012-13 campaign.
Norwich are trying to earn promotion straight back to the top flight after relegation a year ago, while Aitor Karanka’s Boro will bid to end a six-season stay in the second tier.
The Teessiders finished fourth in the Championship and beat Brentford 5-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals to book a Wembley appearance for the first time since 1998.
Alex Neil’s Norwich – who finished third in the regular season – beat East Anglian rivals 4-2 over two legs in their semi-final but lost twice to Boro during the campaign.
Last season’s fixture was overseen by Lee Mason (Lancashire) as Bobby Zamora’s injury-time winner for 10-man QPR sank Derby County in front of a record attendance at the national stadium for a Championship Play-Off Final.
This year’s League Two Play-Off Final between Southend and Wycombe will be refereed by Simon Hooper (Wiltshire) while Andy Madley (West Yorkshire) will take charge of Preston against Swindon in the League One showpiece.