SIMON Hooper will referee the opening match of the 2016-17 SkyBet English Football League season on Friday night.
The 34-year-old, from Wiltshire, will be in the middle for Fulham against relegated Newcastle United in the Championship at Craven Cottage (KO 19:45 BST, live on Sky Sports).
He will be ably assisted in west London by Adam Crysell (Essex) and Robert Hyde (London), while the fourth official is David Coote (west Yorkshire), who will fulfil the same role for Saturday’s Championship match between Bristol City and newly-promoted Wigan Athletic at Ashton Gate.
Hooper will also be the fourth official for Ipswich Town’s match with Barnsley at Portman Road on Saturday.
Last season, he took charge of his only Premier League game on the opening weekend when Norwich lost 3-1 to Crystal Palace at Carrow Road – in which he controversially ruled out a second-half Cameron Jerome equaliser for the Canaries.
His display was heavily criticised, including by former top-flight official Mark Halsey.
Hooper also made headlines on the opening weekend two years ago when he appeared to be shoved by Norwich’s Martin Olsson as he sent off the defender in their 1-0 Championship defeat by Wolves at Molineux.
The former IT services manager, who has officiated over 100 Championship games, is now one of 18 referees which forms the new Select Group 2 to take charge of second-tier matches.
The Swindon-based whistler handled 43 games across all competitions last term – brandishing 103 yellow cards, sending off two players and awarding 11 penalties.
Failing to make the grade at Swindon Town as a striker when released at the age of 16 after seven years at his hometown club, Hooper took up refereeing with his father Pete and progressed to earn promotion to the Football League as a linesman in 2006.
He oversaw the Conference League Cup Final in 2008 at the end of his first campaign as a National List referee, in which Aldershot Town defeated Rushden and Diamonds 4-3 on penalties after a 3-3 draw at the Recreation Ground.
His first ever Football League game came in the fourth tier when Exeter faced Shrewsbury in August 2007.
He will control his first game involving Newcastle but encountered Fulham three times last season – their 3-2 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday in September, 4-1 win over Rotherham in December, and 2-2 draw with Reading in March in which he awarded two penalties.
It’s the start of Fulham’s third consecutive season in the Championship and first full campaign under former Watford manager Slavisa Jokanovic.
Newcastle, relegated from the Premier League last season, face a second Championship season in six years and Rafael Benitez’s side have been installed as promotion favourites by bookmakers.
Elsewhere, Oliver Langford will be in charge of Sunday’s first televised game between QPR and Leeds United at Loftus Road (KO 12:00 BST, live on Sky Sports).
The West Midlands whistler will be assisted by Steven Meredith (Nottinghamshire) and Mark Russell (Somerset), while Andy Madley (west Yorkshire) will be the fourth official.
Also, Stephen Martin will be the man in charge for Sunday’s other game as Sheffield Wednesday take on Aston Villa (KO 16:30 BST, live on Sky Sports).
The Staffordshire-based referee will make the decisions at Hillsborough as last season’s play-off finalists Wednesday host relegated Villa, who will be under Roberto di Matteo in a competitive game for the first time.
Martin – who was fourth official for the League One Play-Off Final in May – has officiated over 150 Football League games since joining the National Group in 2012.
It’s not the first time he has received a Championship TV game on the opening weekend of the season after overseeing Ipswich’s 2-1 win over Fulham in August 2014.
Both refereed League Two Play-Off semi-finals last season – with Langford having an eventful night in Portsmouth’s 2-2 first-leg draw with Plymouth, while Martin took charge of AFC Wimbledon’s 1-0 first-leg win over Accrington Stanley.
LAST FIVE FOOTBALL LEAGUE SEASON OPENERS:
August 7, 2015: Brighton 1-0 Nottingham Forest (Championship)
Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire)
August 8, 2014: Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Cardiff City (Championship)
Referee: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire)
August 2, 2013: Sheffield United 2-1 Notts County (League One)
Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire)
August 17, 2012: Cardiff City 1-0 Huddersfield (Championship)
Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire)
August 5, 2011: Hull City 0-1 Blackpool (Championship)
Referee: Scott Mathieson (Cheshire)
Three referees will be running out at Football League stadiums for their first games in the middle in League Two on the opening weekend.
Leicestershire’s John Brooks will take charge of Blackpool’s first fourth-tier game since relegation against Exeter City at Bloomfield Road.
Robert Jones, from Merseyside, will be in the middle for Newport County against Mansfield Town at Rodney Parade.
Ollie Yates (Staffordshire) faces a long journey to Somerset after being appointed to Yeovil Town’s opening match at home to Notts County.
All three officials were promoted from the National League during the summer, along with Michael Salisbury, Brett Huxtable and John Busby.
Brooks was a linesman for a number of high-profile Premier League games, as well as the 2014 Championship Play-Off Final and 2016 FA Cup Final – both at Wembley.
The 26-year-old will oversee Gary Bowyer’s first match in charge of the Seasiders, with the assistance of Michael Denton (Lancashire), Wayne Grunnill (East Yorkshire) and fourth official Alan Clayton (Cheshire).
Jones has refereed in the National League and Women’s Super League for two years as well as being a Football League assistant for over 100 games.
He will be assisted on Saturday by Ravel Cheosiaua (Worcestershire) and Select Group linesman Andy Garratt (west Midlands), with Eddie Smart (west Midlands) in control of electronic board duties.
Meanwhile, Yates, who had been a Football League assistant since 2009, only refereed 21 National League games in two seasons but was fourth official for May’s Promotion Final between Grimsby Town and Forest Green Rovers.
His assistant referees at Somerset Park are Matt Eva (Surrey) and Michael Webb (Surrey), while Simon Knapp (Bristol) will be the fourth official.
Premier League referee Lee Probert is set to make his long-awaited return from injury this weekend.
The Wiltshire-based whistler will take charge of the League Two clash between newly-promoted Cheltenham Town and Leyton Orient.
He will be assisted by Select Group linesmen Derek Eaton (Gloucestershire) and Andrew Fox (Warwickshire), with Marc Perry (West Midlands) acting as fourth official.
Probert has only handled 22 games in all competitions in the last two seasons having been sidelined with leg, knee and back problems respectively.
It led to rumours the 43-year-old could be forced to retire prematurely but, after officiating several pre-season friendlies, he will be back on duty at Whaddon Road – close to where he was born in south Gloucestershire.
Probert oversaw just one game last season – a Europa League qualifier in Belgium in July between Charleroi and Beitar Jerusalem, in which he issued seven yellows and two red cards.
He only officiated 21 games in 2014-15 – with the first not coming until December 20 in Accrington’s 1-1 draw with Wycombe in League Two.
Probert didn’t take charge of the first of his seven Premier League games that season until April 4 in QPR’s 4-1 win over 10-man West Brom at the Hawthorns.
He could be in line for a first top-flight match since May 2014 next weekend, in this his 10th year as a Select Group referee.
Probert – who was the man in black for the 2014 FA Cup Final at Wembley – is still one of eight English Fifa referees, having been on the list since 2010.
Click here for a full list of appointments for the Football League’s opening weekend