THE match officials have been confirmed for the third annual Non-League Finals Day at Wembley Stadium.
Both the Buildbase FA Trophy and FA Vase finals will take place on Sunday 20 May 2018 and will be broadcast live on BT Sport, while all four teams involved preparing for their first-ever trips to the national stadium.
Premier League referee Chris Kavanagh will take charge as Brackley Town face Bromley in the Trophy showpiece (kick-off 16:15 BST).
And Football League official John Brooks will be in the middle for Stockton Town against Thatcham Town (kick-off 12:15 BST), as the Vase reaches a climax under the arch in the capital.
A FIRST, AT LAST, FOR CHRIS
After two previous visits as a fourth official, Chris Kavanagh will be the man in the middle for a game at Wembley for the first time.
He was on electronic board duties for the 2015 FA Vase final between Glossop North End and North Shields, as well as the League One Play-Off final between Scunthorpe United and Millwall last season.
The appointment is worthy recognition for a burgeoning career as a promising referee, who could well be in contention to be included on the Fifa list in the near future.
Kavanagh will be assisted on the day by Daniel Cook (Hampshire) and Daniel Robathan (Norfolk), with Michael Salisbury (Lancashire) appointed as the fourth official.
HIS SEASON SO FAR
The 31-year-old has enjoyed a fine first full season in the top flight so far and has largely stayed under the radar, while quietly impressing.
To date, he has officiated 28 games in all competitions in 2017/18, brandishing 93 yellow cards, sending off four players and awarding four penalties.
Kavanagh had to be patient at the start of the season but has performed well overall in his 14 Premier League matches so far this term.
He correctly booked Huddersfield’s Rajiv van La Parra for diving in their goalless draw at Burnley in September and was eagle-eyed to spot an elbow by Everton’s Ashley Williams on Burnley’s Ashley Barnes in the Clarets’ 2-1 win at Turf Moor in March, in his first televised Premier League game.
But Kavanagh attracted headlines recently when he contentiously booked Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha for a perceived dive in the penalty area during their goalless draw away to Watford.
KAVANAGH’S RAPID RISE
Kavanagh has worked his way up the football pyramid since first taking up the whistle in 1998 at the age of 13 but has enjoyed something of a meteoric rise in recent seasons.
The Manchester-born referee, who lives in Ashton-under-Lyne in Tameside, plied his trade in local matches before being promoted to the National League in 2012.
After impressing in the Dallas Cup in the summer of 2014 as part of a PGMOL development programme, he was elevated to the Football League in 2014/15 and quickly established himself as a regular, while earning rave reviews for his consistently high-level performances.
Kavanagh was part of the Select Group 2 – a group of professional referees who primarily officiate in the Championship – last season and refereed 27 second-tier matches.
He received a trial Premier League game in April 2017, booking four players as Southampton beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0 at The Hawthorns, and was then promoted to the Select Group last summer – effectively as a replacement for Mark Clattenburg, who moved to work in Saudi Arabia.
LAST FIVE FA TROPHY FINAL REFEREES
This showpiece has traditionally been appointed to Premier League officials who are still making their way and settling into the top flight, so Kavanagh’s selection for the game certainly fits the current trend.
2017 – Macclesfield Town 2 York City 3
Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire)
2016 – FC Halifax Town 1 Grimsby Town 0
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)
2015 – North Ferriby United 3 * Wrexham 3 (North Ferriby won 5-4 on penalties)
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)
2014 – Cambridge United 4 Gosport Borough
Referee: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire)
2013 – Grimsby Town 1 Wrexham 1 * (Wrexham won 4-1 on penalties)
Referee: Jon Moss (West Yorkshire)
HOW BOTH SIDES REACHED THIS STAGE
Brackley enjoyed two wins in both legs of their semi-final with fellow sixth-tier side Wealdstone, a 1-0 victory at home before a Shane Byrne free-kick and an Aaron Williams goal secured a 3-0 aggregate triumph.
Meanwhile, in an all-National League last-four clash, Bromley’s 3-2 first-leg advantage over Gateshead was extended thanks to Fraser Kerr’s own goal, which meant Scott Barrow’s wonder strike secured a 4-3 aggregate victory.
JUST REWARD FOR EXCELLENT BROOKS
Like Kavanagh, it will be a first match in the middle at the national stadium for John Brooks.
The Leicestershire whistler has endured a busy campaign – only his second in the EFL since being promoted from the National League at the start of 2016/17.
But the 28-year-old has made a rapid rise and has made a big impression with some mature displays.
He has handled 48 games so far in 2017/18 across seven different competitions – issuing 145 yellow cards, sending off six players and awarding 15 penalties.
The bulk of his matches have been in League One but his consistent top-level performances earned him a step-up to the Championship, where he has refereed on two occasions.
Brooks was in charge of Brentford’s 2-0 win at Sunderland in February and Ipswich’s goalless draw with Sheffield United in March – brandishing three yellow cards in each match.
He has been at Wembley before as an assistant referee for two big games – the 2014 Championship Play-Off final and 2016 Emirates FA Cup final.
But this is his first major match at Wembley as a referee, which is only a further reflection of his progress and another deserved appointment for the Melton Mowbray-born official.
He will be assisted on the day by Adrian Waters (Hertfordshire) and Craig Taylor (Staffordshire), with Antony Coggins (Oxfordshire) on fourth official duties.
A COOL CUSTOMER ON THE BIG STAGE
Brooks might be remembered by some football fans as being an assistant referee in the top flight for four seasons – a pressurised stage on which he performed to a high standard week in week out.
In his first campaign in 2012/13, he was notoriously dropped from an FA Cup tie to protect him from media attention after telling Manchester City players to thank fans who paid £62 for a ticket to see their team beat Arsenal 2-0 in a Premier League game at the Emirates Stadium in 2013.
Brooks developed into a regular on the line in the Premier League and often worked with the vastly experienced Mike Dean, while he was also elevated to international status as a Fifa assistant referee in 2015 for a year.
He then moved to concentrate on his refereeing and, after impressing in the National League, got his big chance to oversee League One and League Two matches and hasn’t looked back.
The next step for him is to follow in the footsteps of his fellow former Premier League linesman Darren England, who refereed last year’s FA Vase final and was then promoted to the Select Group 2 panel of dedicated Championship officials to replace Chris Kavanagh last summer.
LAST FIVE FA VASE FINAL REFEREES
This particular showpiece has, in recent times, been rewarded to young and promising Football League officials in order to gain some further big-game experience, so the appointment of Brooks fits the bill.
2017 – Cleethorpes Town 0 South Shields 4
Referee: Darren England (South Yorkshire)
2016 – Hereford 1 Morpeth Town 4
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire)
2015 – Glossop North End 1 North Shields 2 (after extra time)
Referee: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire)
2014 – Sholing 1 West Auckland Town 0
Referee: David Coote (Nottinghamshire)
2013 – Spennymoor Town 2 Tunbridge Wells 1
Referee: Michael Naylor (South Yorkshire)
HOW BOTH TEAMS GOT HERE
Thatcham overcame 1874 Northwich 3-2 at the Barton Stadium to become the first Hellenic League side since Didcot in 2006 to reach the Vase final.
Elsewhere, Stockton, of Northern League Division One, endured a tense 2-1 defeat at home to Marske United but still prevailed 3-2 on aggregate to book their place at Wembley for the first time in their history.