Wembley beckons for Northamptonshire whistler Woolmer

Referee Andy Woolmer will take charge of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final tomorrow afternoon
Referee Andy Woolmer will take charge of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final tomorrow afternoon

This weekend will deliver a landmark moment for Northamptonshire referee Andy Woolmer.

A career that has spanned more than 30 years will receive one of its biggest highlights when he takes charge of his first-ever Wembley final .

Woolmer will be in the middle as Barnsley and Oxford United battle it out for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tomorrow afternoon.

It’s been a long road to get there for the 49-year-old, who has been a Football League referee since 2004.

But he couldn’t have been happier when his appointment for the final was confirmed five weeks ago.

“It was fabulous to receive the appointment, I am really pleased,” Woolmer said.

“Wembley is something that you don’t get the opportunity to do very often due to the nature of the game.

“It’s fabulous to be asked to do the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final, a competition that I have been involved in during the earlier rounds in years gone by.

“I was fortunate to run the line in the final between Brentford and Port Vale in 2001 but while that was a great occasion, it was at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (while Wembley was being rebuilt).

“So to now get the chance to referee the game and the fact that it’s at the home of football is fantastic.”

As previously observed, 
it’s been a long road to Wembley for Kettering-born Woolmer who lives in Northampton where he works as a postman.

He first started refereeing in the old East Midlands Alliance and the Kettering Area Sunday League back in 1984.

But he quickly rose up the ranks, going through the United Counties League, Southern League and Conference before being appointed to the Football League.

And while football evolves, so does the job of the man in the middle with the speed of the game being the most noticeable change over the years.

Woolmer is used to officiating some of the biggest games in the Football League and while more pressure comes with taking on a final, he insists the preparations won’t be that much different.

“The speed of the game has increased and the fitness levels have increased as well,” Woolmer said.

“From my own personal point of view, I train most days not just to make sure I have the stamina but you also have to the recovery work as well.

“In preparation for most games these days, we often travel the night before.

“You train on the day before you go and then on the day of the game itself everything is geared around the match itself.

“The only slight difference with this being a final is that wives and girlfriends are allowed to travel with you.

“On the day before we are taken round the stadium by the Football League bosses and shown the layout and given the logistics of how the final will pan out in terms of timings.

“We are very much governed by Sky and it’s important that their floor manager works with the fourth official to ensure the game starts on time.

“A lot of people take that for granted but it’s things like that that need to be worked on.

“I will prepare like I would any other game. That’s mainly based around fitness and making sure I am ready physically for the challenge ahead.

“There’s a possibility the game could go to extra-time and 120 minutes requires that extra bit of stamina so that’s the main area I focus on.”

Woolmer has, of course, been a familiar face in the county for a number of years.

On a local scale, notable matches he has taken charge – mainly in pre-season friendlies – include Raunds Town’s first-ever match at Kiln Park in 1991 when they played Crystal Palace.

He was also in the middle for what proved to be Kettering Town’s last-ever game at Rockingham Road when they faced a Southampton team in the pre-season of 2011, just before they opened the campaign at Nene Park following their controversial relocation.

And Woolmer hasn’t been short of support from the local football scene since news of his appointment broke.

“I have been really touched by the reaction from people in the local area,” he said.

“I have had a high number of letters, emails and texts 
off colleagues, which has 
been very nice.

“People who have retired from the game have also taken the time to talk to me about it. It’s been great.”

And so, on to the big day itself.

Do referees get nervous? Are they allowed to get nervous?

“There will be a few more butterflies than normal but I am just looking forward to refereeing at Wembley,” Woolmer added.

“It’s great that my wife will be there and my two boys are going to be at the game, they are travelling down on the day.

“None of them have been to Wembley before and it will be fantastic for them to be there.”