He says: ‘Hi, I’m Mike.’ As if he needs any introduction. Mike Dean is the man in black and someone so well known, he could sneeze and it would go viral.
Yet he says social media’s obsession with his behavior doesn’t bother him.
“That’s just me being me,” he says. “Some people call me, ‘The Greatest Showman’.” I get the music played to me now and then by the lads (his fellow referees). But it doesn’t bother me. Not at all.
It’s maybe moved that way ever since that Tottenham-Aston Villa game. I’d played a great advantage, Spurs scored, and I was sucked in. I looked like I was celebrating. It is what it is.
Mike Dean (above) called time on his 22-year refereeing career at the end of last season
‘But would I change anything I’ve done? Never. It’s not my style. If I tried to change the way I am, it would screw everything up. I was just being myself.’
Dean refereed 560 Premier League games, awarded 11,876 free-kicks, pointed for 186 penalties, showed 2,046 yellows and 114 reds.
He will no longer be seen on the football field but will be working as a full-time VAR at Stockley Park and writing exclusively for Sportsmail this season.
It may seem strange having your life’s work summed up in numbers — and they don’t do justice to his true contribution over 22 years of service to the English top flight — but then Dean could have been measuring his career in chickens instead.
We’ll come to that later. First, we start with where it ended — Chelsea versus Watford at Stamford Bridge on May 22, one final outing as a Premier League referee.
“I never play music in the referee’s dressing room beforehand,” Dean says. But before Chelsea-Watford, I played The Final Countdown on my phone. I figured, ‘Why not?’ The lads — assistants Ian Hussin and Darren Cann and fourth official John Busby — all joined in.
Dean was accused of celebrating when Tottenham scored against Aston Villa in 2015
“We had a little sing and a hug, and it was only when we were walking out that I felt emotional. I knew it was the last time I’d be doing that, then I turned around and saw my wife and my family.
“A few of the players twigged that I wasn’t too good. Some of them came over to ask if I was OK, which was nice.’
As was the conversation with Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel and Watford’s Roy Hodgson in their pre-match meeting. They said, ‘It’s your day. Enjoy it and know that you’ll have no trouble from any of our players. Which I didn’t, thankfully!’
Footage of Dean blowing the full-time whistle soon made it onto social media. I was always going to do a big whistle at the end, wasn’t I? I had to finish the career off right.’
We’re in Meeting Room 6 at the Premier League’s headquarters in Paddington, London, with Dean having kindly traveled from his home in the Wirral to speak with Sportsmail and tell his story. It starts with him being a goalkeeper for Pensby High School. “I never threatened to make a career out of it,” he says. ‘I was too heavy.’
He went on to work at a poultry factory, typically covering the 6am-2pm shift while juggling part-time refereeing.
His last game as a referee came in the clash between Chelsea and Watford back in May
I did everything there. I might be in the room where we had to take the insides out – sorry to anyone eating their sarnies right now – or I might be in the killing area. Then once I’d finished my shift, I might have to go to Hartlepool, Carlisle, wherever, to referee a game.
“There wasn’t an inkling it would go full-time. It was just a hobby, another job. But in 1999 there were whispers about the Premier League going full-time.’
From fouls to fouls, Dean’s first Premier League match was Leicester against Southampton in September 2000. ‘No yellow cards! Can you believe it? How times have changed, ey?’
Entering an arena of Keanes, Vieiras, Fergusons, Wengers, it was daunting for the then 32-year-old Dean.
It took time for his confidence to come out. You may call it arrogance, but over the course of an afternoon with Dean, he comes across as anything but.. In reality, the 54-year-old is simply a football fan, like you or I.
I’ve supported Tranmere since my dad took me to a game at the age of seven in ’75. I followed them home and away. Did I join in with the chants? The ‘You don’t know what you’re doing?’ and all that? Of course. All the time. When you’re a fan, you’re a fan. When you’re a ref, you’re a ref. If I’m watching Tranmere and the ref makes a mistake, I’ll let him know!’
Dean is a Tranmere Rovers supporter and is often seen celebrating in the stands
You’ve probably seen the television footage of Dean sitting among the Tranmere supporters. ‘I won’t sit in the directors’ box, even though I could.. I’d rather be with the fans, my mates, my family. I’m there to enjoy myself with everybody else.’
Since that Chelsea-Watford game, Dean’s enjoyed some down time. While his colleagues like Michael Oliver, Andre Marriner and Anthony Taylor are being weighed and put through their paces in preparation for the new season, he’s been on his holidays.
He went to his villa in southern Spain, where he could be seen riding an inflatable unicorn in the swimming pool à la Harry Maguire. He caddied for Ladies European Tour golfers Felicity Johnson and Lydia Hall. He went to see The Proclaimers, Go West and Paul Young.
I’ve enjoyed myself. I’ve spent the last 22 years trying to keep myself in shape and now I’ve finished, I’ve relaxed a bit. The lads have been texting me ‘enjoy the beer’ while they’ve got bleep tests to do.
Abuse was targeted at Dean’s Family when he sent off West Ham’s Tomas Soucek last year
‘People have been asking me, ‘When are you going on I’m A Celebrity? Are you going on the next Strictly Come Dancing?’ Apparently a lot of people have placed bets on me appearing on those. Unbelievable. Sorry to disappoint but I can’t say I’ve been asked to appear on anything like that!’
It’s worth noting that Dean did ballroom dancing until around 14 years old, so never say never, but he’s content with being a VAR for the time being.
Why did he retire from refereeing when he had the option of continuing? I’m 54 now. The older you get, your legs don’t work as much, your knees aren’t as nimble as they were… it felt right.’
The abuse may have played a part, too. Dean is now on Instagram, but when he wasn’t on social media, family members were targeted after he red carded West Ham’s Tomas Soucek in a game against Fulham. That included death threats.
“The people who did that have been seen by the police, thankfully. Unfortunately now I’ve retired, somebody else will get the grief. We’re trained in how to handle that. But your family isn’t.’
Dean was never one for letting criticism get to him. I’ll listen to talkSPORT or BBC 5Live on the way home from games. I’ll watch Match of the Day later that night. I used to check the newspaper ratings but they’re no good, are they? The Daily Mail never gave me a good mark.’
Sorry about that, Mike. Now you’re our columnist, we may be kinder.
MIKE DEAN ON:
HIS BEST GAME:
Easy, Man City against QPR in 2012. To be trusted with that game, with the title at stake, was class.
the corner came in and Edin Dzeko scored to make it 2-2. QPR took the kick-off and gave the ball back to City, which I’ll never understand.
The rest is history. Despite Taye Taiwo’s attempt at a tackle, Sergio Aguero stayed on his feet and scored. That saved me an easy decision because it would have been a penalty.
SIR ALEX FERGUSON
It’s a myth that he’d come banging down my door. He gained this reputation but it wasn’t his style. I never had the hairdryer treatment. I’ve got no hair to dry anyway.
Staying in the Premier League for 22 years. I’ve overseen 560 games — not all good, but I’ve managed to stay at the top for long enough to feel proud.
MOST CHALLENGING PLAYER TO REFEREE:
Craig Bellamy. Before the game, fine. Warming up, fine. He might jokingly say, ‘Oh, not you again!’ Then for 90 minutes he was different.
But I got that. He was just so focused on winning.
Mike Dean will be writing exclusively for Sportsmail throughout the season