FOOTBALL: Suffolk referee Carl Fitch has spoken of his pride at officiating at Wembley Stadium.
The 24-year-old from Ipswich was an assistant referee at Sunday’s Blue Square Premier Play-Off final between Oxford United and York, which Oxford won 3-1 to win promotion to the Football League in front of 38,957 fans.
He is the first Suffolk-based referee to officiate at the new Wembley, although the recently-retired Mick Thorpe from Martlesham was fourth official for an FA Vase final a few years ago.
Fitch, who took up the whistle just nine years ago, was promoted last month to run the line in the Football League next season.
He said: “When I started refereeing I set my sights on getting to the Football League, which I have now achieved, and even if my career was to end now no-one can ever take away from me that I have officiated at Wembley.
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“I have done myself and my family proud and hopefully Suffolk proud too.”
Fitch, a psychology teacher at Farlingaye High School, continued: “It was a fantastic occasion.
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“It was an honour to get the appointment from the FA and to represent Suffolk as well.
“We stayed overnight on Saturday at an hotel in London, where I met the other officials, and we went out for a meal in the evening.
“After breakfast on Sunday morning we prepared for the game before being picked up at 2 o’clock (the match kicked-off at 5pm) in a mini-bus and taken to Wembley.
“The atmosphere inside the stadium was unbelievable – Oxford brought around 30,000 fans. We were introduced to Geoff Hurst (the guest of honour) and then the national anthem was sung.
“It was a very special occasion for the players and officials to experience, although from an official’s point of view the day was about the players and teams and not about us.
“Our role was to do a professional job and keep out of the spotlight and enforce the laws of the game.”
Oxford raced into a 2-0 lead inside 21 minutes before York pulled a goal back three minutes before the interval, when Oxford goalkeeper Ryan Clarke dropped an innocuous-looking cross over his own goal-line.
Fitch, who was running the line at that end of the pitch, said: “The ball bounced down inside the goalline, before ending up in the back of the net.”
Oxford added a third goal in the 91st minute to confirm their return to the Football League for the first time since 2006.
“Even though they had lost, York sportingly came to sake our hands at the end of the game,” said Fitch, who added that Sheffield referee Michael Naylor, also promoted to the Football League next season, had a very good game.
Following the match the officials were presented with a memento - a whistle inside a special box - as a souvenir, before attending the after-match buffet and then returning home.
Fitch, whose parents David and Teresa were in the stadium – his granddad John decided to stay behind and watch the match on television with Carl’s brother Luke –added: “The memories of the day will stay with me for a very long time.”