Ipswich referee Alan Dale is promoted to the Football League list

Ipswich official Alan 'AJ' Dale lines up for the Conference Play-Off Final between Wrexham and Newpo

Ipswich official Alan 'AJ' Dale lines up for the Conference Play-Off Final between Wrexham and Newport at Wembley. - Credit: Archant

Ipswich referee Alan ‘AJ’ Dale has his sights set on the Premier League following a rapid rise up the ranks.

Aged just 24, he has already been promoted to the Football League list and, as a result, can be a linesman or fourth official as high as the Championship next season.

It leaves him just two steps away from English football’s select group of professional referees that take charge of top-flight, European and international matches.

“I guess the next stop would be to join the select group who officiate in the Premier League,” said Dale, who works as a learning mentor at Great Cornard Primary School and recently acted as a community coach at Ipswich Town. “There is still a long way to go before it becomes a career though.”

AJ took his first refereeing course at the age of 14, following in the footsteps of his father Chris – who still officiates in the Thurlow Nunn and Ryman Leagues.

And within 10 years of officiating matches in Ipswich Town’s Community Youth Football League, he was made a linesman for last month’s Conference Play-off Final between Wrexham and Newport County.

“To walk out at Wembley and sing the national anthem was incredible,” said Dale, who will undergo a Football League fitness test next week.

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“That’s the sort of thing you dream of as a kid. I was stood there thinking ‘I’ve worked hard for this’.”

He continued: “It started as a hobby which paid, which was a bonus, though don’t get me wrong it has never been for money. Plus I was never any good as a player!

“I like to think I’m a calm referee – my tolerance levels are quite high. Sometimes it probably doesn’t help my cause that I look about 12! I don’t think about my age when I’m refereeing though and I honestly don’t think it’s ever made my job harder.

“A few push their luck, but that’s just part of the job. I just hope that maybe a few kids see some of these younger officials coming through and think ‘I’d like a bit of that’.”

Dale follows in the footsteps of fellow young Suffolk referee Carl Fitch into the Football League, while Stowmarket’s Chris Pollard looks set to do the same in the near future.

“You do need a bit of a thick skin, but I do have to say that I think the perception of problems with respect towards officials has been a little overstated,” said Dale. “Poor examples tend to get highlighted, but there are plenty of good examples out there too.

“People always say ‘you can’t play without a ref’, well on the flip side of that I’ve never seen three match officials running around the park without two teams either. It works both ways.”

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