Sam Allison on his battle to lead the way for a BAME generation of referees

Nor just an appointment. A breakthrough.

When the new season starts next month, Sam Allison will become the first black referee in the Football League for 11 years.

And he will be only the second black referee in the English game since Uriah Rennie in 2009.

Understandably, when he ­received the news on Friday ­evening, Allison – a 38-year-old ­firefighter from Wiltshire – was overcome with emotion.

“I felt like I wanted to well up,” he said. “Because I’ve been under that pressure, that scrutiny.

“I know how tough it’s been for my family, so I’m happy – I am so, so happy. The hard work is paying off. We’re getting somewhere.

“Even if you believe that the ­institution or society is holding you back, when you can start to see it – someone operating in a position you aspire to – you can believe that it can be done.

“You don’t see the successes along the journey because you feel, ‘I haven’t got time to waste. I’ve got to try to break down doors. I’m gonna try to break down barriers to represent my family and everyone that looks like me’.

“I’m also trying to represent the organisation, I’m doing something I love and I’m empowered.

“So this is probably one of the first times that I’ve patted myself on the back and said, ‘You know what? It’s been a long time’.”

Allison’s ­promotion will see him go from running five-a-sides and the 200 or so county games he has taken charge of to officiating at matches in Leagues One and Two.

But he is still the only black ­referee in the top four divisions of English football, with others, such as Joel Mannix, Aji Ajibola, Reuben Simon, and Sunny Gill, perfectly capable of doing a similar job.

It remains a damning indictment on the domestic game.

Many black and Asian referees continue to refer privately to the Black Man’s Graveyard, the level at which many ­potential careers have floundered before getting anywhere near the promised land of the higher divisions.

Allison intends to continue ­inspiring them to keep pushing.

“I’ve only experienced success in the refereeing world,” he said. “The FA and the PGMOL (the organisation that selects ­referees) have been very supportive. I’m not ­saying that I’m blinkered and that other people haven’t had issues, but I can’t necessarily say I’ve had them directly.”

Bath-born Allison added: “As a youngster, I was at the Swindon school of excellence up to the age of 16, 17. I was released and I went to other clubs for trials.

“I was lucky enough to play for England schoolboys at Wembley under the old twin towers. But it was probably a blessing in disguise not being as good as my potential led me to think I ­deserved. It was a life lesson.

“I started my own coaching business with Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer to help show kids that you need application as well as ability.

“I went into non-League and I was an on-call firefighter because, as a semi-professional, you still have to earn an income. It wasn’t until 2010 when I was successful going through a recruitment ­campaign that I got into ­refereeing full-time. A year later, I started my refereeing journey.

“I’ve come through the system quite quickly and the system is difficult to get through for anybody. So if there are challenges and pressures that you feel as a black man in predominantly a white man’s world, it’s gonna be difficult.

“You are being judged – every time I walk out my front door, whether it’s a football match or we’re going to a fire incident or going to see my friends or going to a shop, you are being judged.

“But I can’t focus too much on that because I have a big job to do.

“I’m not a role model. I’m a floor model – I want people to stand on me to help them get up.

“I want to help people going through the same challenges, same problems, same concerns, same discomforts.

“I’m saying, ‘I’ve got to do this. And if I can help people along the way – let’s do it’.”

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