We only seem to look at the art of refereeing through a negative prism. 

Each and every Monday a contentious decision made by one of the 20 matchday officials on the Premier League roster is endlessly scrutinised and woe betide the ref in question if it’s not a subjective call, but instead a mistake. 

Then they are thrown to the social media wolves. 

Moreover, there are two well-known songs that are attributed to their trade. The first queries their parentage. The second insists they don’t know what they’re doing.

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It’s not nice and it’s not clever. 

So let’s reverse that trend and celebrate these much-maligned individuals, because the truth is the Premier League down the years has produced some outstanding officials, just like it has outstanding players, managers and football betting moments.

And these ten were, and are, the very best of them.

Greatest Premier League Referees:

  • Martin Atkinson 

  • Mark Clattenburg

  • Paul Tierney 

  • Jeff Winter 

  • Dermot Gallagher

  • Anthony Taylor

  • Graham Poll

  • Michael Oliver

  • Howard Webb

  • Mike Dean

These officials have exhibited the skills and mentality required if you’re wondering how to become a referee.

Their careers haven’t been without criticism, but that is par for the course with refereeing at the highest level...

10) Martin Atkinson 

After refereeing up to Championship level for nine years, Atkinson was promoted to the national list of referees in 2004, immediately making himself known as an official who liked to let games flow.

In his first three years of presiding over top-flight fare he issued only eight red cards, a figure notably below the average.

Those of us who bet on the Premier League appreciate such an ethos. Give us a level playing field every time on which to base our decisions. 

From West Riding in Yorkshire, Atkinson retired in 2022, his final tally of 461 Premier Leagues the second highest of anyone. He also reffed three fixtures at Euro 2016. 

9) Mark Clattenburg 

Renowned as one of the world’s best referees, Mark Clattenburg prematurely departed the Premier League to work in Saudi Arabia in 2017. A stint in China followed, too.

Quickly ascending the ranks after turning professional, Clattenburg was FIFA listed by 2006 and took charge of his first Champions League match in 2008.

During his career in England, Clattenburg oversaw countless big matches, including various finals and derbies. 

He is now ensuring the rules are obeyed on ITV’s Gladiators. Contenders ready!

8) Paul Tierney 

Tierney’s reputation may have tailed off in recent seasons but he first emerged as the complete package. His sprinting was better than any of his peers, meaning he could keep up with play.

His decision-making was quick and unambiguous. Crucially, he forged a good working relationship with players who in time both liked and respected him. 

His most recent big appointment was the 2023 all-Manchester FA Cup final

7) Jeff Winter 

Deriving from Stockton-on-Tees, Winter had a no-nonsense demeanour that gave way to easy humour when tempers became frayed. There has not been a referee before or since better at defusing inflammatory incidents.

Additionally, his judgement was sound and his concentration levels consistently high, meaning controversial moments were kept to a minimum across his nine years at the top. 

Unfortunately – and the chief reason why he resides seventh here, instead of in the top three – Winter was thoroughly aware of how good he was, his personality and ego often ensuring he stood out. Ceding centre stage to the players was not for him. 

An autobiography, countless appearances on podcasts and now a regular on the after-dinner circuit all point to Winter enjoying the attention a little too much. 

6) Dermot Gallagher

One of the referees in the first ever Premier League season, Dermot Gallagher earned a position on the FIFA list in 1994, which he retained until 2002.

Gallagher officiated matches during Euro ’96 in England, which came just months after he took charge of the FA Cup final.

Granted an exemption to continue beyond retirement age, Gallagher was considered among the country’s best officials right up until he called it a day in 2007.

These days, he often pops up on Sky Sports to provide insight into refereeing issues. 

5) Anthony Taylor

Aside from repetitive complaints about his involvement in matches featuring the Manchester clubs, Wythenshawe born and raised Anthony Taylor has a stellar reputation around the world.

Taylor has had the honour of refereeing multiple FA Cup finals, a Nations League final and was part of the group of referees for the delayed Euro 2020, where he was widely praised for his response to Christian Eriksen collapsing on the pitch.

FIFA listed since 2013, Taylor remains among the best referees on the planet and he is set to feature in many more showpiece events. 

4) Graham Poll

If you can look past the infamous three yellow cards incident at the 2006 World Cup, Graham Poll has a CV matched by very few of his contemporaries.

Poll was selected to referee at three major international tournaments and oversaw the 2005 UEFA Cup final. 

He refereed over 1,500 matches in his career. Since retiring in 2007, the Hitchin native has remained in the public eye with newspaper columns and various podcast appearances. 

3) Michael Oliver

Ranked by Keith Hackett as the best Premier League referee in 2022, Michael Oliver has refereed multiple domestic finals, been included in the roster for a World Cup and had numerous Champions League appearances.

He has been FIFA listed since 2012 and joined the UEFA Elite in 2018.

Oliver is consistent in his decision-making, and mixes authority with calmness. Players and managers clearly trust his calls, which is a huge part of the battle for Premier League referees. 

2) Howard Webb

Previously one of the highest-paid Premier League referees, Howard Webb was often trusted with the biggest fixtures. Indeed, if there’s a bucket list for refereeing, Webb checked all the boxes. 

His career featured World Cup, FA Cup and Champions League finals, along with various other international and European fixtures. 

Upon his retirement in 2014, Webb fulfilled a role with PGMOL before becoming Saudi Arabia’s director of referees and occasionally working as a pundit on BT Sport.

He followed that up by working for MLS before returning to PGMOL as chief refereeing officer in 2022. 

1) Mike Dean

No list of Premier League referees great and good would be complete without Dean, his distinctive approach to his trade making him arguably the most famous official in modern times. 

Dean ‘s willingness to show his personality earned him celebrity status, an occurrence that would usually hinder a referee’s career.

Not so with Dean however, whose elite attributes cut through the internet memes and his eccentric mannerisms, making him one of the most respected officials in the business. 

Across 561 top-flight contests mistakes were rare and the whistle-blower from the Wirral was never afraid of making the big calls in front of potentially intimidating crowds. He was usually right, too.

Post-retirement his opinions are sought in-game for Sky Sports. In this regard he is like Peter Walton but not remote-control-throwingly terrible.

*Credit for the main photo belongs to Alamy*

*Credit for the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*

Stephen Tudor is a freelance football writer and sports enthusiast who only knows slightly less about the beautiful game than you do.

A contributor to FourFourTwo and Forbes, he is a Manchester City fan who was taken to Maine Road as a child because his grandad predicted they would one day be good.