TUCKED away at the Manchester County FA headquarters on a typically brisk day, David Coote plugs away.
It’s 3:30pm on a Friday, and the County Football Development Manager for the region hammers away at the keyboard on his computer, racking up the words but whittling down the time left until leaves the office.
Twenty-four hours later, Coote is at his second job. Clad in black, he runs the line at Bolton Wanderers’ Macron Stadium in their SkyBet Championship clash with Cardiff City.
Coote is a Football League official and a Premier League assistant, and has been for almost 10 years. Born in Nottingham, Coote hails from a sport-orientated family. His dad, David, played professionally for Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club, his uncle Mick played at a decent level and Coote Jr himself captained the club at a various age levels.
“Cricket was my first love, and I grew up around sport. My dad was a professional for Nottinghamshire CCC for four or five years, and played in two first class games.
“He was a good cricketer, and played to a good standard. Naturally, I became enamoured with the sport and played for Notts until I was 16. It was tempting to pursue a career in cricket, but then the opportunity to become a referee arose.”
The Cootes also had a strong affinity with Wheatsheaf Town. David Sr was a centre-half for the Sunday league side, while Mick was the club’s manager.
“Initially, I got involved with officiating when I was 12/13 through my dad and uncle’s team. We didn’t have an assistant referee for one game, so to avoid the club getting a fine, I was thrown the flag”, Coote said. “From there, I became a regular which helped save the club money.
“Eventually I took an interest in becoming a linesmen for a profession, and I was persuaded to go on a refereeing course.”
Since then, Coote has never looked back. At 16, he was managing matches between grown men – ‘a nerve-wracking experience’ – but held his own. “My family had a good reputation in the area, which certainly helped.”
The wheels were put firmly in motion for his progression up the leagues. From the Notts Alliance League, the Northern Counties East League, Evo-Stik League and UniBond Conference (now the National Football League) all beckoned.
“When I was 18, I was a Level Four qualified referee and suddenly, I was officiating Conference level games on a regular basis and running the line in the Football League at 24. It all happened so fast.”
Coote’s connections with Manchester don’t end with his employment at the County FA – his first match as a Football League official was at Stockport County’s Edgeley Park.
That was massive for me. To walk out on to the pitch, for the first time, for a Football League match – what a dream come true.
“I was told that I’d never forget it and I haven’t. Just standing in the tunnel before kick-off, not even moving, my heart monitor was racing. It was also a baking hot day but, thankfully, not much happened during the game.”
It is a difficult job, that of a referee. The strains and stress of modern day management can have a knock-on effect on referees and fellow officials, and is unwanted, unnecessary baggage in a profession that commands respect.
“As a referee, everyone looks for you when it comes to decisions. As a linesman, however, you can have quiet days; I’ve done games where I’ve never given free-kicks or had to make decisions.
“But there’s certainly a lot of focus on referees, more than ever before. The scrutiny of performances has increased over the last six years, for as long as I’ve been a Premier League assistant.
“I find there’s a lot more discussion, a lot more emphasis on referees because of managerial sackings and the pressures they face. I understand it all, but it means that the official often comes a cropper.”
It is not just managers that can take umbrage with contentious decisions, of course. Fans and supporters have equal right to voice their displeasure at an unsatisfactory refereeing display, and they can often go over the top to make their feelings known.
It is this reaction that brought Coote the lowest moment of his career, by his own admission. While cutting his teeth in the trade in the Notts Alliance League, an aggrieved spectator burst into the changing rooms after the match.
Seeking Coote, the spectator threatened to assault the referee in the car park.
“Any major decision you make can affect the course of a game. You can dwell on it – not just for a couple of hours, but for days. You can re-watch it, analyse it, and try and understand why you made the call you did.”
Coote remained undeterred of course, and now finds himself officiating with regularity in the Football League. It is during this period that he fulfilled a lifelong ambition: to referee at Wembley.
These crowning moments came on two separate occasions; in 2009, Coote ran the line in the FA Vase final between Whitley Bay and Glossop North End and then, five years later, was the man in the middle for the League One play-off final between Leyton Orient and Rotherham.
The latter ended in a 2-2 draw, before extra-time and penalties ensued. Rotherham won after a draining encounter, but Coote did not mind the additional effort.
“It was the most special day of my refereeing career.
“To walk out at Wembley was just fantastic. I had a photo taken of me when I walked up the steps after the match to collect my memento, and I just had the biggest grin on my face.”
After refereeing luminaries such as Graham Poll and Howard Webb took charge of World Cup fixtures – the latter was in the man in the middle in the 2010 final – Coote is keen to continue his progression.
“In the short term, I want to make the list of Championship full-time referees, and hopefully from there I’ll be considered for the Premier League in subsequent seasons. Anything beyond that is a bonus. Appearing in a World Cup fixture, like for any player, would be the pinnacle of my career.”
To make that final step up to the Premier League, stringent measures are in place. Coote says the requirements are similar to that of any athlete who wishes to join the elite in their field.
“We’re marked on three core aspects: our technical performance, our key match decisions and club analysis. Obviously there’s things like our fitness, as well as our off-field correspondence, levels of body fat and then our heart monitors.
“After a match, we download our stats from the game and then send them off to sports science. It’s all really high-tech, but if that’s what it takes to become a top-level referee then so be it.”
There’s an assuredness in Coote’s voice as he speaks. Having risen from humble beginnings, he rubs shoulders with Premier League and Football League players on a weekly basis. The Nottinghamshire-born, Manchester-working man will surely not regret swapping the wickets for the whistle.
By Jordan Eyre