On 20th December 2008, Fulham beat Middlesbrough 3-0, with goals from Jimmy Bullard, Danny Murphy, and Clint Dempsey. I won’t pretend to remember the game – I looked it up 2 minutes ago, but before today it marked the last time that Keith Stroud refereed a Premier League game.
Jimmy Bullard and Danny Murphy have now hung up their boots, and Clint Dempsey has returned to his homeland to be closer to Peter Walton. But having had a brief glimpse of the top of his profession (14 games over 4 seasons), Keith Stroud has tirelessly plugged away in the Football League, aiming to return (I don’t know this for a fact, but it seems a reasonable assumption).
And today he achieved that return, assisted by Howard Webb’s retirement and Select Group injury issues, and created the longest ever gap between Premier League refereeing appearances at 2107 days. By my calculations the previous record was held by Uriah Rennie, who went a mere 478 days without a game in the early 2000s, but if anyone knows better, do let me know.
Earlier promotion of younger officials means that we will probably see a few more examples of long gaps in the Premier League, and indeed Stuart Attwell will be in line to break this new record if he isn’t promoted back to the Premier League by 2017.
On Keith Stroud himself, as evidenced by this clip, he clearly has a great enthusiasm for the game. I don’t know much about his refereeing, but Mark Halsey has talked about him being promoted back to the top flight for some time. The recent games for Stroud and Paul Tierney, combined with a continuing reluctance to use Bobby Madley and Roger East, suggest that PGMOL could be on the look out for a new Select Group ref, so there’s a lot to play for.
Perhaps most important of all is the return of Keith as a Premier League referee name. In a world where there are two Lees regularly officiating in the Premier League (and there are a number of Darrens on the Football League list), it’s somehow reassuring to be reminded of the days when every top flight game was controlled by a Keith, Roger or Graham from a provincial town.
A lot of things have changed since Keith Stroud’s last Premier League game. Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, Richard Keys was about as safe a broadcasting pair of hands as you could imagine, Fernando Torres was one of the Premier League’s most reliable goalscorers and Alan Shearer was making a career as an uninspiring Match of the Day pundit (ok, not everything’s changed).
Above all, I suppose this is a moral fable about the value of perseverance and hard work (albeit a relatively dull one), and I’m sure our heroic man in black appreciated it all the more second time round. Congratulations Keith, and I hope it’s not another 2107 days before we see him back.