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Monday, April 22, 2024

Ex-referee’s comments cloud a Sunny day for British Asians

It was supposed to be an historic day in English football history, a Sunny day you might say as the first South Asian referee took charge of a Premier League fixture.

Yet Sunny Singh Gill’s debut was not without the dark clouds and became mired in controversy after he was criticised by former top flight referee Mike Dean.

Gill, 39 was spotted signing autographs for young fans just before heading down the tunnel at half time during the match between Crystal Palace and Luton.

Dean took offence to Gill signing autographs during the game, calling it “bang out of order”. The former referee said on Sky Sports Gillette Soccer Labs, when asked if he had signed autographs: “I did, after about 300 games! I don’t see the point. He’s (Gill) on a hiding to nothing now.”

Sun journalist Andrew Dillion criticised Dean for turning on one of his own and tainting Gill’s historic moment saying; “In the 70s and 80s, instead of being asked to sign his name in a little boy’s scrapbook, there’s every chance he would have been called ‘P**i b*****d’ as he walked out in readiness for the second half.”

Gill’s decision to sign autographs for young fans was captured by Sky Sports cameras yet raises the question, what would have happened if he had refused to sign for the young football fans. It is a question Dillon also poses, “just imagine the outcry if umpteen TV cameras had chanced across images of the first Premier League referee of British South Asian descent ignoring the pleading face of a cherubic kid asking to sign in his scrapbook.”

Jasveer Singh of the Sikh Press Association, told the Asian Standard that Sunny Singh Gill’s debut match was a “historic moment” for Sikh’s and British Asians to see one of their own referee in the Premier League.  He added “as such, it is only natural football fans – especially youngsters – would want to have this moment marked by the man at the centre of it, and Sunny obliged by signing a few autographs.”

“This is positive fan engagement from someone in the spotlight. I can see no way this would have interfered with his ability to referee the game. I would ask anyone that suggests it would, how is signing autographs worse than sitting on your phone for 15-minutes? I hope the referee’s association do not fall for the criticisms towards Sunny.”

Dean was also criticised by prominent football fans such as Tom Canton of GoonerTalk an Arsenal focused social media platform. Canton who also writes about football said, “The Premier League has brought in the first British South Asian official, Sunny Singh Gill, to the league, highlighting the improvement of opportunity to diversity. Extremely important.

He got asked for a signature by a kid and obliged. Dean’s not just moaned about it, he’s battered Gill.” Canton lamented Dean’s comments as tone deaf saying; “What’s that going to do for race relations and the diversity dream in this country?”

Mike Dean in the Sky Sports studio opining on Sunny Singh Gill’s debut match, image: X formerly Twitter / @SkySportsPL

Others have pointed to Dean’s propensity to make the game about himself throughout his own career including bizarre facial expressions, and sometimes flamboyant behaviour on the pitch. On retirement in 2022 Dean admitted his antics may have come across as arrogant, but were really a reflection of his confidence in his ability and his love of the game.

Gill’s father Jarnail Singh was also a referee, and his brother Bhupinder became the first Sikh Premier League assistant referee for the match between Southampton and Norwich in January 2023. Jarnail was a referee in the English Football League from 2004 to 2010, taking charge of over 150 matches and became the first referee to wear a turban in an English football league match.

Until last year Gill worked as a prison officer while devoting his weekends to refereeing in the lower divisions of English Football. Faced with the tough decision of choosing between his secure job and pursuing his passion as a referee, Gill decided to take the plunge and commit to refereeing full time.

Gill is not expected to be the last South Asian referee as the F.A. launches a drive to recruit 1000 referees from diverse backgrounds in the next three years.

Those involved in grassroots football lauded Gill’s achievement as a milestone and inspiration for other British Asians to advance in the sport.

Chipie Sian the manager of Punjab United F.C. based in Kent called Gill’s debut “amazing” and said Gill had achieved “something Asian’s can look up to.”

Rohan Anand of Centre Circle, an App which describes itself as the “Uber of referees” allowing those in grassroots football to find a referee for a game whilst facilitating referees to get urgent support if they are being abused, described Sunny Gill as “an excellent referee.”

He added that his promotion was “fantastic to see” and deserved on merit alone. “Seeing people on the T.V. who look like you is both aspirational and inspirational to all younger generations.”


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