Norfolk official Darren Cann’s journey to the top of world football

Darren Cann preparing to jet off to Brazil. Photo: Bill Smith

Darren Cann preparing to jet off to Brazil. Photo: Bill Smith

He's been there, seen it and done it when it comes to the World Cup but Darren Cann is looking to do it all over again in Brazil. MARK ARMSTRONG talks to Norfolk's most decorated official.

As you walk into Darren Cann's house in Framingham Earl there is nothing to suggest you are walking into the home of a man that has more World Cup pedigree than most of Roy Hodgson's England squad this summer.

There are few clues you are speaking to someone that has reached the pinnacle of their profession...and a man, who is looking to do it all again over the next couple of months.

Four years after running the line of the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and Holland, Cann has been chosen again to form part of the England refereeing delegation in South America.

Howard Webb and Mike Mullarkey complete the triumvirate, who are the only refereeing trio to be returning to the World Cup having been to South Africa.

It has been quite a journey for the 45-year-old, who once harboured ambitions of being Norwich City's number nine before taking up the whistle.

After failing to make the grade at Norwich he was picked up by Crystal Palace where a goal ratio of one goal in every three matches for the youth team had him marked out as one to watch.

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Unfortunately for Cann, his path to a professional deal was blocked by Ian Wright and John Salako although it was at Selhurst Park where the foundations were laid for his future career.

'At Palace they instilled in us the importance of learning the laws of the game,' he said. 'So after I was released I came back to Norfolk in 1991 and decided to take up the whistle.

'I had a pretty good knowledge of the game so enrolled on a refereeing course and passed that straight away. I loved it, I really thought I would miss playing football but refereeing was the next best thing.'

The Norwich & District League would provide the breeding ground for one of England's most decorated officials. Alongside working as a Business Support manager at Lloyds, Cann was gaining the necessary experience on Norfolk's pitches to work his way up the ladder.

'When I started out there were no designs of going to World Cups or Premier League games really,' he admitted. 'I did want to get back into the professional game but of course back in 1991 it was refereeing in the Sunday League and the Anglian Combination.

'It was a case of starting at grassroots level and building up. Over the next few years I was lucky enough to get to the Conference and then the Football League and gradually game by game, assessment by assessment, I worked my way up.

'You have to learn quickly because often you are dealing with experienced players and I remember one or two real characters. But the more games you do the more confident you get.

'It's simply a case of getting those games at grassroots level to hopefully stand you in good stead for what is to come later on.'

As an official, praise is often in short supply. Like in many walks of life the only time you get noticed is when you do something wrong. The more unnoticed Cann became as an official was directly proportionate to how noticed he was becoming among the refereeing fraternity.

Cann realised himself that he was a cut above the rest of the officials locally when he was chosen to referee the Norfolk Senior Cup final at Carrow Road in 1998.

'That was my first season of refereeing clubs at that level and to be awarded that game gave me another level of confidence that I didn't have before that.

'It showed that people wanted me and that they believed in me. It gave me that springboard to go into the semi-professional and professional leagues. I think that probably was a key game back then.'

Cann continued up the non league pyramid but it was when he made it to Conference level that he had a decision to make that would shape the rest of his career. It is at this point when officials must decide whether to continue as a referee or specialise as a referee's assistant.

'My skillset is far more suitable to being a referee's assistant,' said Cann. 'As a referee you need good man-management skills and you need to be good communicator. They are skills I perhaps feel I don't have, whereas as an assistant referee you have to have a keen eye for offsides.

'Of course you also don't have the immense pressure of refereeing a game. Being an assistant referee, it's a little like being a goalkeeper. Sometimes you're not involved for 30-35 minutes and then you have to make a crucial decision. It suited me not to have all that pressure and it was probably one of the best decisions I've made.'

Cann was promoted to the National List of Assistant Referees for the 2001/02 season, meaning he could officiate in the Football League before moving on to the Premier League in 2005. In that same year he was awarded his first international appointment, a UEFA Cup match between FC Zurich v Legia Warsaw. More importantly it was the first time he met Howard Webb.

'We had a Uefa Cup game together and we got on like a house on fire,' said Cann, who left his job at Lloyds to turn professional in 2008. 'Ever since I've pretty much been working in his team and we have built up a great friendship.

'We have built a sixth sense over the nine years we've been working together.'

The pair were joined by Mullarkey in 2007 and they have become the standard bearers for World Cup officials.

Cann added: 'There are times as an assistant referee when you don't actually flag every single foul you've seen because you know 95 per cent of the time the referee is going to be giving the foul any way. It is a real art to know when Howard needs me and when he doesn't. It is very much a partnership where you build trust with each other.'