by Russell Kempson
For many, starting work at around 6am would not sound too appealing, especially if you'd got home after a long drive only five hours earlier. But for Andy Woolmer, it's perfect. The long-serving Football League referee is a postman and is rarely happier than when delivering the goods on the streets of Northampton.
It gives Andy time to think, to perhaps mull over his refereeing display at some far-flung football outpost the night before. And by early afternoon, after a steady walk of up to five miles, that's it. Job done. The rest of the day is his own.
"It's not everyone's cup of tea," Woolmer said. "I start 'bagging up' about 6ish, get out on the round at 9.30 and I'm usually finished by about 1.30. Then I've got plenty of time for training or time with the family, like picking up my youngest lad [11-year-old Isaac] from school. It's ideal.
"OK, you can feel a bit tired sometimes, particularly if I've had a long trek and back for a match the previous evening, but I've been a 'postie' for 16 years now and I just can't think of doing anything else. It works for me, it's a great base from which to work."
Andy, 45, quickly learnt the tricks of the trade, like taking note of the ominous "Beware of the Dog" signs. "You've got to know your area, your customers," he said. "Put it this way, after taking my hand out of the letterbox, I always check that I've still got five fingers!"
A local parks player, a midfielder, Andy soon realised that he did not have the ability to step up the grades. But with a shortage of match officials in the country, and with a whistle in hand, he found his calling. He progressed through the United Counties League, Southern League and Conference, arriving on The Football League list of assistants in 1994.
He spent ten years running the line - the last three on the Premier League, which afforded him the opportunity of not one but two memorable visits to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. For the 2003 Worthington Cup final, in which Liverpool defeated Manchester United 2-0; and for the 2003 FA Community Shield, in which United beat Arsenal 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
"They were fantastic experiences, especially the first game," Woolmer recalled. "That has got to be the high point of my career, I always enjoyed my time as an assistant. And with the roof shut, it made the atmosphere even better. It was also nice for the family and I took my wife [Sharon] for the weekend, which was great for her, too.
"I'm in my 18th year now and I've been lucky with injuries. The worst I've ever had was missing three weeks at the start of a season due to a hamstring pull. But that's it. And I've been fortunate to officiate at all the grounds in the country except for Wigan and Crawley.
"I suppose it would be nice to get the full set but that's not something I really think about. If the chances come along, fine. But if not, so be it. I'm just happy to get a match appointment each Saturday or in midweek. I look forward to every game I get."
On Sunday afternoons, when needed, Andy also looks forward to waving the flag again - for Towcester Town Whites Under-15s, for whom his 14-year-old son Joe plays in the John Henry Youth Alliance. "I put on my woolly hat, run the line, just get involved," he said. "It takes me back to my playing days, putting up the nets before kick off, stuff like that. I suppose, in many ways, I've gone the full circle. And that's nice."