By Russell Kempson
It would have been a defining moment for any match official; player X surges into the area and Player Y brings him down - penalty or no penalty?
That the match was at Wembley Stadium - and in its early stages - added huge significance to the decision. Brendan Malone took a sharp intake of breath.
Malone was one of the assistants to Phil Joslin, the referee. The incident occurred at Brendan's end of the pitch, he had the best view, he had to make the call.
Willy Gueret, the Milton Keynes Dons keeper, had fouled Grimsby Town's Paul Bolland in the 19th minute of the 2008 Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final. Spot kick or no spot kick?
For Brendan, time almost stood still. But quickly, he called it - flag across the chest, penalty signalled. Gueret atoned for his error by saving from Danny Boshell from 12 yards and MK Dons went on to win 2-0. Later, Malone was frantic to see the replay of his decision. And he was proved correct. It was a penalty. Utter relief, job done.
"I trusted what I had seen, the 'keeper took out the opponent," he recalled. "But it was a massive call, especially on such a big stage and so early on. It was easy to give but it was as if my hand had got stuck. I couldn't give it. All things go through your head. Have I got it right? But I gave it and it was right. Thank heavens for that.
"The Wembley experience, the whole weekend, was just brilliant. It was awesome. Walking out in front of 56,000 fans, the enormity of it all just hits you. We walked between two big boxes and suddenly these massive flames came out of them. The heat was unbelievable. It certainly woke me up a bit."
Not entirely dissimilar to the fright that Malone, a postman, experienced when on his round in Salisbury, Wiltshire. He'd never been attacked by a dog during his 19 years on foot but, when a big bird took a fancy to him, there was only one course of action to take - run.
"It was a rural delivery and this goose came after me," Brendan said. "They're mad, bonkers, much worse than dogs, and I just ran as fast as I could. Believe me, I'd rather take my chances having a player chasing me."
Malone, 44, no longer puts life and limb on the line. As a duty clerk, he works in postal administration and is office-based, but still with a sleep-shattering 4am start. "I do miss the rounds, the interaction with the customers," he said. "But it does help me with all my refereeing commitments."
Commitments that began at the age of 23, when Brendan played for Laverstock & Ford in the Hampshire League second division and an injury to his left knee ended his playing career prematurely. "It happened in a tackle," he recalled. "The bottom half of my leg went up and the top half went the other way.
"I had a feeling it was bad. I couldn't run properly and I had a continuous ache. Fortunately, I'm fine now. But I wanted to stay involved in the game and took up refereeing. I never really expected to get so far, it just happened. Obviously, I'm glad it did."
Malone progressed through the Salisbury and District, Wiltshire, Wessex and Western leagues and the Blue Square divisions. He spent 10 years on The Football League line and is now in his third season in the middle. Only taking up the whistle, though, after an initial setback. "Having been a postie for 26 years, I don't think I'm the greatest at interviews," he said. "I got rejected.
"It wasn't very nice to get that letter and, naturally, I was very disappointed. It could destroy some people but it spurred me on and I adopted an 'I'll be back' attitude. I spent one season regrouping, got through the interview next time round and it was a much nicer letter I received then."
Brendan is also a qualified referees' assessor, spending his Sunday mornings checking on the young up-and-comers in the Salisbury and District and Wiltshire leagues, and believes that he might have spotted a potential starlet a bit closer to home - his 16-year-old son, Connor.
"He's in his first year refereeing men's football and he's doing really well," Malone senior said. "He's slightly built but he's very quick witted and enjoys a bit of banter with the players. I hope Connor sticks with it and I can see him going far. He's certainly going to be better than me."