English Premier League referee Martin Atkinson was in Hong Kong recently to officiate at the Soccer Sevens and promote his forthcoming bike ride for charity. As our Senior Partner Colin Cohen explains, Boase Cohen & Collins was on hand to give him a push start.

Hong Kong, 7 June 2018: It has been widely documented that there will be no English Premier League referees officiating at the World Cup in Russia this month. It is less well known that one of their number, Martin Atkinson, will be going anyway and, what is more, he is cycling all the way from England.

Martin is, as he puts it, swapping his whistle for wheels this summer in an epic 1,700-mile charity ride with two friends, Mike Tomlinson and Darren Clark. Setting off on 11 June from the English Football Association’s national training centre at St George’s Park in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, the trio will pedal through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Poland before reaching Kaliningrad 18 days later to watch England play Belgium in their World Cup clash.

Boase Cohen & Collins, I’m delighted to say, will be with Martin and Co every mile of their journey, having sent him on his way with a donation of our own followed by a significant contribution from our friends, clients and business associates.

The story actually starts with Martin’s boss Mike Riley, General Manager of Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the body responsible for elite referees in England and, of course, a former referee himself. Mike used to love coming out to Hong Kong for the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens each May and subsequently started sending a Premier League referee to support the tournament each year.

From this initiative grew the annual Boase Cohen & Collins Referee’s Lunch, staged on the Friday before the Soccer Sevens, in which we enjoyed some entertaining Q&A sessions with the men responsible for keeping order among the Premier League’s superstars while under the watchful eyes of millions of TV viewers.

Martin was one of those who visited Hong Kong and we got to know him well. He undertook his first charity bike ride two years ago, cycling to all 20 Premier League grounds with fellow referee Jonathan Moss, an initiative supported by Boase Cohen & Collins. So when he wrote to us in April announcing his intention to ride to Russia, we were more than happy to make a donation. Then, Mike decided Martin deserved another trip to the Soccer Sevens and, at this point, we hit upon the idea of turning our Referee’s Lunch into a fund-raising event to support his effort.

We booked a function room at Hong Kong Football Club and sent out invitations. Martin, meanwhile promised us some excellent auction items – chiefly, football shirts signed by the likes of Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Gareth Southgate, plus match balls – and we began planning in earnest for the big day. The run-up was not without difficulties, a mix-up meant the auction items failed to arrive by courier, leaving Martin to bring them himself, giving us 48 hours to get them framed and encased but, being in Hong Kong, this was a minor problem.

The lunch, which attracted almost 80 guests, proved a memorable event. Martin was an entertaining speaker, offering some candid views on the pressures and peculiarities of refereeing at the game’s highest level. He also talked eloquently about the fantastic work being done by the four UK charities he will be riding for, namely: St David’s Hospice Care, Newport; University Hospitals – Coventry & Warwickshire Charity; the Yorkshire Young Achievers Foundation; and the Jane Tomlinson Appeal.

Amid the football banter, we never lost sight of why we were staging this lunch. The auction raised HK$106,600 and there were further cash donations of HK$27,500. We were hugely grateful to Jonathan Macey, Chairman of auctioneers and valuers Macey & Sons, who not only conducted the auction but bought a couple of the items himself, and to Kitchee FC Chairman Ken Ng, Hong Kong Football Association Chief Executive Mark Sutcliffe and other prominent members of the local football and business community who attended.

In total, we were able to pledge HK$134,100 – more than £12,800 – towards the charity ride, a considerable addition to the appeal’s £36,000 at that point. Martin was astounded and immensely grateful but that’s Hong Kong for you, the business community here has always been generous in supporting worthy causes.

If you missed the lunch and would like to contribute, or simply learn more about what Martin is doing, this is a good place to start: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/WhistleStopTour2018. You can also keep up to date with the riders on their official Twitter handle @WhistleStopTour2018.

As mentioned, Martin will be watching England play Belgium in Kaliningrad on 28 June. Yours truly will also be at the World Cup – flying, rather than cycling, there – and I look forward to getting in touch to congratulate him and his co-riders on an epic success. On your bike, Martin, with our very best wishes.