The Way Things Were

With 24 hour sports channels, relentless phone-ins, pull-out supplements in every newspaper and tv cameras peeping out of every crevice, the spotlight on refereeing standards has never been greater. The media crave something to talk about and apopleptic managers with eyes bulging and gobs frothing after they’ve been denied a throw-in or clocked up half a dozen bookings are the perfect space fillers.

The weekend’s debates rage on through the ensuing week and sometimes beyond. Whether it’s a heartfelt plea for the introduction of Hawk-Eye style goal-line technology because Manchester United weren’t awarded a goal in a cup tie with Pompey, Paul Jewell incandescent because the failure to reintroduce an injured player was responsible for his side collapsing at the Emirates Stadium, or a mighty po-faced French huff after half of Arsenal’s youth team were red-carded after the happy-slappy brawl in the Carling Cup Final, the lamentable state of refereeing is held to account. Some managers (Ferguson, Wenger, Maurinho) use underhand kidology to apply subtle pressure on the authorities. Others (Coleman, Jewell, Warnock) are much more direct and march menacingly towards officials intent on resolving difficulties with a bare-knuckle fight. Lower profile injustices are still aired wherever the opportunity arises – the Gillingham programme has Graham Dorkins’ column devoted to referees (always a good read – some referees are insufferable and take a wholier-than-thou attitude when trying to write for thick supporters who cannot possibly understand the laws as well as they can, but Dorkins certainly doesn’t take this approach, witness the bother he got into for having a pop at Mark Halsey and Rob Styles), while Scally had a good moan about the penalties we didn’t get against Blackpool.

The weird thing is I consider myself as something of a connoisseur when it comes to referee baiting, and I still have bitter grudges festering from games played well over 20 years ago. When it comes to injustices against the Gills, I never forget. At a recent work conference near Reading, the Premiership referees were staying in the same venue and while I had no bones to pick with shiney headed Dermot Gallagher or porky Graham Poll, I wanted to attack Alan Wiley with the skewer from some chicken satay. My colleagues wanted to know what he’d done to offend me and were dumbfounded to learn that it went back to a late equaliser in a 3-3 draw with Bournemouth in 1998.

However, I’m strongly of the opinion that the standard of refereeing in this country is way higher than it was ten or fifteen years ago. There are certainly still loons out there (D’Urso you cock) and we were particularly victimised in the mid-90s (I don’t know how with people like Dave Martin, Neil Smith, Leo Fortune-West and Mark Harris in the side), which might be why standards seemed so low. But while the name of the referee is still the first thing I look for on the programme, few of them send me scrabbling for the valium. Referees like Howard Webb, Mark Clattenburg, even Mark Halsey (if only he could tell the time) are sensible chaps who go about their business calmly without seeking a place in the limelight. And more importantly, at League One level I rarely trudge away from the grounds ranting about the filthy pig in black, which used to be such a regular occurrence.

With this in mind, I found an old Rothmans and looked up the referee’s list for the 89/90 season. This won’t mean much to younger readers, but for those of a nervous disposition some of the people I’m going to list may cause distress. Firstly, there are those who are simply remembered for their cracking names : Keith Burge (of Tonypandy – why don’t referees’ home towns get a name check these days?), Trelford Mills (Barnsley), Tom Bune (Billinghurst) and Gilbert Napthine (Loughborough). The era of Pat Partridge (Cockfield), Ron Challis (Tonbridge) and the notorious Clive Thomas (Porthcawl) was over, and they were replaced by a heap of nutter. The names that stood out, in alphabetical order :

Paul Alcock – humourless twat who ran a shopping centre in Maidstone. First came to my attention as a power-crazed tosser when he sent Pat Gavin off for an off the ball incident and awarded Notts County a penalty in the process (a decision that was 100% wrong as the ball was dead). He also turned in a disgraceful performance when Reading knocked us out of the FA Cup in 1996, reducing the Gills to nine men, and took the cup tie with Derby which he theatrically abandoned in 1998. Forever remembered for the pathetic comedy tumble after he was shoved by Paulo Di Canio at Hillsborough. One of the worst referees ever – FACT

Jim Ashworth – caused mild-mannered janitor Keith Peacock to do a Chris Coleman after he awarded Blackpool two penalties in a minute in a 2-2 draw in 85/96, and gave Brighton a penalty at the Goldstone for an offence on Gary Nelson that was so far outside the area in was committed in Eastbourne. A police officer, I believe

David Axcell – short with a grey tache, no huge problem with him though he did award three penalties in one game with Chesterfield in 1985, all of them missed…

Alfie Buksh – a permanent grin, and the first Asian official on the league list

Martin Bodenham – huge bloke who refereed the 2-0 win over Fulham in 81/82 which was shown on Match of the Day sporting spectacular sideburns

Willie Burns – arf, made-up name surely?

Vic Callow (Solihull) – another silly little man who once requested that a ball-boy be removed from Ashton Gate after abusing the thin-skinned idiot. Led to Callow being emphatically berated by Danny Baker on the original 606 show (when it was still interesting)

George Courtney (Spennymoor) – our FIFA official for the 1986 World Cup. Harshly disallowed a Derek Hales diving header at Blackpool in 1985 which would have given us an unassailable 3-1 lead

David Elleray (Harrow) – everyone has their favourite Elleray story. First came to our attention for sending off Phil Kite in a League Cup tie at Brighton in 1987, in the days when keepers just didn’t get red carded, but later endeered himself by dismissing two Aldershot players at Priestfield in a volatile clash later that year. Liked to wind up Manchester United and used his last ever breath before retirement to award us a penalty against Blackburn. I wanted to kiss him

Keith Hackett (Sheffield) – now something of a big cheese amongst referees, always struck me as a somewhat pompous man

Denis Hedges (Oxford) – oh my god I hated that man. Had the complexion of The Singing Detective

Ian Hemley (Ampthill) – a ginger geriatric who was always so far behind play that his whistle-happy displays invariably ended in farce. He resembled the way cross-eyed perverted head masters are always depicted in Viz cartoon strips

David Hutchinson (Harrogate) – responsible for the defining moment of my childhood watching the Gills as he was decked by an elderly pitch invader shortly after sending off Danny Westwood against Swindon in 1979. The resultant Priestfield fences, the court cases, the brawls in the tunnel, the running battles on the Magic Roundabout, the smashed coach windows, the riot police at the play-off games and the constant lambasting of anything involving the Wiltshire town or Ray McHale are all stuff of legends

Howard King – moron who gave a predictably dodgy penalty to Bristol City at Ashton Gate in 1987 as our play-off hopes faltered

Ray Lewis (Great Bookham) – always caused amusement due to where he was from, but I remember him dancing along to the Rainham End singing “Lewis is a wanker” while waiting for a corner to be taken

Roger Milford (Bristol) – the best referee of the era, always lenient whenever he could be (such as in the FA Cup Final when Gascoigne vandalised anyone who came near him before getting stretchered off himself). Always sported a perm, a tan and particularly shiny shorts

Kelvin Morton (Bury St Edmonds) – lets face it, we all miss him. In the Sky era he would have been up there in refereeing heaven with Pierluigi Collina. Last week we wondered why referees lacked the bottle to award a second penalty to one team in a match. Kelvin once awarded five in one game, four of them to Crystal Palace. Once brandished his handkerchief at a Southend player, mistaking it for his red card. A legend, an an inspiration for so much copy in the early years of BMH

Mike Pierce – the quick draw ref. Didn’t bother to think about his decisions as thinking got in the way of his trademark gimmick of yanking cards from his pocket in the very instant crimes were committed. Sent off Brian Statham at Brentford, whipping out the juicy red one while Statham was still in the process of stamping on Super Bobby Taylor

Graham Pooley – another tit of Jordan magnitude. Not sure where to start, but he delighted in losing control of meaningless fixtures. Sent off three in the fabulous 3-2 win over Blackpool in 1992, which eventually featured Joe Dunne in goal after Harvey Lim had walked for scrapping. Once sent off a Shrewsbury player for a nothing incident and was greeted with the Priestfield crowd applauding the offender off the pitch, “the referee’s a wanker” ringing in his ears

Lester Shapter (Paignton, though he moved to Torquay in 1980, presumably because Gillingham fans found out where he lived). Another copper, took charge of the Swindon rematch in 1979 which cost us promotion. Sent off Terry Nicholl and oversaw the acrimonious tunnel brawl. In a typical demonstration of wit and wisdom, the Football League appointed him for the second leg of the play-off final between the two clubs in 1987. He was an arse that day as well

Gurnam Singh – terrible individual performance in a defeat at Aldershot in 1989/90 after which I drove home so badly in a sulk I nearly stacked my car in Reading. Also dismissed Paul Smith at Northampton in error, and was the target of the amusing ditty “Can you hear the Gurnam Singh?”

Tony Ward – looked a bit like a young Ken Livingstone. Failed to spot Bobby Davison punching the ball into the Town End net and subsequently provoked Dave Mehmet into throwing his shirt at him after he’d been sent off. On the other hand, his incompetence conjured up one of the best games I’ve ever seen as we stormed back to beat Derby 3-2 on Boxing Day 1984

These people were seriously deranged and travelled the country wrecking the afternoons of people like you and me. If you don’t remember them, then believe me, they would make even Mike Riley look smart. If you do remember, I’m so sorry for opening old wounds….

The Morty Vicker


13 Responses to The Way Things Were

  1. TDT says:

    Christ, there are some memories pouring back now. I’m going to have to get a drink – I’m becoming really annoyed remembering all those twats stitching us up over the years!

  2. Andrew says:

    “Kelvin Morton – let’s face it we all miss him.” Like a very large hole in the head. He was the most comically incompetent referee I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness, on several occasions. The only thing I can say in his defence is that at least you knew there would always be something to talk about afterwards even if the game was dire.

    In those days, as you say, refs were characters. I remember D’Urso’s first game at Priestfield: it was a sign of things to come and now most of the officials seem to be clones. The few who stand out from the crowd, like Rennie and Poll, usually do it through being self-important showmen and just annoy us all.

  3. Jon says:

    I remember some of the incidents, if not the names…

    I’m sure we’ll all have lists like this for years to come, mind… There are plenty of refs I fear in the lower leagues, both from my experiences and those of colleagues who support other teams…

    My favourite – doesn’t involve the Gills – is Phil Crossley, in a play-off semi final for Northampton at Mansfield in the same season as the Hess rugby tackle. Tom Curtis assaulted Eric Sabin on the halfway line, Sabin reacted. In the melee, the ref completely lost Curtis and forgot who he was. He then booked Sabin, asked both his linesmen and the fourth official who the Mansfield player was, and none of them knew, despite the Cobblers fans chanting “NUMBER FOUR” at him. As he couldn’t work it out, he (wrongly) gave Mansfield a free-kick and, from it, the ball was whacked up field and – you’ve guessed it – Tom Curtis scored. Northampton lost on penalties.

  4. Bring Back Les Berry says:

    Most fans who’ve been going since our turn-around in fortunes still say Mark Halsey is the worst referee because of the stitch-up at Wembley, but by and large I think he’s actually a fairly decent referee.
    If you want to start a who’s the worst ever referee poll, then it’s surely D’Urso – absolutely rubbish at refereeing and a complete wanker to boot. He ruined so many games it was un-true. Second is surely Alcock. It wasn’t just the two ridiculous red cards at Reading, it was the goal we had disallowed in the first half. We would have been in the fourth round if it wasn’t for that nob.
    I’m getting quite angry now and it was 11 years ago – I’d better have a drink too!

  5. Binman says:

    Oh my God, I’m going to to have nightmares tonight, some of those muppets caused total mayhem. We can still moan and groan about some current ones but most not in the same class of total idiocy as Alcock, Pooley & Hutchinson… I’m going for a lie down in a dark room…

  6. medwaymod says:

    That reading away game in the cup was my first ever away match as a kid, and i still remember it as my first ever real taste of the pure and simple WRONGS that can occur in life! I didn’t realise that it was Alcock until reading this, but in all honesty it doesn’t surprise me, the only ref worse than him i’ve ever seen would have to be D’Urso.
    We’d have got bloody man united at home in the 4th round as well, goddam ref

  7. James1893 says:

    Mike Riley was the FA’s representative at the World Cup, Mike Riley for God’s sake! I can’t shake the image of Dr Niles Crane when Riley ‘takes charge’ of a game.
    I can’t remember his name but the ref when we lost at Leicester’s new ground to a Junior Lewis goal was a gutless twerp.

  8. David says:

    My Dad had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Refs and would patiently remind me of their previous crimes against the Gills when they came out. Clive Thomas was apoplectic with rage when he was called a “Welsh cheat” during the game at Bournemouth when Dave Shearer and Terry Cochrane were both sent off for dissent. For me, Malcolm Sinclair of the pipecleaner legs and young Mr.Grace physique was the ultimate in anti-Gills incompetent refereeing. Surely he was the first referee to be serenaded with a chorus of boos on his way on to the pitch at Priestfield because of his previous performances.

  9. chrislynham says:

    Sorry to be an utter pedant, but the referee at Bournemouth – one of THE most incompetant displays of refereeing ever – was David Letts. He gave Bournemouth a soft penalty, sent Cochrane off for dissent (his famous “glasses” gesture, if I remember rightly) and Shearer for two bookings. A year earlier he awarded Bournemouth a first minute penalty at Priestfield and, I believe, once remarked that “Gillingham don’t give the referree sandwiches after the game if they lose”. How very dare he. Clive Thomas had long retired by the time of the Bournemouth travesty (New Year’s Day 1985). We travelled back on the train with the players after that game – most sat disconsolately reading in one carriage (Martin Robinson was reading Smash Hits) but Cochrane, Shearer and Russell Musker got hammered in the buffet car….

  10. Chris says:

    As a 21yo Gills fan I did not have the misfortune of seeing Lester Shapter’s performance against Swindon in 1979 but can safely say his incompetence did not diminish with age as I had the ‘fortune’ of watching him refereeing school football down in Devon a few years back and I believe he is currently a referee’s assessor down in Devon (so don’t expect any quality referees from Devon for the next few years).

  11. Jez says:

    After failing to send off a Derby player for an elbow in the 96/97 FA Cup game, I’ll never forget the chant “Alcock, no balls, Alcock no balls”!

  12. Ian says:

    I enjoyed reading your pages and they have given me a good laugh. God help referees.

  13. free riot points…

    […]The Way Things Were « Brian Moore\’s Head[…]…

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