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