Guest Writer

We welcome guest writer David Bateman, former teacher at Ripley St Thomas School (now Academy) in Lancaster, to the website this month to talk about his thoughts on refereeing football and rugby. As you will see from his piece his heart will always be there with the pupils and his fellow teachers.

'Hey ref!' or 'Excuse me, sir'? by David Bateman - Part 1

My football career was extremely limited. I went to primary school in rural Sussex, where we hardly had enough boys to make up a school football team. Like most lads of our age, we spent hours playing football on the village green, and I usually ended up in goal - clearly lacking in the skills needed to 'play out', and partly because childhood asthma often left me wheezing and decidedly short of pace. At the age of 9, we moved to Salford, where I attended a much bigger primary school, and I think it must have been my willingness to throw myself about in the mud-filled goalmouth that led me being selected for the school team as a 3rd year junior (now Year 5, I believe). I was so proud, but it didn't last long. We played in a league competition on Saturday mornings, involving dozens of schools - quite a feat of organisation by the teachers involved. We won the first game at home, but conceding a rather soft goal in the second game led our teacher to drop me immediately in favour of an older boy. The next season, though, I was back in the team - and a very good team it was, which meant very little work for a goalkeeper! We didn't have our own football field, so every games lesson meant a 15 minute trek to the nearest playing fields. Games lessons were usually 'school team' vs 'the rest' - which meant many afternoons standing, leaning against a goal post, often in the cold or wet, watching from a distance as my team mates scored lots of goals at the other end. We had no organised training or skills practice. Somehow or another, we were just expected to know what to do and get on with it. Games were always 11-a-side, with a heavy leather ball; the only concession being that the cross bar was at 6 feet rather than adult size, which was an advantage to me as I was almost 6 feet tall by the age of 11.

I went to an all-boys grammar school, where we played football and rugby. I got in the U-12 football team, possibly because I was taller than the teacher in charge, and was fairly competent at dealing with a high ball. We had a successful season, but I was already beginning to find some success with rugby. (Despite the school being in Salford, where we regularly supported the 'real' Red Devils at The Willows, grammar schools tended to play rugby union while secondary modern schools played rugby league.) Being tall was an advantage at the line-out, and apart from winning line-out ball and pushing in the scrums, forwards like me were not expected to do much else in a game! I didn't make the school football team in my second year, but I started to get occasional games for the rugby team, and by the 3rd year I was captain of the side. I might add that Salford Grammar School at that time had produced a number of very good goalkeepers - I remember both Steve Fleet, who played for Manchester City, and Dave Starr who was approached by a number of league clubs; and Harry Sharratt, the great Bishop Auckland and England amateur, who represented Great Britain at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, was one of our Maths teachers. Incidentally, he remained an amateur throughout his career, despite playing league football for Blackpool, Oldham, Charlton Athletic and Nottingham Forest, because he could earn more as a Maths teacher than he could as a footballer! Not quite the same these days.

So, I left school as a rugby player, and followed my elder brother to Eccles RUFC, rather than join the Old Salfordians, who had quite a successful soccer team. In 1967, I arrived at St Martin's College in Lancaster, joined the rugby club and immediately made the first XV - possibly because I knew more 'rugby songs' than most of the others (the time at Eccles was obviously well spent!). St Martin's had a football team, which is where I first came across Dave Allison, but the rugby club was certainly regarded as socially more successful, even if the results were somewhat less so. It was in my first year at College that I broke a collar bone, and was out of action for a couple of months. As I recovered, though not quite fit enough to play, I started to referee games, and found that quite interesting and almost as satisfying as playing. Later, I did make a couple of appearances for the football team, when they were desperately short. Because they played in a league, they sometimes had fixtures to fulfil when we were on holiday, and many students went home. My parents had moved to Suffolk, so I rarely went home, which meant that I was available - and availability was more significant than ability!

It was during one of these holidays when I had stayed in Lancaster that my rugby playing career effectively ended. The Vale of Lune Vikings were short of players over the Easter period, so 2 or 3 of us went down to play for them, and I ended up in the Infirmary with a very bad kidney injury. Very soon afterwards, I was appointed to teach ‘General Subjects’ at Ripley St Thomas CE Secondary School (as it was at the time) with the important condition that I would also help with Boys’ Games. That wasn’t a problem for me – it meant every afternoon out on the school field, and practices at lunch time and after school. It also meant rugby in the autumn term, soccer in the spring and cricket and athletics in the summer. Well, at least I knew something about rugby and cricket! And running school teams also meant having to referee or umpire matches. I was once even called upon to judge the diving in an inter-schools swimming match, despite not knowing the difference between a swallow dive from a belly flop!

Meanwhile, back to Dave Allison.  After College, Dave organised an ‘Old Students’ soccer team in the local Sunday League. I was cajoled into joining the team – I knew that it wasn’t for my goalkeeping ability, but very much because I lived locally and could be relied to turn up on a Sunday. We struggled to find eleven players most weeks, and were often fined as a result. We were usually on the wrong end of a thrashing – I recall a particular game against the Hest Bank Hotel which ended up 13 – nil, and the chief goal scorer was John Kelly, Head of PE at Ripley! We didn’t last long in the Sunday League, simply through lack of players, although Dave Allison worked very hard to try to keep things going. But I learned a lot about refereeing in that short time. Most players spent a great deal of time shouting at the referee - appealing for decisions, appealing against decisions, offering ‘advice’, which couldn’t always been construed as constructive criticism. As a rugby player, this was quite foreign to me. I remember one occasion when I watched a long ball from an opposition defender run dead for a clear goal kick. ‘Corner, ref!’ shouted one of his colleagues, from a distance of some 20 or 30 yards. I brought the ball back for a goal kick, and as the forward approached me, I said “That was a clear goal kick. No-one was near it.”

“I know,” he replied, quite seriously, “but you’ve got to appeal, haven’t you!”

Well, no, I thought. You don’t have to - you could be honest. Or just let the ref decide.

The other thing I learned was that at the end of the game, we had to sit down and fill in a card for the referee, giving him a mark (I think it was out of 10) for his efforts. Invariably, on the odd occasions when we won or drew, the referee got a good mark. If we lost, he didn’t - and the football players in our team seemed to think that this was quite fair.

As I mentioned, I was refereeing both rugby and soccer at school team level. The contrasts were very marked. When the boys played rugby, they turned out with shirts tucked in and socks pulled up. As soon as it was soccer, out came the shirts, down went the socks (before compulsory shin pads, note!). Rugby players called the referee ‘sir’, and neither players nor spectators queried decisions. Most parents on the touchlines knew very little about rugby, but were generally very encouraging of the boys’ efforts. But every dad is a soccer expert - and so is his son! The referee now became ‘ref’, and parents often reacted as if you were there to deliberately spoil their son’s chances in the game. Comments on the boys’ individual performances, and of the team's performance (let alone the referee’s performance) tended to be more negative. Advice was freely given … if only dad had been in charge, things would clearly have been very different.

When it became known that I was refereeing rugby at school, I was invited to referee some of the lower teams' matches at The Vale of Lune. In those days, most games at any level were ‘friendlies’ - there were no leagues, and only very occasional cup games. I refereed 3rd and 4th team games fairly regularly for a season or two, and then decided to join Manchester and District Referees’ Society to see if I could progress to more senior games. Living in Bolton-le-Sands, it may have seemed an odd choice to join Manchester Society, but there wasn’t another more local society, and it took me back to the area in which I had been to school and played my club rugby. Manchester Society covered a very large area, from north Lancashire right down to mid-Cheshire, and I often found myself travelling well over 100 miles on a Saturday to referee a second or third team match.

Photo: A rather lonely figure, keeping goal for St Martin's FC in March 1970

To be continued...!

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