Ref! On Baldrick’s Robin Hood costume

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Oh Gawd, gentlemen, I was determined to enjoy my retirement without the stress of making pronouncements on the world stage, but the last knockings of the transfer window have tipped me over the edge. The metaphorical edge, Dave, yes. Some of the lunacy out there is too much for a thinking man to keep quiet about.

Who’s the thinking man, Baz? One is talking about oneself, mate, and I don’t mean you could be included. Your thinking process is like primitive life emerging from the slime – no offence, mate.

So I’ll tell you what’s got me so worked up, since you ask. People buying multiple players for one position. Take Spurs. They sell Kyle Walker to Man City, and I didn’t use to like him but he’s come along well the last couple of years and sometimes for England he’s the one player you can see causing some danger.

And they’ve got a readymade replacement, Kieran Tripper, who has also had a go with the national team. And then who emerges but Kyle Walker-Peters. Now that’s just bloody silly, isn’t it, a guy with almost exactly the same name coming through for the same position at the same club.

Anyway, they’ve got those two readymade replacements, and what do they do? They buy Serge Aurier from PSG. Did they need him, Baz? What’s going to happen to the other two if he plays? That’s English talent being blocked again.

In case of injuries, Baz? I’m glad you brought that up, because what it reminds me of is that episode of Blackadder Goes Forth where he’s in prison, about to be shot but planning to escape and Baldrick brings him a Robin Hood costume. And Baldrick’s thinking is: what if the Captain finds himself in a French village in the middle of a fancy dress party? And Blackadder says, “What if I find myself in a French village and there isn’t a fancy dress party?”

So when you only need one right back and you’ve got three, what’s the rationale? The reasoning, Baz – what’s the thinking behind it?

Yes, I suppose there could be two fancy dress parties.

And there was this late flurry about Fernando Llorente. Chelsea had just bought Morata and they already had Michy Batshuayi, not to mention Loic Remy peeling potatoes in the canteen to pass the time. So why would they need Llorente? Because they can, lads. Money.

Cheers Gary I’ll have a white wine spritzer. Titter ye not, gentlemen. You’ve seen my young lady. You don’t hang onto that sort of thing drinking pints and eating pork scratchings.

Who else is stockpiling, Dave? Yes, Liverpool are buying up all the dross as usual. Unkind but true, mate. No, I don’t know what they see in Oxlade-Chamberlain either. But it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, and we may just have seen the richest tapestry we’re ever going to get, because it can’t carry on like this, can it? Insanity. They’d pay 25 million for you, Baz. Arsenal, I mean.

 

 

 

 

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Ref! On Allardyce and a grim future

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Hey,Baz, there’s a bloke asking for you up by the bar. I don’t know, he’s from the FA, I think, wants to offer you a job. No, the Allardyce thing was all an elaborate joke and it’s you they want for England manager.

Well, I mean come on, Sam Allardyce? How desperate has this country become? Never mind him being at unfashionable clubs – Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were at Derby and Notts Forest, but they actually won things. They transformed clubs and won the league and the European Cup. All Big Sam’s done is make Bolton and Blackburn unpleasant places to go on the dreaded, legendary “wet Wednesday in November”.

Dreaded because you were going to be assaulted, Dave, that’s right. He can talk all he likes about the great football his teams played, but how come nobody else thinks so? If he’d turned Bolton into Barcelona I think we might have noticed.

And at West Ham the fans couldn’t wait to get rid of him because the team didn’t play “the West Ham way”, which might be a myth going back to the 1960s, but you can see their point. Allardyce got back into his element at Sunderland, because they were in a relegation dogfight, and that’s what his teams are good at: scrapping.

No, no, Dave, I agree, we shouldn’t bury him before he’s lived in the England job. But what points do you want to make in his defence? His name?

Yes, I agree, it’s unfortunate that he sounds like a character in Last of the Summer Wine, a dyed-in-the-wool northerner with ferrets down his trousers. It makes him sound like an unsubtle dinosaur. They used to say the opposite about Tim Henman, like he’d have been a more powerful and successful player if his name was Tom Bulman, just because it sounds meatier. So yes, if Allardyce had been called Simon Alan Dyson, we might have given him a bit of credit.

And if he’s looked less like a thug and more like a thinker, but he can’t help that either. I don’t disagree with you, mate.

Cheers, Gary, what’s the guest ale this week? Big Sam? Seriously? I’ll have a pint of that, mate. In a reinforced glass, just in case.

So what we’re saying is that Sam Allardyce needs a makeover. I’m sure the FA’s PR department is working on that. Lose some weight, get rid of the coaliminer’s haircut and make him look more like Philip Seymour Hoffman. There is a resemblance, you know.

But no, we’ll see. But it’s a bit embarrassing, isn’t it, when the press are asking people like Jose Mourinho what he thinks and Mourinho’s going, “Yes, Good appointment.” He must have laughed himself silly when he heard the news.

Seriously, gentlemen, we shall see, but from here it looks ludicrous, doesn’t it? If the English candidates were Allardyce and Steve Bruce – who’s a very nice guy, by the way – then we’re in trouble. I just hope the way the situation has been laid bare will show the club owners the folly of appointing foreign managers. Except the owners are all foreign too, Dave, exactly.

So maybe we need to fast forward to 50 years’ time, when the bubble has burst and football in England is a part-time game and the Shetland Islands are world champions because of their zero-tax laws and untold riches.

And our grandchildren will be sitting here – Baz’s won’t, because they’ll be in prison – talking about the good old days when England used to occasionally qualify for a tournament before getting knocked out by Andorra.

 

Ref! On neutrality and haircuts

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

I notice no one is wearing football regalia this evening. Well, you can’t sit there wearing an England shirt during a competition we’re no longer involved in, can you? So at the moment we’re neutral. And what a boring thing that is, isn’t it Baz?

Well, Dave, because Wales have made it quite clear that they’re delighted we’re out, so I’m not supporting them. And they’re not good to watch, anyway.

Well, as it happens, and I was kind of dreading the question, I’m supporting Germany now. Because they’re the most fun to watch. They play the best football. Plus – and this is important – I know most of their players. Not personally, no, although obviously I met a few of them during my refereeing days, but we all know Schweinsteiger cos he’s been around for years and he’s now spending the twilight of his career at Manchester United. I don’t think they expected it to be twilight when they paid all that money for him, but he hasn’t set the Premier League on fire.

So there’s him, and Toni Kroos, who everybody thought would be joining United a couple of years ago but he didn’t. And the goalkeeper, he’s a good ‘un. Mats Hummels at the back. Julian Draxler. Funny, though; they don’t seem interested in coming to England or going anywhere else. They’d rather stay in Germany. And that may be part of their strength.

Anyway, they’re worth watching, aren’t they? Better than Italy, and I must say I enjoyed the penalty shootout. You could see the nerves in their knees, some of them. Heaving it wide like some hungover has-been in the Dads’ penalty tournament on a Saturday morning, end of the season. Yes, I’ve done a few of them. Get a lucky one top corner and the boy thinks you’re a genius, but the next one reveals your true caliber. Trickles out of play and you’re clutching your thigh, hoping nobody noticed.

Cheers Gary, I’ll have a Lowenbrau or something else unpronounceable. Something from the fatherland, mate. None of your brewed-in-Rotherham rubbish with a German-sounding name.

No, I agree, Dave, let’s have a Germany-Portugal final and have them embarrass Cristiano Ronaldo, that would be a bonus, wouldn’t it? Misses an open goal and a penalty – now you’re talking, mate. Germany six, Portugal nil.

And at the end, when they’ve handed out the medals they can have a prize for the worst haircut. Have you noticed the western European players tend to look relatively sensible – maybe a bit too short around the sides, but still – and it’s the eastern Europeans who look like they’ve just nicked a fiver out of their mum’s handbag and gone to get the stupidest haircut they can find, dyed blond just to exaggerate it?

And a special mention for Axel Witsel of Belgium, who’s rocking an afro with sort of shaved bits over the ears so it looks like a badly fitting wig.

axel
Just pull it down a bit, Axel. Well, twist it, then

Oh, we can do best beard too. And the runner up will have to be the captain of Iceland, what’s his name. Somethingssson, yes, that’s him. With his my-grandad-was-a-viking look. He must have choked when he saw Joe Ledley – Wales, Baz –  cos he’s got the same thing only in black and he’s had his hair cut to look like he was run over by a lawn mower. Ah, the abiding memories of a neutral football fan.

croatia
You see? In Eastern Europe we have many cool hairdressers also

 

 

Ref! On the silly season

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

So here we are on the brink of greatness or the edge of the abyss, eh? I mean, Baz, that the Euros are about to start and we don’t know if it’s going to be great for England or embarrassing. I agree, Dave, the latter looks more likely judging by the three friendlies. No, I don’t know either: Hodgson might have no idea or he might have made up his mind what he’s going to do and just used the friendlies to disprove a few theories.

And yes, I agree with that too: I am talking cobblers. That’s because this is the silly season, and what that means, Baz, is that there’s nothing really going on, so people start making things up. Why do I know that and you don’t? Well, you know more about bricklaying than I do. It’s horses for courses. Don’t forget that until a couple of months ago I was a professional referee, one of the chosen few, maintaining order on the playing fields of England. And now that I’ve retired or, as the local papers put it, “hung up my whistle”, I join the likes of you as an armchair pundit.

Well yes, I did do that before anyway, because one thing about being a ref is that you get a certain amount of free time to sit around in pubs as we are doing tonight and pontificate. Nothing wrong with a bit of pontificating. We all do it and any man who says he doesn’t is a liar. It means, Baz, to speak pompously as if you know it all, and it comes from an old word for the Pope. You’ve heard him referred to as the Pontiff, haven’t you? Well, he is. In good writing, you see, you avoid repetition, and that sometimes means you have to use a different word from the one you would do normally. So if I’ve mentioned the Pope once or twice, I sling in Pontiff next time. Yes, all right, I do owe that particular piece of knowledge to my lady friend – she’s not a bird, Baz – Jody, who is highly intelligent and a bit of an academic, as teachers often are, obviously.

I’ll tell you how the subject came up. In the early days of what used to be called our “courtship”… that’s  right, when I was trying to get my leg over for the first time, if you have to be crude, we used to exchange long emails. Because text is so limiting, Dave. Email is tailor made for the modern love letter, whereas text and WhatsApp and all that  are for the  lazy and the intellectually challenged. And for dirty sods like Baz, yes, but you can be just as dirty on email. And you can send attachments.

Cheers Gary, I’ll have a pint of Guinness, and if it’s the little barmaid, ask her to draw something on the top, she’s good at that. Anything. Surprise me.

Anyway, I was waxing lyrical one night about her bosoms, but I was referring to them as her bazookas. In a playful way, gents – she’s got a sense of humour. But eventually she educated me about repetition and we came up with some alternatives. Okay, but you will have to promise me you’ll treat this with the utmost discretion. My favourite was Mel and Kim, after the pop star sisters. She likes The Sugababes.

Now never, ever breathe a word of this or I’m a dead man, okay? Cheers, Gary. What’s she drawn, then? What’s that, a whistle? A banjo? Oh my god, she’s sending me cheeky notes on the head of a pint of Guinness.

 

 

 

Ref! On Euro hopes and dreams

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

England, Russia, Slovenia, Wales. Who’s going to win the Euros? England, Baz? Is that a considered answer or purely based on sentiment? Yes, of course I want England to win it, but only if they’re the best team. And are they? We’ve seen it all before, haven’t we? Excellent record in qualifying but when it comes to the real thing, we find that the world has moved on and while we’ve been admiring the development of  one or two promising players, other people have produced superstars.

So what have we got, Dave? Potential gold upfront, I agree. Gone are the days of hoping someone like Danny Welbeck can rise to the occasion and score at international level when he doesn’t do much for his club.

But Kane or Vardy? Both? I would like to agree with you, mate, but at the moment I reckon we’re in either/or territory. Because they haven’t really played together much, and even if Roy Hodgson does play them as a pair rather than having one out wide, it remains to be seen if they can accept being co-stars rather than undisputed kings, which is what they are at their clubs.

If you look back through history at the great strike partnerships, it hasn’t been like that. Lineker and Beardsley? That was very much Lineker as the hit man and Beardsley buzzing around creating chances. Alan Shearer? Whoever played with him was always going to be second fiddle. Go right back to the year of our Lord  1966 and in the final it was Geoff Hurst and Roger Hunt but I sometimes struggle to remember Hunt was even there. And if Jimmy Greaves been fit in earlier matches, you’d have had him up there, and there was a lone wolf if ever there was one.

Cheers Gary. Get us a Campari and orange juice, will you? Because it’s what I fancy, that’s why.

Midfield, lads? Full of promise but not too much proven experience. I agree, Baz, I like Ross Barkley, but he’s got to stamp his authority on the squad. Dele Alli’s on a wave of youthful enthusiasm and confidence, so let’s hope that bubble doesn’t burst. Other than them you’ve got Fabian Delph, who’s shellshocked after Villa’s nightmare. Lallana, Drinkwater, Henderson, Dier. Where’s the commanding influence, the guy who takes over when the going gets tough? Yes, I suppose that was an illusion much of the time, but at least with Lampard and Gerrard and Beckham you felt it was a possibility.Maybe Jack Wilshere, yes, it’s like pre-season for him so at least he’s going to be fresh.  Where’s Bryan Robson when you need him?

And at the back, well, unconvincing is the word that springs to mind, don’t you think?

I wouldn’t be surprised if Chelsea replaced Gary Cahill this summer, and yet he’s the captain of England. In the absence of Rooney, yes, and there’s the key. I know I’ve been vocal in my wish for Rooney to quietly fade away, but that was from the strikers. If he can play deeper, which he’s been doing lately, then fine, and he has the experience, which we need.

Also at the back, John Stones needs to rediscover his composure and the full backs, well, they don’t have to be world-beaters, just solid. Disciplined. Leave the fancy stuff to others.

And as the boss said in Mike Bassett: England Manager, we’re going to play four four f***ing two.

Cheers, Gary. Let’s enjoy it while we can, eh?

 

 

 

 

Ref! On success, failure and dignity

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads, and what an auspicious occasion this is. Domestic season wrapped up as far as the big boys are concerned, apart from the FA Cup Final. One word to describe 2015-16, Dave. Weird? Okay. Baz. Refreshing? That’s not what I think of as a Baz type word, but very appropriate, yes.

Me, I’d say emotional. It just makes you realize what a procession the Premier League had become, a bit like Formula 1. No real surprises. The top guys get out front and that’s it. A while later they’ve won it.

But the emotion, it all started months ago when Leicester’s good start didn’t turn out to be a flash in the pan after all. Yes, I remember predicting it wasn’t going to happen. I also remember saying it was foolish to make predictions. Hang on, I’ll look it up, where are we, windingroadblog.com, blah blah blah, January… here we  are:

“Only a fool makes predictions, mate. But since it’s New Year, okay, Spurs win the Premier League narrowly from Man City. United finish mid table, just below Chelsea, and Leicester  and Southampton scrape a Champions League place. Watford relegated along with Villa and Norwich.”

So I was right about Chelsea and got two out of three for relegation. But as I said, it’s all about emotion, and there was plenty of that at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. It was relevant, Dave, because it’s a lesson in humility. Chelsea had a diabolical season by their standards, but they steadied the ship in mid season, Hiddink did, anyway, and got back to some semblance of form. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves or make excuses, they just got on with it.

As in football, so in life, Dave. When things go wrong, when you fall off your perch, you’ve just got to have another go. It’s not a case of deliberately preserving your dignity, I don’t think. Dignity is accorded to you by your fellows. They see how you’ve coped with it and they respect it. Or they think you’re  wanker, yes. Precisely.

Cheers, Gary, let’s have a  malt whisky each on me. On you, mate? You’re a gentleman. I’ll have a large one, whatever they’ve got, but not one of them that tastes like the remains of a bonfire if you can avoid it. The landlord will tell you what’s what. He’s not a complete moron. Palace fan, yes, but the poor sod’s got enough to worry about, then, hasn’t he?

Yeah, at Chelsea yesterday. They had their old boss Ranieri back for the day and they gave him a right old reception didn’t they? Then there was John Terry getting emotional because he doesn’t know if he’s staying or going. Didn’t play, of course, because he was suspended, so he hasn’t learnt that much in his old age.

Then at Man City you’ve got Pellegrini leaving when he’s really not done much wrong, but he’s going with dignity too. Why do they call him This Charming Man, Dave? Because it’s a song by a Manchester band, The Smiths.  Yes, that’s right, my “young bird” told me. Jody’s her name, Dave, and she teaches me things and I teach her things. That’s how it works, mate. She keeps me up to date with things I might otherwise miss and I give her the benefit of my… all right, all right, you may laugh, but… give it a rest, mate.

Hold up, who’s that just walked in? Only Michel Platini. I don’t know, maybe he wants a job. I know they’re looking for a barman.

 

 

Ref! On man’s inhumanity to man

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

What I would like to discuss this evening is bigger than football, bigger than sport as a whole. No, Baz, not why so many pop stars are dying this year – that’s just one of those things. I’m talking about man’s inhumanity to man. Seriously, Dave, it’s something that troubles me, and has done ever since I myself was vilified – slagged off, Baz –  for the crime of falling in love. Six months down the road, Jody and I are very much devo ted to each other and the future, and what’s done is done. You can’t change the past, which is what my ex is trying to do, and it’s made me look at the world in a new light.

Yes, I know we always talk about football, and we’re going to, but not the game itself. I am disgusted with the way so-called fans have a go at their manager if results don’t go their way.

Take Roberto Martinez at Everton. It was all sweetness and light when he came in, because he’d just taken Wigan to glory, he had a reasonable first season but this year they’ve been disappointing and suddenly he’s an idiot.

Well, it’s not fair, is it? He’s the same manager he was before, and sometimes you have to live through the bad times to appreciate the good.

Wenger at Arsenal, even worse scenario. The guy brought them success for several years and then through circumstances beyond his control he had to operate differently from everyone else, because for the sake of the future they had to pay for a new stadium and therefore he couldn’t spend money on players. And apparently in order for the club to borrow the money, the banks insisted he sign a five-year contract, so obviously they believed in him.

Well, Dave, we have to give bank managers some credit. Many may be prats but that doesn’t mean they know nothing about football. I once met one who was a Mansfield Town fan, and good for him, supporting his home town club even though he was living in the land of milk and honey – London – and could quite easily have switched to Millwall and no one would have known.

Cheers, Gary, bottle of Grolsch if they have such a thing. Something decent in a bottle, anyway, whatever you think.

You’ve got to be thick-skinned to be a manager. Look at Rafa Benitez. Spends five minutes at Real Madrid, doesn’t do too bad but they boot him out because they want Zidane. And Benitez ends up at Newcastle, trying to avoid relegation. And talking of Benitez, remember when he went to Chelsea temporarily – everyone knew it wasn’t a permanent post – but the fans gave him terrible stick just because he had been at Liverpool.

I don’t know. Where’s the respect, where’s the intelligence? Get rid of Wenger and you could be on the managerial merry-go-round for years and end up with Louis Van Gaal or his spiritual heir who’s been bouncing around the world, winning things and gaining experience and looking for a home. That’s all they’re doing, lads, just looking for a home where they can enjoy their life and not worry about tomorrow. Obviously they don’t have to worry financially, if they’ve got any sense at all, because they do get paid a lot.

But there’s family, there’s peace of mind, there’s the kids and the dog getting freaked out because they’ve got no stability, no consistency. One minute they’re in McDonalds in west London and the next they’re in Burger King in Valencia. It must be hard, guys. And the missus is screaming “Why can’t we settle down and have a normal life? I wish I’d married that bus driver, at least I’d have known where to call home.”

You can mock, Dave, but we only get one go at life and the least we can ask is to be able to remember our address and phone number.

Yeah, she’s driving me mad, Baz, trolling me on Facebook, spreading rumours, slagging Jody off, the lot…