Ref! On Sunderland and new life

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


Sunderland, Dave. Yes, Sunderland. I would like to hear your thoughts on one of the sleeping giants that’s been asleep so long it’s got hair and a beard like Hagrid in Harry Potter. The Robbie Coltrane character, Baz. Fat bloke with hair and a beard that look like Sunderland would if it was a man. Bloody hell it’s hard around here sometimes. But as you say, Dave, giving cultural references to a man devoid of culture is, well, it’s hard to finish that thought without another cultural reference.

But if Leicester City can achieve what they did last season, supporters of the other perennial strugglers must be thinking it’s just possible it’s their turn now.

So, the team in red and white stripes with black shorts are dreaming of glory, and why not? Their manger until about a month ago is now the manager of England. And he’s been replaced by a former manager of a Champion’s’ League-winning club. The sobering reality is that it’s David Moyes, but, again, think back just a few years and he was highly respected for doing good things with Everton. Anybody would have struggled at Man U straight after Ferguson. Nothing wrong with Moyesy, and he’s probably better off somewhere where expectations are not high.

Sunderland’s a working man’s club. Have you seen their crest, their badge? It’s got a ship on it, a silhouette of a ship. Not the Queen Mary or a cruise ship, but it looks like a merchant vessel or maybe a warship. And that’s because that’s what the town is famous for, building ships. I know it’s not like that now, but what do you think they’re going to put on their crest, a silhouette of a council estate? That’s their history and they’re trying to use it as inspiration.

Raich Carter, Brian Clough, Tom Finney, Ian Porterfield, Jim Montgomery. I know the kids haven’t heard of them, but why does it always have to be about kids? Nobody’s ever heard of Baz, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. I had to explain to Jody the other day who Brian Clough was, and she’s 25. Only one of the greatest centre forwards in the English language and a legendary manager who won the European Cup twice on the trot. You have to explain what the European Cup was too nowadays, and tell them the old First Division was what is now the Premier League.

Cheers, Gary, something from the north-east, mate. Do they still have Newcastle Brown ale? I know Sunderland supporters would probably object, but it’s the closest we’re going to get. See if they’ve got Shipbuilding on the juke box. Robert Wyatt or Elvis Costello, I don’t mind. Or Don’t Give Up, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. Bit gloomy for a juke box, I know. Tell you what, I’ve got it on my iPod, which I happen to have here. We can take turns. To get in the mood, Baz. To bring luck to the boys shivering up in la la land.

Sentimental? Yes, I suppose I am a bit. I’ll tell you the truth. The ex-wife’s daughter is up the duff. Pregnant. The father’s a guy from the Job Centre, originally from the north-east. So I’m going to be a granddad. No, she’s not my own flesh and blood, but close enough. Jody? Not amused, but she’ll get over it.

At least Sunderland have a history. Leicester didn’t. Towns and cities tend to have successful football clubs when the town is doing well, and Sunderland was booming once with the shipbuilding, but what’s Leicester’s claim to fame? Look at Aberdeen. They were a force in Scottish football in the days when Britain suddenly discovered it had oil and gas under the sea, and a lot of it happened to be in the frozen north. So the town no longer just had beer and fish and chilblains, it had money, and then it had Alex Ferguson and European football.

Life goes on, gents, life goes on.



Ref! On supporting your local team

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


Evening lads. So, yes, FA Cup hotting up, as you say, Dave. Well, actually I don’t know if that is the right expression. It’s coming to the end, but I can’t say I’m particularly excited, are you? Palace and United in the final?

Trouble is, we’re spoilt these days. With the Champions League, the FA Cup has become a minor competition, hasn’t it? Even though Manchester United are pleased to be in the final, it’s kind of a consolation prize and I’m sure they would rather be safely in the hat for playing Bayern and Barca next season. There was a time when winning the Cup, as we used to call it, was a big deal, but now it’s only a big deal for smaller clubs and for eight-year-olds supporting the big boys.

I agree, Dave, it’s unfair, but if you remember, it was United that started it when they declined to take part a few years ago, when was it?

2005, 2006, Baz? Sounds about right. And that was all to do with taking part in the World Club Championship, which is a mickey mouse thing if ever there was one. But it’s a money-spinner, and that’s all that matters to some people these days.

Quite honestly, I don’t like the way the game is going globally-speaking. Spanish football on British TV, who gives a toss? Well I know a lot of people do, but what I mean is they shouldn’t. They should be supporting their own teams, Plymouth Argyle and Stockport County and Reading, but half of them have to claim affiliation with Man U or Chelsea, and then you’ll see them wearing a Barcelona shirt. Got to be associated with teams that win things. It’s all wrong, Baz, don’t you agree? If you grew up in Stoke on Trent you support Stoke City, you don’t switch to Spurs because Harry Redknapp is there and they look like they’re on the verge of something.

Cheers, Gary. Bottle of San Miguel, please. Yes I know it’s Spanish. I’m just drinking it once, not getting married to it.

Yes, a mate of mine did that. Not Stoke, Ipswich. He was fine with his birthright in the 70s when they were doing well, but give him a couple of barren decades and he jumps ship. Didn’t tell me, though. I was talking to a mutual acquaintance and his name came up and the guy goes “He’s a Spurs fan, isn’t he?” I said no, born in Ipswich. And when I confronted him about it, he was almost denying his heritage.

I think it’s outrageous these days when kids from England profess to be Barca fans. Mind you, I think a lot of it has to do with the colours of the shirt and the fact that it’s a fashionable city. You don’t meet a lot of British Bayern Munich fans, because it hasn’t got the cachet.  French word, Baz, I’m not even sure of the dictionary definition, but it means something is cool, trendy, respected, something like that. You don’t go on stag weekends to Germany, do you? Same with Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto. People are pathetic, they have to cling to the coattails of the popular.



Ref! On ends of eras

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


Evening lads. You know that old joke about Spurs having their end of season party straight after they get knocked out of the cup in January? Well it’s all changed for them this season hasn’t it? Yes, I’m quite pleased for them, actually. They’ve been through a lot since 1961. When they won the league and the cup, Baz. Well, no, in your lifetime they have never won the league, but time isn’t measured in terms of when you or I were born. They’ve had a grim time of it, but right now they’re blossoming and you can’t begrudge it, can you? Living in Arsenal’s shadow all the time.

Now it’s Arsenal’s turn to suffer, but what does suffering actually mean? They’ve done pretty well again but they’re not going to win anything again. Well, when I say again, they won the FA Cup two years on the trot, but it’s like that doesn’t really count. The fans want more. And some of them want to get rid of one of the modern game’s best managers.

You get rid of Wenger and who are you going to replace him with? Claudio Ranieri? Even with the Leicester miracle, nobody’s saying it’s all down to him, are they? It’s the players getting the credit.

Anyway, as Steve Bruce says, you hear this sort of stuff from fans, but nobody inside the game is saying Wenger’s had his day. I mean, he has, probably, he’s had a good run and it can’t last forever, but give the poor guy some respect.

Yes, maybe they are at a crossroads and if something drastic doesn’t happen it’s going to drag on and you can’t see it getting any better. Could be a big summer, and not just for them. Chelsea too. New manager and he’s going to have to rebuild from top to bottom. Could be the end of an era there too. Even if he builds a new team immediately, full of great players, it will take a while for them to gel.

Cheers Gary. Scotch and coke please. And Manchester United too, come to that. Would you promote Ryan Giggs and risk him being found to be only human or install a big name and risk Giggs getting frustrated and leaving anyway?

I don’t know. Who’d be a billionaire club owner, eh? More trouble than it’s worth. Joking, Baz. Of course I’d like the money – Abramovich must be making more an hour than Dave does.

Yes, it’s going to be the most interesting summer since 1966, because you can bet your life the big boys are going to be waving their cheque books at Leicester, too, and if you were Jamie Vardy or Riyad Mahrez, what would you do? Stay there and hope it wasn’t a one-off or jump ship and go somewhere with a bit more tradition?

I know, Dave, in an ideal world they stay there and try to do it again, but realistically they’re going to be thinking well, if one of the giants is rebuilding and they want me, they’ll be paying silly wages, but if I stay here and the bubble bursts I might never get the chance again.

Fortunately, lads, it’s a problem we in this pub are never going to have to face. Unless Arsenal have heard about my retirement from refereeing and have the perceptiveness to see my vast football knowledge. Word gets around, and they’ve seen me on TV often enough to see I’m a man manager.

Seriously, guys, stranger things have happened.



Ref! On Swansea and building a football club

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


The magic of the FA Cup, eh, Dave? That’s what you think I’m going to talk about. Well, it’s only magical when it’s magical, and did anything exceptional happen at the weekend? Oxford United beat Swansea, which must be a choker for the Welsh and exciting for Oxford, but it’s hardly your pub team beating Man City, is it?

Yes, Baz, it just goes to show. Show what? No, there has to be another sentence on the end. It just goes to show that…

All right, I’ll help you out, since you’re not sure. It just goes to show that when you’re struggling, you’ll struggle against anybody. Is that what you meant? No?

Yeah, hang on a minute, Gary, I’ll have pint of whatever the guest ale is, but don’t disturb Baz when he’s thinking. I doesn’t happen often.

Okay, Baz, it just goes to show that… Anybody can beat anybody? Yes, I suppose that’s true, but it’s why that interests me. Swansea didn’t get beaten because Oxford were brilliant, they lost because they’re having a losing streak. I mean, it’s got to be tough for a club like that, hasn’t it? They’re not a traditional Premier League club.

They’ve got up there by hook or by crook and they’ve managed to stay there for a while, but players leave, managers leave – nobody’s really convinced. And now they’ve got a caretaker manager, one of their ex-players who wasn’t even a star really, just like Garry Monk, who he’s replacing. That’s right Dave, it’s like a castle built on sand. It takes time to build a castle, and sometimes that means … in this case, they’ve got to scrape away the top level of sand – to a depth of, I don’t know Baz, it’s a metaphor again, not an engineering class. But they’ve got to get a solid base on which to build. And one of the ways of doing that with a football club is to have consistency. A manager who’s there for a long time.

But even that’s not easy to arrange. It’s luck or fate or something. When Liverpool needed to rebuild in the early 60s – no, I wasn’t around – they happened to pick Bill Shankly. Who just happened to be the perfect man for the job. If they’d appointed Bill Smith, it wouldn’t have worked. No, it’s just a random name, Baz, there was no Bill Smith around at the time, and certainly not a world class football manager of that name.

Chelsea wouldn’t have become the club they are if Abramovich hadn’t chosen Jose Mourinho, even though his time was eventually up, as we know. Manchester United wouldn’t have flourished under anyone other than Alex Ferguson, probably. But the directors don’t know that in advance. It’s a gamble, like so many other things in life.

It’s possible that in 10 years’ time Swansea will be winning Champions’ Leagues every year, but only if they get their management situation sorted out with a huge dollop of luck. And a fabulously wealthy owner, of course. Owners have to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the greater good these days. But for now, the guy in charge is the guy in charge and he’s not rushing into an appointment because he has to make sure it’s the right one, and he clearly feels nobody of the right caliber is available at the moment. And, if you want to be cynical about it, he can save himself a few bob in the meantime, because Alan Curtis isn’t on Mourinho money, you can bet your life. Cheers Gary, Adnam’s, eh? A bit of tradition there, my friend. Nice.


All I ask of the top teams is that they do okay for us in Europe. You don’t have to love Liverpool to enjoy seeing them win the Champions League. We used to complain about Ferguson and fergie time and all that, but I’d rather see him breaking into his annual grin than the current Barcelona manager, wouldn’t you?


Ref! Mis predicciones

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


That’s right, Dave, I did indeed get away to the frozen north for New Year. Very nice, thanks. Very cold, Canada, although they were all telling us it was actually quite mild where we were, in Vancouver. They play football there, as you know. Vancouver Whitecaps, named for the snow-tipped mountains outside the city. Peter Beardsley used to play for them, in the NASL, and although that folded and eventually MLS started, the Whitecaps name still exists. No one I’ve ever heard of there now, mind you.

Didn’t miss much down here, did I? Van Gaal getting his knickers in a twist and reality beginning to call out to Leicester. You often find the second half of the season is very different from the first. Like last year, what people tend to forget is that Chelsea were red hot before Christmas but went into a slow dive after it, but they had built up such a lead that they could land the plane even with the engines failing.

It’s a metaphor, Baz, it sort of describes one situation by making you think of another. That’s right, and the engines were still knackered at the start of this season, exactly, but now they’ve had a good service and changed the oil and we shall see. And if we apply another, no not menopause, metaphor, to Leicester , they’ve been bombing down the M1 in an old Transit, passing all the flash Mercs and BMWs, but you can’t do that forever. Sooner or later they’ll pull in at a service station for a full English breakfast and when they go back out to the van it won’t start and when they do get it going it will be on three cylinders.

Cheers, Gary, you’re right, I do need a rest after that. Something English, my good man. Pint of your finest bitter beer, Sire. Have they got a local one? Pigs Tie? Yeah, go on. They must have confidence if they can call it that. And a bag of crisps. Cheese and onion, none of your fancy sour cream and bear-shit-roasted potato chips.

No, Dave, you don’t want my predictions for the rest of the season. 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.

And a happy New Year to all. May football be the winner, as long as your team does okay in the end.



Ref! On Van Gaal and Ferguson

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


I know what you’re saying, Dave, but being at or near the top of the table is an end in itself. An end in itself, Baz: it means it’s something worth achieving, however it is done. And it applies to Manchester United because they’re getting stick even though they’re actually up there, doing well.

I’m not sure Louis Van Gaal knew what he was getting himself into, despite all his travels and experience. United hadn’t been crowing about how positive and attack-minded they were under Alex Ferguson, they just got on and did it. And they happened to have some exceptional attacking players. When Beckham and Giggs and Scholes came through, that just happened to be what the grocer delivered, mate. Sure, Fergie bought well too, but basically he was just allowing these exciting players to be themselves, and he made sure he had the back door locked up tight.

Van Gaal, for a start he hasn’t had a settled back four all the time he’s been there. He’s got a mix of expensive foreigners and young local lads, but you couldn’t pick four and say these are his first choice. Could you? And without that basis, there isn’t the confidence further forward.

It’s like Gary here going to get the drinks. He knows he can get three pints in that solid group between his fingers. And a bottle in each jacket pocket and maybe one down the back of his jeans. But he couldn’t do all that fancy stuff if the central trio wasn’t solid. One of those goes a bit wobbly and the whole set-up suddenly becomes a worry.

Cheers, Gary, pint of Jaap Stam, please.

So, David, if I’m not stretching the analogy too far, if you’ve got Daley Blind – who I like – with Paddy McNair and Claudia Winkelman, you’re in trouble, aren’t you? Because, Baz, you don’t need Claudia, you need big ugly Nemaja Matic. I know it’s obvious, that’s why I put it in those terms, so it was clear to someone of your ability.

If Van Gaal – or David Moyes, for that matter – had Gary Neville, Rio, Matic and Patrice Evra at the back, he would get more out of the likes of Memphis Depay and Antony Martial, who are both quite young. And don’t forget you’ve got Rooney up there complicating matters like an old potato going soft and sprouty.

No, I don’t like Van Gaal either. He’s a great big spoilt kid who’d run to the teacher if you grabbed his crisps and squashed them, but he’s tried a few things and they haven’t really worked. If they had worked, they couldn’t be much further up the table but people would feel good about them.

All I ask of the top teams is that they do okay for us in Europe. You don’t have to love Liverpool to enjoy seeing them win the Champions League. We used to complain about Ferguson and fergie time and all that, but I’d rather see him breaking into his annual grin than the current Barcelona manager, wouldn’t you?


Ref! On derbies and decisions

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


Evening lads. I’m hot off the train from Manchester. Yes, the bore draw derby. It’s not surprising you get one of them now and then, though. The pressure, mate. You can feel it as soon as you walk in the ground. Even if you get there early, as the officials do, you can sense it.

The ground staff and the admin people, they’re giving you the old positive bit, but even they are a bit nervous. There’s a lot at stake – well, there was in this case. Not just what the media call ’bragging rights’, but this was two teams at the top of the Barclays Premier League.

You have to, Baz, you have to say Barclays, because sponsors put up the money for these things on condition that their name is linked to it at all times. So you don’t have to say Barclays, but someone like me has to, because I’m part of the whole Barclays Premier League family, if you like.

Where does a referee stand in that family, Dave? Well, I suppose we’re a respected uncle with a professional speciality that is called for at certain times and events. We’re a voice of authority, of reason, even. Without us it’s anarchy. In fact if referees didn’t exist they’d have to invent them.

Anyway, derbies, yes, the tension is all around. See young Bobby Madley got thrown in the deep end at Newcastle, where there was even more riding on it than usual, with Steve McClaren under pressure and Big Sam just installed at Sunderland.

And what does he get? A controversial sending off for an infringement that people could argue about till the cows come home.

The laws are clear but some are open to interpretation, Gary. Yes, a bit like the Bible, as you say. Thou shalt not barge people like thou didst in the 1950s, when the barge was about the most heinous of crimes but was perfectly legal, just frowned upon if you conceded a goal because of it.

Pint of Peroni, mate – no, that’s not open to interpretation. He’s a wag, isn’t he, Dave? It’s a pint, as defined by the weights and measures people – an English pint – and Peroni is the draught lager of that name. Yes, I suppose you could make it a pint out of bottles, but that would cost you even more, so only a fool would do that.

And the decision is going to be reviewed, yes. Can you imagine any other profession putting up with that? You’re in charge, you make a decision and it gets challenged. Exactly, Baz, bloody insulting. But that’s the way it is. It’s even worse in cricket, mate. They do it during the game, and not only that, the teams are encouraged to do it. They can make a certain number of reviews in each innings, so if you haven’t used up your quota towards the end it must be tempting to challenge a decision even though it’s obviously correct.

It’s transparency, which is a fashionable thing in all sorts of environments nowadays. Exactly, Baz, if something is transparent, you can see through it. No, it’s not the decision that needs to be transparent, it’s the process. Imagine the process as a box or a room, and the decision takes place inside. If it’s not transparent, you can’t see what’s going on. Yes, I suppose it has to be transparent for sound too, so you can hear any discussion. Is there a separate word for that? I don’t know, mate. I’m a football referee, not a bloody Professor of English.