Ref! On the value of Europe

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 think we should make tonight a European night. Well, to acknowledge that these islands are part of a larger entity, namely a continent, and that we have many things in common. Show a bit of solidarity with the French.

Remember when the idea of a European league was being discussed back in the 90s? Yes, a lot of people thought that would spell the end of the English league. But the Champions League came along and it hasn’t done us much harm, has it? Yes, Baz, very perceptive – it’s not actually a week-in week-out league, but it’s brought us all closer together in terms of keeping an eye on other countries.

Personally I am not interested in watching one Turkish club whose name ends in spor playing another, but there you go. It’s just not the same when you don’t know the players. True, Dave, the Turkish league is full of Premier League rejects at the moment. Perhaps that’s a bad example.

Anyway, what I was going to get on to was the so-called El Clasico in Spain, where Barcelona hammered Real Madrid and suddenly Rafa Benitez is useless and has to go. It’s unfair isn’t it? What if Baz had a bad day on the building site and a wall fell down because he hadn’t built it right? Would the papers be screaming for him to be sacked? I know, Baz, nobody knows who you are, but I’m just using it as an example.

All right, me, then. I’m fairly well known, I’m on the telly a fair bit, football people know my name. They don’t scream for my head when I have the occasional bad game.

Yes, Dave, people call me all sorts of names, but they don’t want me removed from the roster. No, that was an internal matter and I was out for six weeks. I know I’ve never fully explained it and I’m not going into details now. Personal, mate, personal, and I’m not even going to respond to that – twat, he is, doesn’t belong in a professional body.

Bottle of something European, Gary, thanks, Lowenbrau or something – okay, something you can pronounce. A bottle of Pils will be fine, but no, not aspirin. He’s a card, isn’t he?

So, Benitez. One bad result and it’s Armageddon. So what if it’s their biggest rivals? It happens. Mourinho’s been in the slough of despond all season but nobody’s rushing him out the door.

In Spain it’s that Latin hysteria. They can’t take things calmly like your Brit can. Bloody Europeans is what I’m saying, Dave. Who needs them except for holidays on their beaches?

Yes, I do think we should stick together, because where would our out-of-favour players and managers go otherwise? The lower leagues in England? I don’t think so. Scotland? That’s even worse. No, if you’re in trouble you get on a plane to Alicante or Istanbul, mate. Lick your wounds there for a while. They don’t know who you are and they don’t care. You must be okay because of where you come from.

Ahem, where was I? Cheers Gary. Holsten, eh? Good old north London lager.



Ref! On the mediocrity of England

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


I know what you mean, Dave, England get to play a decent side after a dozen piece-of-cake games in the Euro qualifiers, and to nobody’s surprise we’re not as good as it looked on paper.

People are talking about Hodgson not having great resources to draw on, but I don’t know. I reckon he’s got the skeleton of a decent side, but what it lacks at the moment is authority.

Joe Hart, yes, Gary, the best keeper we’ve had since David Seaman. He’s not in the Peter Shilton league, but after the series of farces since Seaman, you look at him with a bit of confidence, don’t you? I’ll always be grateful to Fabio Capello for… hear me out, Baz… for.. yes, I know he was. I couldn’t agree more, but when we had that run when whoever we put in goal would have a nightmare, he kept Hart out of it. He was just emerging at the time but Capello protected him and sacrificed the likes of Rob Green instead. So Hart got his international career going after the storm had passed.

At right back, Dave, yes, Nathaniel Clyne looks the part, although again we haven’t seen him up against anybody really good and it was Kyle Walker against Spain. Ryan Bertrand on the left, did okay. Best thing he did was leave Chelsea, and he might only be keeping the spot warm for Luke Shaw, but he did well. Yes, exactly, whatever happened to Leighton Baines? He squeezed Ashley Cole out and then ran out of steam. Maybe he lacks ambition, the killer instinct.

Cheers Gary, pint of cider please. I don’t mind, whatever they’ve got. I just feel a bit rustic.

No, rustic, Baz, sort of countrified. I’m not rusty, it’s not even a week since my last game, and I do train, you know. Yes, referees train, of course they do. Hardest working man on the pitch, so we’ve got to stay fit.

Centre back, now there, Dave, as you rightly point out, we have a pool of possibilities. You can call it a pool of talent if you like. I’d call it a pool of mediocrity. Where’s the Sol Campbell, the JT, the Rio, the man of standing? Smalling, Cahill, Jagielka, Jones, they’re all able lieutenants… deputies, Baz… but they don’t stand like a rock in front of our goal. John Stones, yes, everybody hopes so, but we shall see.

Midfield, again, lots of people chasing around, and Ross Barkley’s got a spark, but who’s running the show a la Bryan Robson? Nobody. Inexperienced.

And up front, Harry Kane – fair enough. Sterling looks good in flashes but gives it away too much. It’s a work in progress, lads. And not really our problem. You get on with building extensions and I’ll referee football matches. And Roy Hodgson drinks from the poisoned chalice – which, before you ask, Baz, is a metaphor. A metaphor: an image that symbolizes what you’re talking about because it’s a similar… anybody fancy a game of dominoes?


Well, come on, lads. I don’t know what it is, but something’s going on. Abramovich hasn’t sacked him yet, but why not? To make him suffer? I’m the last to want to start rumours, but you’ve got to wonder, haven’t you?


Ref! On Klopp and statistics

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


Yes, Dave, I was one of the officials at Jurgen Klopp’s first loss as Liverpool manager. And I don’t say that with any pleasure, because it’s not nice to lose in any walk of life, but it happens. He had a very good introduction to the Premier League, with a few wins and draws, including stuffing Chelsea, so he can’t complain.

Plus he comes in with that big toothy grin and he’s probably had half the women in Liverpool throwing themselves at him, so for his own good he has to have a bit of rough with the smooth. Yes, Baz, I suppose some of those Scouse birds must be a bit rough, but you know what I mean.

People were leaving the ground with seven minutes still to play – well welcome to the real world. This isn’t a fairy story – and even if it was, there would have to be a bit in it where the hero faces a challenge. So he’s dropped three points: boo hoo.

Statistically he’s well in the black, not that stats are my favourite thing. Journalists these days tend to throw them in instead of actual insights. You know: Aston Villa have never won away from home on a date with an odd number, that sort of thing.

Who thinks them up, that’s what I want to know. I was reading this morning that in the Arsenal-Tottenham game, Spurs as a team ran 7km further than Arsenal. I mean, is that necessarily a good thing?

Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a light and special, and you don’t have to run round the car park twice before you get it. I’m not interested in your mileage, I’m looking for a pint as quickly as possible.

Mileage – how far players run during a game – that’s only of interest to a certain type of manager. You know Peter Taylor, Brian Clough’s old partner, well the two of them were on holiday in Mallorca once and they met a coach called Sammy Chung on the beach, and Chung’s bragging about how hard he makes his players work. He says he has routines that could make the Forest players physically sick. And Clough says, “When they start awarding three points for that we’ll be in touch.”

No, Baz, it was in Taylor’s book. I never met the guy, I was too young. But he and Clough used to value skill. Hard work as well, like, but not only that. Yes, three points. They used to get three points for a win.

Your cultured midfielder doesn’t have to be chasing all over the park all afternoon. They have other people to do that. Take Eric Cantona, as skilled a player as England has ever seen. In the French national side he had Didier Deschamps doing all the barking and harassing. Cantona referred to him as The Water Carrier, which was disrespectful, but there you go. Cantona was arrogant but brilliant.

A water carrier, Baz – in the Roman army you had the officers with the brains and the soldiers with the heroics and you had these other guys carrying water, because it’s thirsty work. What would you be? You’d be in the front line, mate, the front line.



Ref! On Mourinho and Chelsea

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


Evening lads. I won’t beat about the bush. I am gasping for a pint. Dave, here’s a 20, would you mind? Lovely, so I can tell the rest of you all about it. Well, I was at the Liberty Stadium for Swansea-Arsenal, and an entertaining game it was too, but that’s not what we want to talk about, is it?

It’s all about Jose Mourinho. What the four asterisks is going on at Chelsea? Exactly, Dave.

It all started with the doctor business, the Carneiro woman – no, really, that’s where all the trouble started. I’ve seen her up close, mate, and let me tell you she is a bit of all right. And I think Mourinho liked that element, the showbiz angle. It was all very Chelsea, wasn’t it? Playboys, always have been, right from the 60s with Osgood and Eddie McCreadie’s pink shirt and boozing up and down the King’s Road.

So they get bought by a Russian billionaire and they start winning things and they’ve got a charismatic manager. Then he leaves, but his soul never sets foot outside Stamford Bridge because it knows he’ll be back. And sure enough he does return, but in the meantime they’ve won the Champions League without him, whereas he didn’t manage it first time round

He’s getting older – hear me out, Gary – and he can’t just do a sort of Round Two, plus he’s got some hard decisions to make about David Luiz and Fernando Torres etc, which he does. But now the club’s lacking a bit of glamour, but suddenly, what’s this? A nice looking woman hanging around the pitch on match days. Can’t do any harm, can it?

But somebody with an ego like his can’t have co-stars hogging the limelight, even though, as I mentioned a few week ago, I reckon she had something going with the owner, Roman Abramovich. So Mourinho finds an excuse to get rid of her.

And it’s been all downhill from there, hasn’t it?

Now, someone like Abramovich, he didn’t get where he is today by being nice. It doesn’t just drop into your lap and change your life – just doesn’t happen like that. Okay, Baz, granted there was the time when Johnny Boothroyd’s uncle died and left him the burger van in Clacton – and Johnny never looked back until the heart attack – but that was an exception, a freak occurrence if you like.

The point is, nobody knows what’s going on at Chelsea, but you can bet your life there’s more to it than meets the eye. Half the side is off form at the same time. That is suspicious.

You remember the Ice Bucket Challenge last year? When you did one – and yes, thank you, Dave, my nipples have finally thawed out – you had to nominate somebody else. And Eva Carneiro nominated Branislav Ivanovich. It’s the kind of thing you do to someone you’re fond of, isn’t it? And now Ivanovich has aged 10 years over the summer.

Well, come on, lads. I don’t know what it is, but something’s going on. Abramovich hasn’t sacked him yet, but why not? To make him suffer? I’m the last to want to start rumours, but you’ve got to wonder, haven’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.

Ref! On Kendall, Mourinho and bad boys

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


Yes, I ‘done’ Newcastle-Norwich at the weekend, Dave. And refereeing-wise it was no problem at all. And so it should be at this stage of the season. Everybody’s settling down and it’s all to play for, as they say. There’s no point losing your discipline when there’s loads of time left.

Newcastle will be thinking they can get out of trouble and finish halfway up the table, and the best way to achieve that is with 11 players on the pitch. That’s a point that’s often overlooked by the less intelligent player. No, nobody in particular, Baz. It means less intelligent players in general; the ones who can’t see past the present moment.

That’s not the same as impetuous, but funnily enough the hotheads don’t tend to go into management afterwards. They go on TV and spend their second career trying to make us forget what twats they were in the first.

As a ref you can sometimes forge a decent relationship with a pillock after he’s retired, if he’s suitably embarrassed about his reputation. You get the odd one who still wants the world to come round to his point of view, but you often find that there was a brain in there all along. So you get your Robbie Savage, who as a player was a mouthy git with talent that was overshadowed by his volatility – sorry Dave, getting a bit poetic in my old age – but who’s actually all right. In his case there is the hair issue, yes, which has always been a feature.

Nowadays he’s not so much a scruffy sod as a preening bloody narcissist. It’s probably his missus, or one of the BBC’s make-up people. Stylists, they call them, and they’re obsessed with making people look attractive, or in Savage’s case ridiculous in a Kings Road sort of way.

Cheers Gary, I’ll have a brandy and Canada – no, that bloke’s hair just makes me think of the way we used to get stiffed by birds with expensive tastes – pint of Stella please.

John Hartson, he’s another one who’s gone straight since he stopped playing, and he can often sound quite intelligent and humble when he’s talking to that Jake Whatsit on Football Focus.

Yes, Dave, shame about Howard Kendall, but he was nearly 70 and it comes to all of us. Slightly before my time as a player, but he did wonders with Everton as a manager. Should he have been an England manager? Good question. His name never seemed to come up, did it? It would now, too true.

They’re starting to look at life after Hodgson, and Mourinho’s a candidate. It’ll never happen, mate, the guy’s too much of a maverick and they don’t like that. The FA were quite happy to let us think it was going to be Harry Redknapp last time when all along they had Uncle Roy up their sleeve. They wouldn’t have Cloughie and they won’t have Mourinho, simple as that.

Actually, I’m not that surprised that he seems to be considering it, because the way things are going this season he must be thinking it’s not a job for life at Chelsea after all. Yes, I wonder if he does drink pints of special. Cheers Gary. Good man.