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 And he’s been replaced by a former manager of a Champion’s’ League-winning club.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 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.


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 relegation and history

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


You’re right, Dave. Business end of the season, and everybody’s thinking about Leicester and Spurs maybe winning the Premier League. They’re not bothered about that in the north-east, though, mate. Did you see Newcastle-Sunderland? Not the most attractive game of the weekend, but it’s a point for each and they’re pretty glad of it.

Yes, Baz, I do have a bit of a soft spot for Sunderland. My Dad’s parents came from there and they used to tell me stories about the glory days. They’re still the sixth most successful club in England as regards winning the league, although the last time they did it was in the mid 1930s or something. Yeah, I know, it’s just another statistic if you want to look at it like that, but it’s history really. Just because you and I weren’t around doesn’t mean it never happened.

One day there will be a bunch of people sitting around this table and they’ll hear about you and me and Dave and Gary, and how one of us was a professional referee but they won’t know us from Adam. And then the young barmaid – she won’t be young then but I bet she’s a good looking older woman – she’ll say “No, it’s true. Colin was a ref, I saw him on TV a lot and would have liked to bear his children, but he was spoken for. He was a handsome man and very charming and his mates were all right except that Baz, he was a bit of a gorilla.”

Cheers, Gary, tell you what, get us all a large scotch on me – I’m quite flush at the moment. Well you have what you like with it, Dave. I’ll have mine straight, no ice, nothing, like they do on TV in Mad Men and detective shows. You too, Baz? Good man.

Yeah, so Newcastle-Sunderland and they’re both staring into the abyss, as they say. Relegation. Loss of earnings. Players leaving. Bloody hell, mate, it’s grim enough up there at the best of times. Give the poor sods a bit of Premier League, at least.

You know what would be a good game? Pick three or four managers and predict what they’ll be doing this time next year. If we’d done that last year it would be like “Sam Allardyce vs Rafa Benitez. What’s the fixture? Big Sam was about to jump ship at West Ham 12 months ago and Rafa was in Spain, no…  Italy, with Napoli, Dave? You may well be right. He hadn’t even gone to Real Madrid yet. Who’d have thought they’d be presiding over the Tyne-Wear derby in 2016?

And if you’d said “Claudio Ranieri”, everybody would have gone, “He’s not even in England anymore and who’d be stupid enough to have him back?” Yet here he is, top of the pile with a no-hoper club and no money.

It just goes to show, Baz, yes. Show what, mate? No, I’ve always wanted to say that. Show what? It’s one of those expressions, that’s all.

Cheers, Gary. Down the hatch, eh? To the future, Baz. May the bluebird of happiness fly up your shorts one Sunday morning and transform you into Tony Adams.







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! Diego Costa

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 Bournemouth-Sunderland on Saturday. I tell you what, although a referee can’t afford to get emotionally involved, we’re only football fans like anyone else. There can’t be many people in England who don’t want Bournemouth to survive in the Premier League, because it seems like a nice little club from an area that doesn’t get much credit football-wise.

The old thing about Southern Softies – just because your Dad wasn’t down a coal mine eight days a week and you’ve got a nice beach to play on and the weather’s a bit warmer, that doesn’t mean you’re any less dedicated. Yes, I speak as a Surrey man, nothing wrong with that.

And on this occasion you had the complete opposite as the opposition. Sunderland, where hardship is worn like a badge of honour, it’s all “we had to eat earwax sandwiches” and the club’s struggling and changing managers every five minutes but they’ve got a glorious history if you go back far enough. So you want them to do okay as well.

But as a ref you keep out of the way as much as possible, We’re, to use the modern parlance, facilitators. What that means, Baz, is that we facilitate the match – we provide the framework, the rules, the schedule – that enables the match to be played. It’s one of those contemporary words that many people think are bollocks, but one has to rise above that and just do the job.

Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a large Scotch. I’ll get the large if you get the Scotch – no, it’s just what I feel like having, it’s not that’s I’m desperate to catch up just because I was half an hour late. I had a couple at home, as it happens.

See, that’s the challenge, and it’s what Mike Dean fell foul of in the Chelsea-Arsenal game. He got the blame in some quarters – Garth Crooks, to be precise – for becoming visible, if you like. He sent off two Arsenal players when the one who should have gone was Diego Costa. He’s a bleeding troublemaker, everyone knows that, but the referee can only give what he sees, and Costa does most of his mischief off the ball, when you’re following the action. So all you know is when the defender finally gets pissed off with it and lamps him one.

Like at home when the missus has been needling you in her subtle, underhand way that doesn’t break any of the rules of domestic interaction. She just quietly picks away at you until finally you might erupt and call her a fat cow or something. We’ve all done it.

Mike did what he thought was right based on what he saw, and I don’t agree that he was making himself the centre of attention. But you are anyway, that’s the trouble. I get home after a game and Yvonne’s daughter, Kellie – 16 now, Dave, why? – she’s noticed my performance and is very complimentary. What can you do? She’s a perceptive girl, takes after her Mum.