FEW things on the planet are worse than watching football with a group of referees.
I discovered this at a party I attended at the weekend. Don’t, by the way, be fooled into thinking I have an exciting whirlwind social life.
This was my first outing since late May but as it was a close friend who had organised the gathering I felt obliged to attend – plus he’d said there was free pizza.
Upon arriving, I realised I’d made a grave error.
Most of the guests were referees. My friend, you see, went on a ref’s course a couple of years back and has since become obsessed. He recently went to a shop and paid £14.99 for a whistle on the basis that “it sounds clearer than my others”. I assumed he was cracking a joke, then realised – with sudden concern – he was deadly serious. He stood in the shop testing it. An old lady leaving the store with some bags assumed the alarm was going off and handed herself in to security.
Referees are a unique breed. My friend rises at the crack of dawn every Saturday and Sunday and sets off for various obscure outposts of northern England dressed in a natty black uniform, whistles and yellow cards tucked carefully into a little velvet bag he keeps in the glove box. He arrives an hour and a half before the game, walks around the pitch looking for glass and dog muck (if he spots a lump of excrement he carefully shovels it up and puts it in a little bucket he carries with him), then spends the next 90 minutes receiving foul-mouth abuse from strangers.
Often I’ve rung him to suggest a pint to be met with the words: “Not tonight, refereeing in Bridlington tomorrow so have to be up early. It’s a big game – Clampton Rovers under 13s against Thistlegout Athletic.”
But each to their own and I have to admit he has proved a dab hand at it, rising from Level 9 – the bottom rung of the ladder – to level four (reffing North West Counties matches) in rapid time.
Throughout his period as a man in the middle he has naturally made friends with fellow officials, and – getting back to the point of this twaddle – they were at this party.
They were already there when I arrived (I assume they got to the party an hour early to check the lounge for dog dirt and dangerous objects) and all were very pleasant.
But then someone made the disastrous error of putting Match of the Day on.
Never again. When Robin van Persie scored a cracking goal for Manchester United, I and a few other normal people remarked ‘great strike’, while nine voices behind me chimed in unison ‘good advantage ref’.
It got worse when a player was sent off for a late tackle.
It was a terrible decision from the official and I said so. Next thing I know I’d been circled by a pack of angry, red-faces and was being told in no uncertain terms that according to Law 65.4, Section Two of the FA Handbook, the player had to go. One lad jabbed his fingers at me and said: “Ticked every box”.
And so it went on. In the end I could take no more of what is usually my favourite programme of the week (after Jeremy Kyle, obviously) and retreated to the kitchen.
On the bright side, I stumbled on the pizza and filled my boots, so every cloud.
A few facts which may help you win your next pub quiz
A SUCKER for irrelevant statistics, I was delighted to stumble across a fact sheet all about Blackpool.
While my Gazette colleagues slaved away, writing stories and filling the very high-quality publication you hold in your hands, I drank a brew and marvelled at the fact that – according to the figures I found -– the resort has 90,636 holiday beds, 14 million people a year visit, and two million postcards are sent from this area.
The history of the resort is well known, but for the benefit of younger readers who spend their time watching celebrities cavort in a jungle rather than swotting up on local history (losers), let me recap.
The town used to be tiny, with a population in 1801 of less than 500. Yet a century later, Blackpool was a booming resort with a population of 47,000 and a promenade complete with a Tower, Illuminations, piers, fortune-tellers, trams, and shady-looking fellas selling six cigarette lighters for a quid.
The reason? Seven miles of sandy beaches made it an attractive place to come, and when a railway was built in the 1840s it gave the mill workers in the industrialised regions of northern England the perfect place to go for a break.
Alas it started to go a bit pear-shaped with the advent of the package holiday and, with less people visiting, the town became a tad run-down – a problem it’s still battling today, as Channel 4 so kindly highlighted.
History lesson over, a few final facts that, with a bit of luck, will prove crucial at your next pub quiz. The first visitors to Blackpool came in 1750. By 1788, the resort boasted four substantial hotels. Gas lighting arrived in 1852, piped water 12 years later.
North and Central piers opened in the 1860s, South Pier, the baby, built three decades later. 1894 was a big year - the Grand Theatre and The Tower opening for business. And one for the road, 47 miles worth of hot dogs are consumed each year at the Pleasure Beach. Fascinating. Now, memo to self: must do some work.
Liz: The new ‘Bogwatch’ star
MY request for people to send in meetings with famous people in public toilets (or Bogwatch, as I like to think of it) prompted a big response.
Steve Green emailed to share the afternoon he stopped at Charnock Richard service station to find himself in the urinals with former Prime Minister John Major and, out of nerves, extended his hand. “We shook hands in the act of passing water, but he was very nice about it all,” said Steve.
Service stations proved a popular meeting place with John Routledge chancing upon Peter Ebdon in Stafford – days after he’d lifted the World Championship title in 2002 – while Danny Telford had his picture taken with those international singing superstars Jedward in the loos at Lancaster. Best of the lot came from Jill Hendry, of Bispham, who claims to have queued for a toilet at Heathrow Airport behind the late Elizabeth Taylor.
Mrs Hendry, originally from Aberdeen and owner of a strong Scottish dialect, told the film star it was an honour to meet her and asked how she was finding London. “She looked at me,” wrote Mrs Hendry, “like I was completely insane and turned away.”
Nice to know success didn’t change Liz.