Book Review: You Are The Ref

Posted by on Aug 7, 2013 in Book Review | One Comment
Book Review: You Are The Ref
Image available under Creative Commons (c) Chris Applegate

You are the Ref by Paul Trevillion and Keith Hackett
Published by Bloomsbury
2013, £14.99

First of all a confession. At age 14, it was already pretty clear to me that the summit of my ambitions on the football pitch would be confined to occasional run out for the reserves of my local village team. So, while still coming to terms with a complete inability to tackle or head a ball, I scoured around for alternative ways of gracing the Wembley turf.

Had I known, I could simply have booked myself a ticket for Live Aid, just two years away at that point, although a frankly miserable roster of acts would have been unlikely to appeal — so I was left with little alternative but to try and become a referee.

Over the course of ten wintry weeks, in an outhouse of the Maidenhead United Football Club complex at York Road, I took a course with 4 other budding middlemen, policed by an ashen faced club official with a 20 a day habit and a lugubrious insistence on the rightness of the referee’s decision in every case.

It put me off for life of course and although I loathe the tendency to blame the referee for all the ills that take place in a given game, it was once remarked to me that these people only do what they do because they like being in charge of 22 people at the same time.

Reading Howard Webb’s introduction to the beautifully produced new book version of the You are the Ref cartoons might seem to confirm this. A decent enough official to my mind, no opportunity is wasted to mention his officiating of the 2010 World Cup Final — perhaps understandable if it hadn’t been such a personal meltdown for the man in the face of Dutch and Spanish assaults — you don’t see Gareth Southgate’s by line proclaim him as a ‘famous penalty taker’ after all.

But ignoring that, the peregrinating strip that has served time in Shoot magazine (during my formative years), Roy of the Rovers and The Observer has been terrifically well served by this lavish artefact, authored by Keith Hackett, official at the classic two game FA Cup Final between Spurs and Manchester City in 1981 and later to become overall assessor of the breed.

He’s joined by long-time collaborator Paul Trevillion — and it’s this man’s illustrations that really give the book its punch — to this reader at least, turning the page to see David Moyes and Lionel Messi in graphic format confirms the update when one almost expects to see a toothless Joe Jordan in a Scotland shirt or Don Revie barking from the sidelines.

That said, the old adage that referees should be seen and not heard is perhaps weighed up by the meat and two veg central sections of the book with the laws of the game expertly trawled through even if the accompanying drawings are generic and don’t feature recognisable players. Needless to say, this is a part of the book you’d refer to rather than read.

So it’s the accompanying material that really holds the interest — a couple of anecdotes from Hackett on refereeing stateside including one in which the Portland Timbers lumberjack gets a mention as well as slightly matey pen pics of players and managers he has come into contact with including the laptop wielding, Prozone touting Sam Allardyce and Neil Warnock, of whom Hackett understates, ‘I must say that at times we failed to agree on certain incidents’.

Fun is made too — with Moyes and Rafa Benitez’s attempts to influence the officials with compilations of clips to prove they were right making them look wholly petty – while Arsà¨ne Wenger was supposedly amazed to hear that referees were not earning in the region of £45,000 a week like his players.

So in all, it’s a very well mounted affair and one that should find its way into the Christmas stocking of any discerning young teenager — although my advice would be to stick to trying to improve your left foot.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

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