Captain: "Here, referee, my men say they'll murder you after the match if you declare us the losers."
Referee: "Yes; and as the other side say the same, it's pretty evident to me this game will be a draw."
[Drawn by HC Sandy for "Pick-Me-Up".]

"The troubles of umpire and referee are still fruitful in joke," wrote Arthur Thomas in February 1903, "though the hard-working referee would be the last man in the world to see any fun in it." This was in a comic essay, "Some Seasonable Sports", published in The Strand magazine, and accompanied by a cartoon originally drawn for Pick-Me-Up. Thomas argued that the referee had the most difficult job in football, and it was no wonder that he could not meet the unrealistic expectations of observers. An extract from the essay is republished below:


"For the great mass of people football is the prime winter sport, and the football player is more of a hero with a certain public than the Prime Minister. Fancy the latter, for instance, going up to Everton and taking a thousand pounds in gate money, or drawing a hundred thousand people to the Palace to see him work off a tie with the Colonial Secretary! The first of these fancies may be more ridiculous than the second, yet both are but a mean attempt to show that in the life of the present day a score of men running after a ball make more fun worth paying for than one man chasing a reputation.

The troubles of umpire and referee are still fruitful in joke, though the hard-working referee would be the last man in the world to see any fun in it. The time is said to be past when referees can be bought and sold, but there have been occasions when important decisions have been open to severe examination and criticism. The time has also passed when a captain can threaten a referee with murder should his side be declared a loser, but if such threat ever be made again the referee's course of action is certain. Declare a draw and everyone is satisfied. Ten to one the game will be played over again, more bets will be made, more ginger beer, milk, and other liquid consumed, and more money drop into the coffers of the competing teams. It is really a very great game.

The referee occasionally swallows the whistle, and thereby impedes the game and his own digestion, but trifles such as these should never count. Let the referee not forget that the credit of England and Scotland is, perhaps, at stake, and that uncertainty in his decision may bring down upon his head the condemnation of a multitude of Scots who know, with surprising aptness, how to let their wrath go forth with intensity of effect.

On behalf of the referee, be it said, he rarely has full justice done him. It is sometimes forgotten that he holds the most difficult position in the game, that his responsibilities are great, and that the reward of his diligence is usually complaint. The ideal referee should be a man with thin legs, seven-leagued boots, a cast-iron constitution, eyes on all sides of his head, and some knowledge of the manly art, where-with to defend his honest convictions against scurrilous attack. He should be bigger than any player in either of the opposing teams, and should always be where he ought to be and not where he usually is.

One writer has said, 'He must expect all kicks and no halfpence, and be content to be almost always blamed and but seldom praised.' In other words, he should be a paragon of righteousness and propriety. Is it any wonder, then, that the referees we see in caricature fall far short of the ideal?"


Read more vintage writing from the early days of football in the Goal-Post anthology books.

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