The latest in a series of profiles and interviews, Orginal Fat Bob gives his personal view on the life and career of a footballing guest, before sitting down for a chat and asking a few questions. Our Diasboro special guest this week is Jeff Winter.
1. The Overview – the man and his career
I have known Jeff since at least 1984 (or even before that date), when we used to be refereeing colleagues. I know it was at least 1984 because a group of fellow referees including Jeff and I, went to Wembley to see one of our colleagues who had been appointed as an Assistant Referee for the FA Charity Shield in that year. For those who require the full facts, it was won by Everton 1-0 against Liverpool and our colleague had a great game. It was a memorable occasion and all eight of us travelled down to London in two cars, one of which being my own. A subsequent multi-car bump just outside London resulted in my car sustaining damage, so I do remember it well! I sold the car three weeks later, so it was quite an expensive trip.
I also seem to remember Jeff acting as an assistant to me for a local league cup final, when I was in the middle of the pitch as the referee. I may of course be wrong, but then my memory is a bit hazy to say the least these days. Let’s not forget, we are talking about a time nearly 35 years ago.
Jeff and I still see each other regularly down at the Riverside on match days and at social evenings. I was at the Riverside recently, when he hosted a football quiz on refereeing decisions, based on various incidents that can occur during a game. The room went unusually quiet and various theories about what should be the correct conclusion to questions were put forward. He told me not to say anything, then when no one knew the answers, he swooped on… me! Fortunately I could still remember enough about the laws of the game to give the right answers (phew!)
We also communicate and tweet on Twitter, so we keep in touch at least every week. Hopefully our love of football will shine through with our In2View and show that referees are human!
A man of many talents he was a bank manager, then a financial advisor before becoming a full-time referee. Jeff took charge of the 2004 FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Millwall, his final game as a professional referee before retirement. He supports Middlesbrough and Rangers. It is rumoured he was due to officiate in the 2004 Football League Cup Final, only to be ruled out due to Middlesbrough appearing in the final against Bolton Wanderers, so was there instead as a fan. He has also appeared as an official on the BBC TV programme Superstars.
Since 2006, he officiated in the annual series of national six-a-side tournaments called Masters Football, referees for which are FA endorsed. This competition features ex-professional footballers chosen by the PFA.
He also worked for TFM Radio on Teesside until June 2008 and currently writes many columns for local and national media, all of which can be found on his official site. He tours the country acting as an M.C. and host with other football personalities and can certainly control a crowd. He also has his own web site “JEFF WINTER The ref fights back.”
2. The Interview – a quick chat
OFB: What year did you start refereeing and did you always set out as your target, to be at the top of the profession?
JW: I started refereeing in 1979 at the age of 23, nowadays if you want to get to the very top starting at that age would make it very difficult. When I first started, I had absolutely no ambition to get to the top, it was merely a way of getting fit and being involved in football.
OFB: What made you decide to be a referee, were you any good at football?
JW: There was only one thing that prevented me getting to the top as a footballer, that was a distinct lack of ability! I’m better nowadays at Walking Football, but I would never had made it as a footballer, at any decent level back in the day. I fell into refereeing almost by accident. A customer at the bank where I was working, was the North Riding County Football Association secretary and he talked me into taking the course. Boro were having a poor time and he suggested that instead of going to the away games at the end of the season, that I reffed a few local games. I enjoyed it and at the start of the following season, I decided to commit fully. It was a very strange feeling, driving to ICI Wilton football ground on a Saturday afternoon, with the crowds heading the other way towards Ayresome Park. I almost turned the car around, but fortunately I didn’t.
OFB: Who was your favourite Boro player at that time, when you were just a spectator and others that you have refereed in friendlies?
JW: I had started going to Ayresome in the “Bob-end” around the early sixties. My first real memories were of the promotion winning side in 1967, John Hickton and John O’Rourke were amongst the stars of the time. Probably the best time for me as a supporter was watching when Jack Charlton was in charge. What a side we had back then, Graeme Souness was clearly destined for great things in the game.
The days under Bryan Robson were also very special and whilst we had a fair few top players none could match the one and only Juninhio.
OFB: Who is your current favourite Boro player and why?
JW: I love to see local lads do well for their hometown club, so Ben Gibson, Dael Fry and Stewie Downing are clear favourites in my book.
OFB: As well as being a Boro fan, you are also a keen Rangers fan and travel a lot to see them home and way. I know that it was because of the legendary Jim Baxter, but how did you come to support them?
JW: You are correct that as a youngster, Slim Jim was one of my favourite footballers. When I discovered Rangers history and what the club and its supporters stand for, it was an easy decision. They are a “British club” and their loyalty to the Crown and support for the Armed Forces, fit in with so many English supporters.
OFB: How many miles do you rack up going to watch football these days?
JW: I’ve never really thought of counting them to be honest, but last season I went to 119 games. I’m not a ground hopper type, I just go to watch games I want to. I saw Boro play 49 times last season, pity it couldn’t have been 50 with the last one being the Play-off final! I usually manage circa 25 Rangers games a season. When Boro or Rangers aren’t playing, I get to a fair few Hartlepool games and quite a lot of local non-league matches too.
OFB: Who are your current favourite Rangers players and why?
JW: After having to completely rebuild the team after being demoted to the bottom tier of Scottish football, there have been many players who have had the honour of wearing the shirt, that in better times would never had enjoyed that opportunity. At present, we are at the start of a new era with many new faces heading into Ibrox. I am excited that Steven Gerrard is at the club. He made his senior debut for Liverpool when I was the referee. He also made his senior debut for England at Wembley, when I was the Fourth Official. Obviously, he is not coming to the club as a player, but he has the ability to attract some good players to the club. I will always support every player who wears the shirt, for any side I am supporting.
OFB: When you and I were colleagues, we often talked about the actions of the late great Ray Dowle a revered local referee. Can you tell us any of the amusing anecdotes or pranks that happened to him?
JW: How long have you got? I was asked to do a piece for the Gazette when he sadly passed away, it was difficult to keep it clean. I stated at the time that despite what I achieved in the game nationally, I wasn’t even the best-known referee on Teesside, that honor was certainly well and truly deserved by Ray. He was a legend, his one liners were often imitated badly by many referees, myself included!! I was a poor imitation, but I must admit I tried to copy his sense of humour, to try and de-fuse situations on the pitch.
OFB: Did you try and emulate your style of refereeing, on any individual referee and did you always watch televised games for pointers?
JW: I was very lucky that many senior referees locally, offered help and guidance. We had a few colleagues who were assistant referees on The Football League, the likes of Stuart Louden, Bernard Elland, Ray Pallister and Fred Bond who helped Myself, Terry Lynch and Paul Henderson, when we made the jump to that level. I was very fortunate to meet George Courtney early in my career and his charisma and dedication helped me no end. I also had great respect for Keith Hackett. He used his physical presence to impose his authority on games, in much the same manner as the great Jack Taylor had done many years earlier. Sharing their build (it’s also very similar to mine OFB!) I tried to copy their style.
Whilst I did watch football on TV, I felt I learnt a lot more from being at games and I travelled with senior colleagues when I wasn’t officiating myself. That showed me a lot about their attitudes and performances both on and off the field.
OFB: In your opinion, who was the greatest referee you have seen in recent years and why?
JW: When he was first promoted onto the Premier League list, my bosses asked me to room with Howard Webb and get him used to life in the Premiership. It was very clear from the outset that he had everything to get to the very top. He was a class act and a great guy as well. In return for me being his agony aunt, he had to listen to me, fine tuning my fledgling After-Dinner Act, as I was due to retire at the end of his first season. It has always filled me with pride when he reffed a major game and Howard never forgets those nights when we shared thoughts and experiences. He should oversee the Referees in this country, be his own man and use his experience to help the next generation.
OFB: When it came to the time to become a full time official, was it an easy decision?
JW: It was brilliant! I never have regrets in life, so was happy to be in the first group of full time officials in this country. It’s easy to say now that I wish they had been introduced earlier, but at least I was there from the outset. To be paid to train each day and referee at the highest domestic level was absolute heaven.
OFB: What was your most memorable game, your own individual performance and best experience?
JW: Believe it or not I just loved refereeing, even whilst officiating on the Premier League I still refereed locally. At the highest level obviously, doing the FA Cup Final in 2004 was the most important game, but my career was littered with many important fixtures. At my time of refereeing, Leeds United against Chelsea was always a tasty encounter, I did it seven times during my time on the Premier League list. Probably one of the stand out games, was an afternoon at White Hart Lane when Spurs were 3-0 up at half time but contrived to lose 5-3 against Manchester United. At the same ground, the first time Sol Campbell returned to play for Arsenal against his former side, it was a game played in one of the most venomous atmospheres I ever encountered.
OFB: What was your worst game or experience and why?
JW: To be honest I was lucky. I had bad games but was fortunate not to have a career defining incident that is remembered to this day, unlike some of my former colleagues. Probably my worst incidents were nothing to do with my refereeing, a few were linked to the Hillsborough disaster. I refereed an anniversary game at Anfield against Aston Villa and it was very emotional for everyone before the game.
OFB: Is there a game that you wished you had refereed?
JW: Like I said earlier, no regrets. But, I thought that I had the mental strength and courage to officiate in the most hostile of atmospheres, so some of the games played in the cauldrons of European football would have been a challenge that I would have relished. Perhaps an Old Firm game would have been good as well!
OFB: Who was in your opinion the manager or manager that you just couldn’t get on with?
JW: The names left off this list will surprise as much as those on it. I didn’t get on with Laurie Sanchez or David O’Leary and always found Arsene Wenger to be sullen and unapproachable. This was even though I must be one of the very few referees of my generation, that never sent off an Arsenal player. My all-time nemesis though was Gordon Strachan, a decent man away from the cameras, but an absolute nuisance when in front of them.
I prefer to speak of the gentlemen that graced the technical areas, Sir Bobby Robson was the best, a lovely man and sadly missed. I also had a lot of respect for Joe Royle and Gareth Southgate was always a pleasure to be involved with. He was only ever dismissed once in his career and guess which prat did that?
OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you not like refereeing?
JW: Refereeing is about man management and with most players you could engage and enjoy a bit of banter. A few though I just didn’t get on with, West Ham’s Igor Stimac was always difficult, as were Steve Staunton and Danny Mills. Craig Bellamy always liked to have his say, I did get on with him though and he is a totally different person when he’s off the pitch. Much the same could be said about Alan Smith, at Leeds, he was a nightmare to Ref, always full of aggression and nastiness.
The worst teams were always the best teams football wise, they were that used to winning that they expected everything to go their way. When they didn’t, they were a handful. During my time, Fergie’s Manchester United always proved difficult, they thought that they were beyond reproach. I probably cautioned more of their players for dissent than any other side.
I don’t think I ever had a good game at Rochdale or Hull City’s Boothferry Park!! I am sure that a few supporters will be keen to add a few other grounds to that list though!!
OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you personally like refereeing?
JW: My favourite grounds were White Hart Lane, Anfield and Goodison Park. My favourite players were Gianfranco Zola, a real gent on the pitch and ironically some of the characters in the game such as Paul Ince and Alex Rae were great, and I always found it easy to enjoy some banter with them.
OFB: There was controversy this season, when a referee who was a self-confessed Sunderland fan, awarded a penalty against Boro in extra time. You quite rightly said, that it made no difference to a referee and that you had officiated at all the senior clubs in the North East. Do you think that referee will be seen at the Riverside next season, or will the FA discreetly keep him away from the fans?
JW: No one complained on the many occasions that he refereed Boro in the past, including last season when he was in the middle, in our victory at Bolton and when he substituted for an injured referee in the second half of a victory at The Riverside. Boro fans didn’t like Newcastle supporter Mark Clattenburg either and he didn’t end up having a bad career, did he? There was never a more self-confessed Boro fan than yours truly and that didn’t stop me refereeing many Sunderland and Newcastle games, including the last ever Wear/Tyne derby at Roker Park. Sunderland also asked me to take charge of the their first ever game at The Stadium of Light against Ajax. I also refereed Dickie Ord’s testimonial game for Sunderland against Steaua Bucharest.
No club or indeed its supporters should be able to dictate who the referee is, when you go out there you do your job and the conspiracy theories are just sheer stupidity.
OFB: As a self-confessed Boro supporter, who was in your opinion the best manager that Boro have ever had and why?
JW: Jack Charlton, it was a magic time for the club and their supporters.
OFB: Who was your favourite Boro player of all time and why?
JW: Juninho, a magician and a man who became one of us.
OFB: How do you think the match day has changed from the time that you were involved with professional football to the present day?
JW: It has changed drastically mostly due to the money now involved. At times it’s more like a business than a sport. Players are very clever and their ability to draw contact from opponents is almost un-detectable.
OFB: What do you think about the latest technology to aid referees decisions?
JW: Goal line technology is brilliant, it proves how virtually impossible it was for officials to get it right with only the naked eye. Regarding VAR, I am afraid, the jury is still out. I am not a fan, but it’s here to stay, so we’ll have to get used to it.
OFB: If you could be a fly on the wall, is there any dressing room you would wish to eavesdrop on?
JW: Any team managed by the so called “Special One”, I don’t like him. and it would be interesting to listen to what he has to say.
OFB: Do you have any regrets in your career, or missed opportunities?
JW: NO! No regrets!
OFB: Whom have you made a lifelong friend through football?
JW: Sadly, we lost Terry Lynch just over a year ago, a real character and a great friend during our time refereeing. My first roommate after the advent of Full time refereeing was Eddie Wolstenholme, I went to see him last weekend, he’s had a few health problems recently and my thoughts are with him.
OFB: A huge thank you to Jeff, for taking the time to talk to Diasboro readers and hopefully they will understand how referees think and act in the modern game. They should also appreciate that we start and then carry on officiating and talking at length because we love the game!