Veteran referee Ray Wright has a notebook full of memories
THERE’S not much that Ray Wright hasn’t seen during his 41 years as the man in black.
Bad language, late tackles, such misdemeanours are prevalent from the very top of the game right down to the bottom.
But how many times have you seen a 42-penalty shoot-out, a referee dismiss one of his own officials, or an assistant refuse to run the line because of the weather?
At the age of 77, former local footballer Ray is keen to carry on racking up the stories.
Ironically, freakish incidents – such as the aforementioned – stand-out more than any problematic player or team, and that could have a lot to do with the veteran’s approach to game.
“I think referees dish out yellow and red cards too quickly and in instances where the game is stopped due to a foul, many times I would rather the referee take the player to one side and have a chat with him,” said Ray, who lives in Felixstowe.
“But at the same time I would never threaten the player with a card because that gets their backs up.”
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Ray is certainly qualified to have such views, having recently been presented with an FA award marking 40 years continuous service at a meeting of Ipswich and District Referees Association.
“You cannot make up for experience. A first-class referee does not necessarily need to be a Class One
(graded) referee,” he added.
“We have always said there are 16 or 17 rules of the game and the last one is the referee’s discretion.”
Despite his easy-going nature, the experienced official has never been afraid to take a game by the scruff of the neck.
However, two of his more bizarre incidents involved his “trusty” assistants!
“I remember one game when the ball was booted down the slope at Bourne Park and the defending team made strong appeals for offside,” recalled Ray.
“Being in the centre-circle, I looked to my assistant for help but when I did not see him, I had to play on and fortunately, nothing came of the move.
“When the ball went out of play I stopped play to look for my linesman and there he was stood on a stool on the halfway line, flag in hand.
“He informed me that he had a hole in one of his boots, the ground was soggy, and he did not want to get his feet wet!
“I told him that was not acceptable but come the start of the second half, he asked me if he could continue his duties and on he went, running the line wearing odd shoes.”
The second incident was a little more unsavoury, this time with a different linesman, in a junior game.
“He threw his flag down at his feet because he disagreed with the decision I had made,” remembered Ray of the official that was from one of the two junior teams.
“When he went to pick it up I told him not to bother.”
With examples such as that, it comes as no surprise that certain young players are prone to show a touch of petulance during games, behaviour that can filter down the age groups.
“At a kids’ game, after the ball had gone out of play, a youngster came up to me and asked if I was going to give another player a yellow card,” he said.
“If it warranted a yellow card I would have given him one, I told him. This was a boys’ game. It was terrible.”
It’s not all been bad though and there are more than a few memories, many of which are tucked away in a shoebox at his home along with his trusty whistles, badges and awards.
The penalty shoot-out between hosts, Woodbridge Town and Murrayside in the late 1970s, stands out.
After an uneventful, goalless 90 minutes, he got the go-ahead to go straight to penalties as the light was failing.
Then there was an incident with the legendary Sir Bobby Robson during a game at Portman Road.
“We used to be on the officials list at Portman Road and used to officiate reserve games and trial matches,” recalls Ray.
“I was in the tunnel at a trial game and before it began, Mr Robson asked if he could give all the players a pep talk, so of course I obliged.
“He told the players that football was a lot about them using their feet and their heads but also told them to demand the ball too, even if they did not know each others’ names. They
had to make themselves heard.
“As I blew the whistle, chaos ensued as the 20 outfield players all began shouting and Mr Robson just stood there on the sidelines with a smile on his face.
“He was a gentleman. I remember once bumping into him at Alicante Airport and he took time out to introduce me to everyone that was in his party. The names were endless, Pat Jennings, Henry Cooper and Robert Powell to name just three.”
His trusty notebook may be predominantly used for cautioning people but it would be hard to believe that almost every page did not have a story to tell.