History of the RRA


Part 1: The First 50 Years – 1921-1970

We start with the problem of the date of foundation of the Reading Referees’ Association:

‘It is lost in the mists of time. Older members were agreed that it was started before the First World War, 1913 and 1915 have both been suggested’. However, ‘the first recorded minutes that have come to hand are those of the AGM held on the 6th of May 1924. The then Chairman, Mr C.A. (Claude) Newman resigned from office in 1931 and it is recorded that he ‘had served 10 years.’

So the Reading RA dates from 1921 – – at least.

It appears that, as early as 1922, the Society was in dispute with the National RA – over a sum of money – and  ‘after 2 years of correspondence agreed to accept the sum of £8-8s-0d [£8-40p] in settlement.’

Mr H.C. Salt took over as Secretary in 1924 but resigned in the November. As there were two aspirants, there had to be a ballot for his successor. Mr J.C. (Jack) Durman was elected and served for the next ten years (there being no fixed terms of office in those days). A proposition was put to that same meeting that ‘a resolution be sent to the local leagues that referees’ fees should not be below 3/6d [17 1/2 p]. The proposal was defeated by 11-2, suggesting that numbers at meetings were small in those days. In the late 20s and early 30s, however, the membership was in the 60s or 70s and meetings, it was reported, were ‘crowded’. Speakers came from far and wide, including on a number of occasions the best known name in the refereeing world of that era, Mr J.R. Schumacher. The meetings were held at Palmer Hall and ‘seemed full of interest and, starting at 7-30 p.m., seldom finished before 10 p.m’.

[When Jack Durman resigned as Secretary in 1934, he became Secretary of the RA Southern Division. and, in 1943, he became Hon. General Secretary of the National RA. He was made a Life member of that body in 1953, the year of his tragic death.]

At a meeting in 1925, Reading referees decided firmly against . . . Sunday football, (and it took nearly 40 more years for the Sunday League to be established). Also in 1925 the first steps towards the Berks & Bucks RA were taken, when Reading RA first proposed that Berkshire referees and Buckinghamshire referees should combine.

At the AGM in 1926, the two new committee members were Maurice Love and Lionel Gibbs.

Maurice was on the referees’ list of the Football Combination and Southern leagues and on the linesmen’s list of the Football League. He served on our Committee for 21 years, and from 1928 recorded 34 years of unbroken service on the Berks & Bucks FA Council. In 1933 he was elected Hon. Secretary of the Berks & Bucks FA and remained in office until his untimely death in 1962. In 1942 he had become the first Reading man to be the Berks & Bucks representative on the FA Council, and he was awarded the FA Medal for 20 years’ service. Maurice always retained his allegiance to the Referees’ Association, becoming President of the Berks & Bucks RA, and it was in no small measure due to him that Berks & Bucks FA became the first County FA to accept an RA representative on their Council.

Lionel Gibbs provided further evidence that there was a Reading RA in 1921, because that was when he joined. He was to become our most famous member. In 1926, only five years after starting refereeing, he became a Football League linesman. [That really is fast-track !] In 1929 he refereed the Amateur Cup Final and the following year was promoted to the Referees’ List. He soon had international appointments in Europe and was linesman for two pre-war Cup Finals. He refereed the 1944 Cup Final. After the war, in 1948, he went to South America where he refereed top matches all over that continent.

In 1934 Lionel had been elected to the Berks & Bucks FA Council where he served until his trip to South America. He was re-elected in 1951 and served until his death in 1985. He served as Match Secretary for many years, Deputy Chairman for 5 years; President for 6 years and was made a Life Member in 1971. In 1936 Lionel was elected Auditor of the Reading RA and held the post until 1974 (broken only by his South American venture). He was made a Life Member of the Reading RA in 1966 and remained a committed and active member until his death..

It was in 1928 that classes were first held by the society ‘for the guidance of intending referees’. In 1931, when Harry Taylor had become the new Chairman, it is recorded that the Reading RA was trying to get the County FA to inform referees of changes to the Laws of the Game and sent a resolution to the Berks & Bucks FA to that effect.

The following year Alderman F.A. Cox JP, stood down as President after at least 9 years – the record is not clear – and in appreciation of all his efforts was made the society’s second Life Member. His successor was Councillor (Major) Sainsbury who eclipsed that record by being President for 40 years and who won the lasting gratitude of the Reading RA by his handsome bequest of £20,000.

Also in 1933 the first certificates were awarded to the best club linesmen in recognition of their service – a practice which has continued ever since.

In the many lively discussions that took place at monthly meetings, the name of

Fred Porton (father of Alan) was frequently mentioned – a speaker well known for his authority and wit. He first became an Auditor in 1934 and continued to serve until 1973.. In 1967 he was made a Life Member of the Reading RA and later in the year awarded the MBE.

1934 was a most memorable year – Reading hosted the national RA Conference. The cost of staging the event was £100. A small amount by today’s standards, but the society had to raise it and it fell to Charles (Charlie) Kearse as organiser of the Conference. Charlie, for many years Secretary of the Benevolent Fund, had taken over as Treasurer from Mr R.R. Bragg (and was to serve for 20 years in that office).

Charlie Kearse had qualified as a referee in 1925 and worked his way through the Isthmian League and London Combination to the Football League, retiring at the age limit in 1947. He was linesman at the 1966 Wembley Cup Final and held the FA International Medal. In 1938 he became Secretary of the County RA, a position he held until 1962 when he took over as President until 1970. He was also the Berks & Bucks representative on the Southern Division of the RA for a total of 25 years. He made history in 1947 when he took his seat on the Berks & Bucks FA Council as the first direct referees’ representative to be accepted on to any County FA. He served with great distinction for 14 years. Charlie was a regular attender at the RA Conference and become a nationally known figure in the world of referees. In recognition of his contribution he was made a Life Member of the National RA in 1955 and was the fourth Life Member of the Reading RA.

When Jack Durman relinquished his position as Secretary of the society to take on the role of Secretary of the Southern Division, the vacancy was filled by committee member Harry Collier, who had begun refereeing some 10 years earlier. When he was made a Life Member of the society in 1964, he had just given up the job after 30 years’ service. For many years until 1962 he had been Assistant Secretary of the County RA and also acted as Appointments Secretary for the local leagues.

In 1937 the momentous decision was taken to change the Annual Dinner into an Annual Dinner and Dance – ladies were to be invited to join us for the first time. The tickets cost 3/6d (17 1/2p) but the dance alone cost 1/- (5p).

Also in 1937 Mr G.H. Cusden took over from Mr J.H. Taylor as Chairman for a spell of 12 years including the period of the war. The following year, committee member and former Assistant Secretary Alf Wooldridge became Vice-Chairman and was Chairman from 1949 -1959. Alf reached the Football League line and in 1969 he was made a Life Member of the Reading RA.

National and even world events are reflected in the minutes of the Association. For instance, during the Great Depression of 1929, a social evening was arranged with the Basingstoke Society – return fare 2/- (10p). It was agreed that any member out of work could join the party free of charge. In September1939, the Chairman suggested to the Committee that, as all football had been suspended owing to the state of National Emergency, RA meetings should also be suspended, He expressed profound regret that the start of what appeared to be a most successful season had been marred by the outbreak of war. Meetings were resumed in 1940 but suspended again until a special meeting was called in September 1945 to restart the Association with the Officers elected at the AGM in 1940. The Chairman gave a special welcome to Alf Turner, Assistant Secretary in 1939, who had spent 5 years as a prisoner of war

Cecil Grieshaber, after two spells as Assistant Secretary, took over the Chairmanship in 1949 and served for three years. An authority on the Laws of the Game, Cecil ran the training classes for intending referees for a number of years. At the end of the war, buying a referee’s ‘suit’ was not just the question of having the money, because of clothes rationing. An allowance of 12 clothing coupons was made to the Association to help referees to equip themselves.

1947 saw the largest ever meeting of (or rather organised by) the Reading RA. Stanley Rous (later Sir), then Secretary of the FA, came to talk to the society. The meeting was attended by some 200 people, though the membership at the time was only 52. Also in that year, Fred May, a former committee member and a Berks & Bucks FA Council member, was appointed Secretary of Reading FC. Fred was to serve as a County FA Council member for 44 years, was made a Life Member in 1971, and served as President from 1986-1990.

In 1954 Ray Smith took over from Charlie Kearse as Treasurer and was succeeded in 1958 by Ray Weedon who finally relinquished the role in 1974. Ray rose to be a Football League linesman and lined at an Amateur Cup Final. Ray remained a member and reader of the magazine even after his retirement to Dawlish.

Also in 1958 the Reading Referee, Official Newsheet of the Reading RA, was started [and apparently nobody noticed the misspelling of Newssheet during its lifetime]. Dick Sawdon-Smith, now one of our Life Members, took over as Editor four years later and was at the helm for 22 years.

After serving on the Committee, Mr A.W. (Bert) Newman became Chairman in1962, with a new Vice-Chairman, one George Mills, and a new Assistant Secretary Peter Jefferis. Bert, a Football League linesman and a Berks & Bucks FA Council member held the position until 1969. During Bert’s period in office membership reached 100 for the first time.

A member for 30 years George Rumsey resigned from the Committee in 1963 and in 1970 was made a Life Member of the Association.

George Mills took over from Harry Collier as Hon. Secretary in 1964. George also became Berks & Bucks RA representative on the County FA in 1965 and representative to the Southern Division of the RA in 1970. Len Forbes took over as Vice-Chairman, and was elected Chairman in 1969.

It was in 1964 also that the Reading Chronicle accepted the weekly ‘Referees’ Viewpoint’ from the Society, echoing the ‘Referees’ Corner’ it published in the 1920s. In its turn the ‘Viewpoint’ was the forerunner of Dick Sawdon-Smith’s long-running series ‘From The Middle’.

In 1965 the Association introduced the first Quiz for Clubs on the Laws of the Game. This became an annual event until support dropped away. The following year the ‘Fair Play Award’ for clubs was initiated to encourage clean and sporting play and would be awarded annually on the basis of marks awarded by referees The awards continue nearly 50 years later.

Part 2: The Next 25 Years – 1971-1996

 The story of the first fifty years of the Reading RA gave testimony to the years, sometimes decades of dedication of a number of members, often in the same role. The next 25 years were to see contributions by individuals no less significant, but often for more intensive periods and in a variety of offices and roles.

Importantly, the Reading RA  became involved more widely in matters of policy affecting the business of refereeing. While the society has continued with its traditional vigour to fulfil its major objectives ‘to provide opportunities to meet regularly for the discussion of matters relating to refereeing and football in general’ and ‘to provide training classes for intending referees and further guidance and training for qualified referees’, it has made a more significant contribution to the wider debate concerning referees and refereeing – at local, County and national levels.

A summary chronological record of the third quarter century of the society can do no more than give a flavour of all that has gone on. It does, however, highlight how the referee’s lot has changed over the years, how much of what was most valued in the society’s activities has remained, and how many of those things perceived by the society as needing change – in both refereeing and football – have continued stubbornly to resist it.

The most special event of the Reading RA 50th Anniversary was the Jubilee Dinner. Although Sir Stanley Rous was unable to attend, guests included Dennis Follows, Secretary of the FA, Jack Taylor the FIFA referee of World Cup Final fame, and the Mayor and Mayoress of Reading.

At the AGM in 1971, Cecil Grieshaber, an officer first in 1936, was made a Life Member. Cecil had served on the Committee, had two spells as Assistant

Secretary, three years as Chairman and also ran the training classes for a number of years. Ray Weedon, Treasurer for 14 years stepped down and he and Ray Stroomer were made Vice-Presidents, Alan Porton failed to be elected Press Secretary, but it was not to blight his future career as a journalist, arguably because he became Assistant Editor to Dick Sawdon Smith.

For the first time the FA Memorandum for the new season referred to the ‘professional foul’, and the ‘flick-up’ free kick was outlawed.

For the Reading RA this was a period of frequent social activity: in addition to a successful seaside outing to Bournemouth in the Summer, the first Children’s Party was held at Christmas.

The Berks and Bucks FA announced that promotion from 3 to 2 was no longer to be automatic and in the Reading Referee Dick Sawdon Smith invited the assessors to look at what was important (e.g. not the colour of the laces !).

In February 1972, Major Sainsbury, President of the Reading RA, died. An architect and surveyor by profession, former Mayor of Reading, a scouting rather than a football enthusiast, he simply believed in referees and refereeing and served the society faithfully as President for 40 years. He was also to become our unexpected and generous financial benefactor.

This was an outstanding season for the Reading RA’s own football team, the Whistlers. They won the County 6-a-side competition and the Southern Region Finals of the national 5-a-sides. In spite of defeat in the national finals at the Albert Hall, it was a memorable visit.

Life Member Charlie Kearse was elected President, Peter Jefferis became Chairman and John Lambden joined the Committee. The new Chairman determined that the business at monthly meetings would be given only 30 minutes and chairs would be re-arranged around tables to make the atmosphere more informal. (Those who know the Oddfellows’ Hall, the venue at that time, will recognise the need).

In an article in the Reading Referee, Alan Porton made a case for ‘professional referees’, well before the idea gained media popularity.

In February 1973 the month’s Guest Speaker was Barrie Davies, the TV commentator. This was also the year of a serious disagreement with the County FA. A member had been assessed and recommended for promotion from 3 to 2 but his promotion ‘deferred’ by the Berks & Bucks FA because, in their view, he had not been refereeing long enough – this in defiance of FA policy.

New President Fred Porton made a presentation to Harry Collier in recognition of his 25 years as Referees’ Appointments Secretary for the (then) two Saturday leagues.

Don Serjeant, who was to become our oldest member, took office as auditor

and John Lambden became Assistant Secretary. The society also said good-bye to its first black member, Sig Owojemi, who was leaving his many friends after six years in Reading to return to his native Nigeria.

Guest Speaker at the October 1973 meeting, Ted Gale, Chairman of Harrow Society and father of our Committee member Terry, made a spirited attack on the lethargy of the national RA – to become a recurring theme in Reading and elsewhere – together with a plea for a full-time administration.

The 100 Club, established in 1970 to give financial support to the society, was wound up, but the emphasis on fund-raising remained, with regular jumble sales and raffles forming an important part of the society’s activities. Bernie Young joined the Committee to fill a vacancy.

The dispute with the County FA over promotions continued and the society caused controversy, even in the national RA, by writing direct to the FA (as it was FA policy that was being flouted). When the FA rejected our approach as ‘not through the proper channels’, a ‘boycott’ was proposed by one member in view of this and the lack of support given to referees ‘by the disciplinary set-up’. The article containing the proposal caused a stir, but members did not go on strike. It is interesting in retrospect to note that official statements at this time always referred (accurately) to referees as ‘men’.

At the 1974 AGM, Maurice (‘Mo’) Baker, a committee member since 1966, became Chairman, and the George Mills/John Lambden partnership, which was to prove highly influential in many aspects of the Reading RA, was formed: John became Secretary and joined George on the training team. George moved to Vice-Chairman after 10 years as Secretary. John’s first initiative was to start the scheme (now called ‘mentorship’) to support newly-qualified referees.

The October 1974 Guest Speaker, FA Cup Final referee, Gordon Kew, bemoaned the fact that when he started to referee in 1950 ‘players controlled themselves’, but it was no longer the case.

In February 1975, after two years, we won our dispute with the County RA over promotions: in future they would be on merit, irrespective of the referee’s length of service.

In the February/March edition of the Reading Referee there was a spirited article by George Mills urging the RA to take full charge of refereeing matters. David Keen took office as Treasurer after one year on the Committee. A former recipient of the Club Linesman’s Award (and more than once), present Vice-President Terry Gibbs got his Class 1 and also took over as Treasurer of the Reading Combination League.

Members were warned not to become involved in unaffiliated football.

1975 was historic for the society. A woman passed the training course for the first time: Janice Stanley, daughter of one of our members. Amazingly she was not allowed to qualify and officiate, as the FA still did not accept women referees.

Spring 1976 was particularly sad for local referees and football with the deaths of Charley Kearse, Maurice Edelston and Vic Beasley.

At the AGM George Mills became Chairman, and Dick Sawdon Smith Vice-Chairman. John (‘Bunny’) Waters resigned after serving 15 years on the Committee.

The season 1976/77 opened with a new-look Reading Referee. For the first time it had a ‘real’ cover and was professionally produced by local printers Lamport Gilbert. Though still only four sides, the content was cleverly increased by the use of a smaller typeface – 11 point? (though even smaller was to come).

The society complained to the County FA about their practice of automatically making new Council members both assessors and examiners of referee trainees, whether or not they had actually been a referee. The issue had come to a head because a new Council member had actually taken the examination to become a referee and failed. The County FA took no action.

At the end of the Autumn training course one of the successful candidates was Wendy Prior who was allowed to qualify. A former player with Bracknell and Reading Ladies, she went on to get her Class 2 and officiated for a number of years in local football.

1977 was to prove a vintage year for refereeing. The FA appointed a National Referees’ Training Officer, Ken Ridden; the national RA appointed its first paid secretary; the Reading RA made national policy at the NRA Conference. The society had accepted a proposal from President Fred Porton that all referees should belong to the RA, which could then speak for all referees and make it possible for us to conduct our own affairs. The motion for 100% membership, as it became known, was passionately presented by Chairman George Mills on behalf of the Reading RA and carried by a huge majority in spite of the Council’s opposition. It has, however, never been implemented.

The 1977/78 season opened with a different sort of dispute with the Berks & Bucks FA. The County RA’s elected representative to the County FA – Ken Walker – had been rejected ‘because of his behaviour and attitude’. The County RA saw it differently, believing he had persisted in asking legitimate questions and trying to get answers, and went so far as to seek legal advice. The matter petered out in 1978 when, sadly, Ken decided to resign from all football.

Peter Jefferis became President, Dick Sawdon Smith Chairman and Geoff Way took on the office of Treasurer for what was to be the first of three occasion.

Two new Committee members were Derek Reigate and Brian Palmer.

The first course of the 1978/79 season saw the introduction of the practical element into the society’s training programmes. It was introduced by John Lambden, based on his experience in the Army. A special match was arranged by the Sunday League (it later became a regular League match) and trainees took turns in the middle and on the lines ‘shadowed’ by a qualified official. The society proposed a form of proportional representation for voting at County RA meetings, but it was never accepted.

December 1978 is distinguished by the first note of Martin Shearn’s concern about the state of players’ studs. The national RA took out an insurance policy designed to cover members in case of assault. At the Annual Conference George Mills received the Long and Meritorious Service Award for his service to the RA dating from 1956.

David Keen, member of the training team, was appointed to the line of the FA Vase final at Wembley.

Lionel Gibbs, Life Member, was elected President of the County FA. Bert Newman, Vice-President of the society, died at the beginning of the new season. (The Fair Play Awards were subsequently given his name in commemoration). As a referee Bert reached the Football League line and among his extensive service to the RA were 12 years as Chairman. He was probably better known as Secretary of Division 5 of the Berks and Bucks FA and long-serving Secretary of the Saturday Combination League.

In March 1980 a dinner was arranged at Wokingham FC, at which the national RA President Ken Burns made a special presentation of his MSA to George Mills.

David Keen was appointed to the Football League linesman’s list, joining fellow members Tom Bune (middle) and Peter Pittaway (line)..

At the AGM John Lambden did not seek re-election as Secretary in order to concentrate on training; Geoff Way became Secretary and Derek Reigate replaced him as Treasurer. Thanks to Sunday League Secretary and County FA Councillor ‘Chippie’ Taylor, briefing meetings for assessors were introduced for the first time.

1981/82 was a special season in a number of ways. Derek Reigate became Assistant Secretary of the County RA; Reading RA membership passed 150 for the first time (12 years after reaching 100 and our congratulatory letter from the County FA); an innovation was a special (and very well attended) meeting arranged on a Monday to listen to TV commentator John Motson. Brian Palmer carried out a survey of local clubs to examine their attitude to referees and his findings were published in an expanded issue of the Reading Referee and re-published in the national RA publication, the Football Referee. He also published an article in the latter advocating a practical element in the referees’ qualifying examination. The Reading society endorsed a proposal on those lines to go to the national RA Conference where it was proposed by Brian, ably seconded by John Lambden, and carried by a large majority. Although it remains RA policy (like 100% membership), it has still to be implemented by the FA.

In 1982 David Keen passed the course to become an FA Licensed Referee Instructor, Reading’s first.

In the summer of 1983 Peter Willis, former Football League referee, was elected President of the national RA. Dick Sawdon Smith resigned after 22 vigorous years as editor of the   to be replaced by Brian Palmer, who was to hold the post for some 17 years.

1983/84 was again special. The society received a bequest of £10,000 under the will of Major Sainsbury, the former President (which was to be followed by a second similar sum). After much discussion, it was decided initially to invest the money.

Following the Annual Conference, there was an inconclusive exchange of correspondence with the national RA over the lack of action on the proposed inclusion of a practical element in the qualifying examination. The County RA accepted a proposal to implement it in the Berks & Bucks, but it has never happened. At the national RA Conference Dick Sawdon Smith received the Long and Meritorious Service Award in recognition of some 30 years of service to the RA.

The Reading RA made history (again) in 1985 through Brian Palmer in his role as Press Officer, with a recruiting advert (complete with specially written jingle) on local Radio 210. Feedback from candidates showed that it had had some effect but it was discontinued the following year as not sufficiently cost-effective. His subsequent  series of articles in the Reading FC match programmes, as well as introducing spectators to points of interest in the Laws, acted as a further (and cheaper) stimulus to recruitment.

National RA took the ‘Reading proposal’ for a practical element in the qualifying examination to the FA Referees’ Committee, only to have it turned down.

Dissatisfaction with the Oddfellows Hall, where meetings had been held for some twenty years, was increasing. It was considered by its critics to be rather spartan and unwelcoming and had to be ‘dry’ – though drink was available at the Nag’s Head across the Oxford Road. The Hall’s major advantages were that it was central and free. The search for a new venue was started.

Harry Collier, Life Member, who had served as Secretary for a remarkable 30 years until 1964, died.

The season concluded with Wendy Prior, our first active woman referee, being awarded the middle of the Reading Junior Cup. Two of our members officiating on the Football League – Tom Bune and Peter Pittaway – were retired.

The 1985/86 season started sadly with news of the death of our most

(internationally and nationally) famous (Life) member Lionel Gibbs: the ‘Mighty Atom’ as he was nicknamed in South America during the 1948 World Cup. Lionel’s service really was remarkable. In 1929, eight years after qualifying, he refereed the FA Amateur Cup Final, in the 1930s travelled Europe, officiating in league and international matches. He refereed the FA Cup Final in 1944 and then achieved even greater fame as one of the first English referees to officiate in the World Cup. 64 years an active member of the Reading RA and 52 years of service to the County FA, Life Member and finally President.

The Sunday League, ever conscious of the need for referees, helped to stimulate recruitment by offering 25% of the cost of kit for referees who would do a minimum of six games on their league.

Nationally the first proposals for a ‘super league’ were being made.

In memory of our benefactor, a Major Sainsbury Award was instituted to be presented annually to the member who was adjudged to have made the best contribution as a referee in local football. The autumn training course had an all-time-high enrolment of 54 (while attendance at monthly meetings was also about 50).

The Committee took up the question of associate membership with the national RA which seemed to be misinterpreting its own rules. It was hoped to have the designation ‘associate’ particularly for youngsters who would not then be obliged to affiliate to the national RA and pay the fee. Although legal advice supported the society’s view, national RA did not concur and the matter was finally dropped to avoid possible litigation.

Fred Porton and Don Sarjeant received a special presentation to mark their 50 years’ service to the Reading RA.

The opening of the new season was marked by a change of venue – to the Trades Union Club in Chatham Street, just behind the Oddfellows’ Hall. The magazine editor Brian Palmer introduced a new Handbook which contained, along with a variety of information about the society and refereeing, the new rule allowing membership details to be held on a computer. Stephen Green joined the Committee and, thanks to him, the magazine had a newly-designed cover. (The new society photocopier made it possible to average 24 pages too).

In November 1987, Life Member Fred Porton died after 59 years of membership and a variety of offices in the society. He also served as President of the County RA which he helped to found and was a Vice-President of the County FA.

The society’s practical training was captured on video and created a good deal of interest nationally. Copies were circulated on request as far afield as the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. Membership reached 146, the second highest ever.

David Keen had his third Wembley appointment – on the Littlewoods Cup -before being retired from the Football League linesman’s list.

Summer 1987 saw a number of changes of personnel: John Lambden completed his term of office as Chairman and stood down from his role as Senior Training Officer. Bernie Young was elected Chairman; Dick Wilkins became Vice-Chairman; Peter Hitt and Pat Monaghan joined the committee; Stephen Green became the Public Relations Officer of the County RA.

In July, Ken Ives, 15 years a Committee member, former Supplies Officer and stalwart attender of the National RA Conference, died after a brief illness, aged only 55.

Late in 1987 Reading members were asked by the Chiltern Society to back a proposal that referees should receive a fee for attending personal hearings. Reading members agreed unanimously (and magnanimously) that attendance was part of the job of a referee and should therefore not be paid for by separate fee. Magazine editor Brian Palmer published the first digest of statistics about members from his computer database. A presentation was made to Don Sarjeant and Ray Weedon in recognition of their service as auditors (15 and 10 years respectively).

In March 1988 Peter Jefferis died after a few months’ illness. He was in his late fifties. Peter was the founding editor of the Reading Referee in 1958 and had held various offices including that of Chairman. Peter was an articulate and committed member who had given much and still had much to give.

The annual quiz on the laws of the game for local clubs, devised and introduced by Dick Sawdon Smith was discontinued after 13 years for lack of support.

The long-running battle with the Berks & Bucks FA over disciplinary suspensions was re-activated when they suspended a wrong-doer for a month – from 31 May.

John Moore and Graham Stockton were elected to the Committee and Dick Sawdon Smith was elected President. County FA Certificates of Meritorious Service were awarded to George Mills, John Lambden and Dick Wilkins.

1988/89, and the new Reading Football League (created from the merger of the District and Combination Leagues) successfully got under way.

A ‘Problem Spot’ was introduced into monthly meetings as the Problem Box tried at intervals had had no lasting success.

The season’s membership of 152 was the second highest ever. It helped that free membership was being given to successful trainees for their first season.

At the 1989 AGM it was decided, on grounds of cost, to discontinue the practice of presenting a copy of the new Referees’ Chart to every member. The annual membership subscription had nevertheless reached £10 for the first time.

George Mills was elected a Vice-President of the County FA. In the autumn of 1989 the national RA completed the purchase of a Headquarters building in Coventry. It also turned down the Reading RA proposal of John Lambden for the Long and Meritorious Service Award, on the grounds that his massive and innovatory service to refereeing, first in the Army and then in Reading and the County, did not quite add up in days and weeks to the required total. In spite of members’ indignation at John’s unjust rejection, he typically urged the society not to challenge the decision.

In three successive issues (January-March 1990), the Football Referee published its longest article ever, written by Brian Palmer on the ‘The Training and Retaining of Referees’. The article was based on extensive research, including a survey of all referees’ societies and County FAs.

In February 1990 the society wrote to the President of the national RA in support of Alan Robinson, the RA Public Relations Officer, who had been found guilty of ‘improper behaviour’ by the FA, because he had said publically that some players are cheats. The RA support was of no avail.

There were again frequent complaints from members about the poor condition of local park changing facilities. The society’s dissatisfaction with the inefficiency of the management of its (relatively) new venue – the Trades Union Hall – came to a head in March. There had been a history of double-bookings and meetings having to be held in a noisy and cramped bar area. A deal with the Reading FC Supporters’ Club, the Royals Rendezvous Club in Tilehurst Road, was quickly negotiated for the 24April meeting. The annual Dinner and Dance had to be cancelled for the first time since its inception, due to lack of support.

Members again expressed concern when the County FA which suspended a player only from 2 April to 24 June for head-butting.

Dick Wilkins became Chairman; Graham Stockton, Vice-Chairman; Stephen Green, Senior Training Officer. This was the year the FA Cup Final was replayed on the night of our AGM – and some 80 members attended ! (It never became clear whether it was wonderful commitment to the society or dread of the quality of the football they would otherwise have had to watch).

At the annual National Conference, Life Membership of the NRA was conferred on George Mills, only our second member ever to be so honoured. To summarise his extensive service: George had started as a committee member in 1956 and been Secretary for 10 years, Vice Chairman, Chairman, Recruitment Officer (as it was then called), Training Officer, President. And it was George who presented the 1977 motion to Annual Conference for 100% membership. He had also been the County RA representative on the County FA for 10 years and B & B representative on the Southern Division for 17 years and had just been elected President. He had been awarded the Long and Meritorious Service Award of the RA in 1980.

This was also the summer of the FIFA ‘mandatory instructions’ – including the red card for destroying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity – which arguably brought the biggest change ever to refereeing.

Dick Sawdon Smith and Terry Gibbs collaborated to publish a First Aid booklet for clubs: So You Carry the Sponge.

The FA, concerned about the difficulty of recruitment into refereeing, set up an incentive scheme for County FAs, though in many counties including the Berks & Bucks, the training is conducted by the RAs.

Membership reached a record 166. In December 1990 George Mills stood down after 25 years as a member of the training team.

At the 1991 AGM John Lambden was made a Life Member of the Reading RA in acknowledgement of his 44 years of meritorious service to refereeing. David Keen, former Treasurer, member of the training team, FL linesman and currently FL assessor, was made a Vice-President. In a 3-way election, Graham Stockton was elected Chairman for 1991/92. Andy Awbery, Stewart Mills and Gary Webster joined the Committee and brought a welcome and considerable lowering of the average age.

The National RA Conference decided to press for a seat on the FA Council.

Early in the new season the national RA Council caused great ill-feeling among societies by deciding on a levy of £1 per member to provide a contingency fund against possible VAT liability. Many societies began to question more than ever the value of the national body.

In a front page article in the May 1992 issue of the national magazine, the Football Referee, Brian Palmer suggested areas of necessary reform and proposed a Development Group or ‘think tank’ – an idea taken up by other members but not by the RA Council.

John Moore joined the training team. Membership reached 173 in 1991/92 – the highest ever – and the practice of giving free membership to successful trainees for their first year was discontinued. The Guest at the Annual Dinner was Peter Willis, President of the national RA. Derek Reigate was elected Vice-Chairman and replaced Dick Wilkins who had served on the Committee since 1976 and also been Assistant Secretary. Pat Monaghan was elected Secretary; Stewart Mills, Assistant Secretary, Neil Isham, Treasurer.

During the summer of 1992, Graham Stockton became an FA Licensed Instructor after attending the 2nd year course.

At a Special Meeting held before the September monthly meeting, a Disciplinary Code for members was accepted. (It has never had to be implemented). At the November meeting, youngest member Ritchie Condon (aged 15) made a presentation to Don Sarjeant, the society’s oldest member, to commemorate his 90th birthday. The local leagues rejected yet again a proposal that they should only appoint RA members to their games.

April 1993 was to bring tragedy – Chairman Graham Stockton collapsed and died at the age of 43 while refereeing an evening match. Well-known ex-local player, poacher turned gamekeeper, Graham had brought the wind of change into the society. Energetic and committed in the training team, then as committee member and ultimately Chairman, he made an important but all too brief contribution to the Reading RA. Stephen Green, Senior Training Officer, was elected to replace him Also at the AGM, retiring President Dick Sawdon Smith was made a Life Member in recognition of his service during 40 years’ membership, including 22 years as editor of the Reading Referee, office as Chairman and President, founder and manager of the RA football team, the ‘Whistlers’, as well as responsibility for numerous innovations like the award for Club Linesmen and the quiz nights on the Laws for local clubs. Brian Palmer was elected to succeed him as President. John Moore became Assistant Editor of the Reading Referee and was responsible for its Desk Top Publishing face-lift. Ray Kerr, though not a member, agreed to act (voluntarily) as the society’s professional auditor.

The discussion of the future of the National RA at the Annual Conference proved to be a damp squib, unsurprising in such a large gathering. The ‘think tank’ proposed the previous year had not been adopted. During the summer Stewart Mills completed his qualification as an FA Licensed Referee Instructor.

The 1993/94 season started with a Reading member officiating on the Premiership for the first time. Not ‘home-grown’ unfortunately. Graham Poll, had joined the Reading RA after moving into the area. He went on to reach the FIFA list.

Although our relationship with the local leagues remained good, with representatives in regular attendance at our meetings, complaints continued about bad language on the local parks and the inadequacy of too many referees in dealing with it. The society continued to give the topic a high profile and dealt positively with any of its members whose refereeing was found at fault in this or any other way. Too often the offenders were non-members and yet the leagues remained opposed to the appointment of only RRA members to their games.

The assault on a member in a 5-a-side competition which falsely claimed to have been affiliated raised a number of serious issues. The matter ended up in the Crown Court, with the assailant acquitted, the member financially much worse off and his fractured leg not fully recovered. Members were left concerned, in spite of lengthy correspondence with the RA and FA, about the uncertainty of the real support referees could expect from either, if assaulted, whether the competition was affiliated or not.

Early in 1994 the Reading RA invested £8,000 of the Major Sainsbury bequest in a contract with the Royals Rendezvous Club to guarantee a venue for 10 years. At the AGM, Treasurer Neil Isham made history with his proposal to reduce the subscription by £1-00 – not surprisingly the first reduction on record. Brian Wratten, who had joined the society on retiring home from the USA, but was still officiating, was elected Assistant Secretary. When Neil Isham later resigned Brian also became Acting Treasurer. Stephen Green, Senior Training Officer and Chairman became the society’s third ‘native’ FA Licensed Referee Instructor. (Peter Pittaway had qualified through the Army). Stuart Gentle, who was not seeking re-election to the Committee and who had served as Assistant Secretary and for many years as RA representative to the Sunday League, was presented with the Berks & Bucks RA Certificate of Service by George Mills, County RA President.

The 1994 season opened with news of the death in his late fifties of Geoff Way after a few months of unexpected illness. Geoff had served a record three times as Treasurer, once as Secretary and had been a valued member for some twenty years, most of them on the Committee.

The FIFA ‘mandatory instructions’ in respect of off-side, time-wasting and tackling especially (following the summer’s World Cup Competition) were destined (again) to bring fundamental change to the game and the role of the referee (and the focus of discussion at RA meetings).

The editor of the society magazine caused some controversy by questioning the practical outcomes of a meeting of County RA and FA officers. Ted Cambridge, long-serving Secretary of the Sunday League, FA Councillor, Chairman of local assessors and regular attender of RA meetings, organised an exemplary meeting to discuss the new guidelines for assessors issued by the FA (thanks to Ken Ridden, National Referees’ Training Officer). Significantly, training seminars for assessors would (at last) be compulsory and assessors would receive a fee.

In April 1995 the society lost its oldest member, Life Member Don Sarjeant, at the age of 92 years after a brief illness. Don was active in the RA for more than 60 years A former FL referee in the 30s and 40s, he served on the Committee and was an auditor for many years. He also helped to found two County FAs -Oxfordshire and the Berks & Bucks. He served on the organising committee for the national RA Conference when it was last held in Reading – in 1934.

Alison Chapman became the first woman member to reach Class 1 (and, at the AGM, also the first to be elected to the Committee). A second ‘first’ for women was the first ever female Guest Speaker at the March meeting, physiotherapist Jill Wigmore-Welsh, talking about referees’ fitness and injuries. The AGM was, as always, very well attended but failed to produce a secretary to replace Pat Monaghan who had not sought re-election. The duties would be shared by the Chairman and Treasurer until a replacement could be found..

At the national RA Conference it was announced that the FA had turned down the RA request for a seat on the FA Council on the grounds that the RA does not represent all referees. Catch 22, because the FA will not accept 100% membership – RA policy since the Reading motion of 1977. Thanks again largely to Ken Ridden, the FA did, however, promise welcome reforms of the ‘pyramid’ of leagues to provide a better system of development for referees to reach the higher echelons.

The last season of the quarter century, 1995/96, opened with more changes to Law and the disappearance of the notion of ‘intent’ – it was hoped to help referees. Stewart Mills, member of the training team since 1993 and former committee member and Assistant Secretary, completed his qualification as an FA Licensed Referee Instructor. More problems were reported with local park facilities and, maybe not unconnected, the Sunday League was suffering an even greater shortage of referees than in recent years. There was more welcome news from the FA: that compulsory ID cards for players would be introduced, but not till the year 2000 ! The Reading RA decided to ask local leagues to act more quickly.

Members at the November meeting were saddened by the decision of Chairman Stephen Green to quit all football activities for personal reasons. His contribution to the Reading RA and County RA had been immense since he joined the Committee in 1986. He had assisted with training and progressed to Senior Training Officer and been Public Relations Officer for the County RA, but those were only his most obvious contributions. For example, he designed the last two covers of the magazine and did the art work for some of the adverts, designed the society notepaper (and the last tie). Alongside his very active refereeing, Stephen was always there, available, working and thinking for the Reading RA.

Stephen Green’s example of ‘service before self’ provides a fitting conclusion to this chronological view of our history.


It is inevitable that a summary such as this – of years of activity of the RA – will have omitted much that was worth recording. Most importantly, it has certainly failed to mention many of those members who have helped to make the society successful – from having specific named roles, to giving a hand when necessary, to simply attending meetings faithfully. Their contributions are nonetheless recognised here, collectively – the Reading RA will always be what it is made by them, its members.

During these 75 years of the existence of the Reading RA, many hundreds of referees have enjoyed the camaraderie, enlightenment and sheer enjoyment of the monthly and other meetings – like those in changing-rooms before and after a match.

The monthly formula has remained much the same, because members have always rejected significant change. The mix of Guest Speakers (from a variety of backgrounds and tackling a range of topics) and the more focused ‘nitty-gritty’ refereeing/training sessions, lubricated by liquid refreshment and the opportunity for informal chat, has proved a robust game-plan. The topics of practical concern have, perhaps inevitably, changed little too: e.g. assaults and the support/lack of from the RA and FA; the disciplinary action of the County FA and the arrangements for personal hearings; the facilities on the local parks for referees (and players). And, unfortunately, the concerns of the leagues and County FA about referees have also remained largely unchanged: e.g. referees not dealing with correspondence, crying off, not turning up, sending in poor reports (and sometimes no reports at all); and more fundamentally, failing to deal properly with indiscipline/foul language. Many of the culprits are not members of the RA, but some are. While perfection on both sides will no doubt remain elusive , 100% RA membership would give the possibility of a true partnership with the FA and potentially higher standards all round. Maybe during the next quarter century of our existence . . . . .