The age of the Celebrity Referee is now well and truly upon us. It was
presaged some years ago by the likes of the perfectly spherical Roger
Kirkpatrick and the idiotic Clive Thomas but, for the most part, referees
of bygone times were notable only for their silly names. Ray Tinkler
must have become pretty fed up with the same ribald comments each week
and a match controlled by Maurice Fussey was always met with a jolly
joke from the likes of Motty. And who can forget Lester Shapter of
Torquay, the whistling albino, or the Dickensian-sounding Trelford Mills
Although Roger Milford's era was slightly after these luminaries, he can
be safely accredited with the invention of the idea of the 'Celebrity
Referee'. The mark of a good referee is that he passes through the game
unnoticed. The mark of a bad referee is that he sees himself as a
'character'. This can result in a variety of behavioural problems. For
example, after making a stupid decision, he will run rapidly backwards
while grinning at the players. The champion backwards-running grinner
was Roger Milford. It has been said of him that he refereed matches as
if he desperately wanted to be 'pals' with the star players. "If I grin
at (say) Mark Hughes/Ian Rush/Paul Gascoigne I can be their mate" he
seemed to be thinking, whilst revelling in the reflected glory of being
near to the famous.
Milford always used to look as if he was thinking "Hey, look at me, I'm a
celebrity!" as he ran grinning onto the pitch. "Wow" we all thought,
"It's Roger, he must be such good chums with these living legends that
he actually grins at them!". Not a bit of it. Sorry Roger, what we were
really thinking was "What a berk".
He did not help himself by his appearance. He had (he would prefer the
word 'sported') a hairstyle of sublime ridiculousness that made Kevin
Keegan's famous bubble perm look almost normal. This was complemented
by his ludicrous and cringe-making short shorts. He was like the forty
year-old who hits the dance floor to mix it with the sniggering
teenagers, while thinking himself so-o cool.
Watford Football Club and its supporters have good reason to loath the
memory of this abject cretin. There he was, curls a-bobbing fetchingly,
in charge of a heated local derby at Luton, shortly before the 1984
Cup Final. Wilf Rostron and Luton's Paul Elliott challenged
whole-heartedly for the same ball. They hit the ground together and
limbs became entangled. Extricating themselves, they inevitably
jostled one another. Had either of these players been a star such as
Gazza, then a matey grin would have ensued. But no, "Off!" squeaks
Roger, responding to a trivial non-incident which involved none of his
heroes. Wilf's automatic suspension coincided with the Wembley Final.
The greatest day in the career of this good, honest and dedicated
professional was taken away from him by a petulant nobody waving his
arms around, squealing "I'm in charge!".
But two years later a second chance of Wembley glory was within Wilf's
reach. Three or four minutes to go in the 1986 Quarter-final replay at
the Vic, Watford were leading 1-0 against Liverpool. Ian Rush chased a
lost cause into the Watford penalty area. Tony Coton spread himself and
safely gathered the ball. A moment later the pursuing Rush flew over
Coton and hit the floor. "Penalty!" decides our Roger. Coton is rightly
furious. Both sets of fans are incredulous. No-one can believe it. Until,
of course, we realised that Roger Milford was in charge.
I am not suggesting that Rush deliberately dived to con himself a
penalty (because he never did that, did he?) nor that Milford was
showing any conscious bias towards Liverpool. But certainly his
misreading of the situation seemed highly, if subconsciously, affected
by the relative status of the two clubs. The mighty Liverpool being
beaten by Watford? That good bloke Rushy on the floor? How could the
decision be anything but the right one? Rush himself scored the penalty
with seconds remaining and also the extra time winner. Liverpool went on
to win the Double that year. Wilf Rostron never played at Wembley.
Of course, superstar Roger did go on to experience the Cup Final, when
Spurs played Nottingham Forest in 1991. It was there that he committed
his most celebrated acts of incompetence. Gazza, fired-up to the point
of lunacy, committed a horrific foul within the first couple of minutes.
A half-decent referee would have yellow-carded him instantly, many
would have sent him off. Not Roger! Moments later came Gazza's second
monstrous foul, verging on the criminal but by some form of divine
justice, the only player badly hurt was Gazza himself. The only correct
response to this second dangerous assault, as laid down by the Laws of
the Game, was a sending-off....but still no red card (nor even yellow)
from the grinning goon. Spurs were unfairly allowed to bring on a
substitute for the injured Gazza and went on to win the Cup.
This grotesque mis-handling of such an important match brought the
twerpish whistle-blower much well-deserved criticism at the time. The
most charitable opinion was that he simply became unable to think
straight, being so star-struck at the sight of a writhing Gazza. Or
maybe he was just thinking that he could not possibly send off a fellow
superstar without ruining his reputation with 'the lads' that he was so
desperate to be seen exchanging grins with.
Mercifully, Roger Milford has now retired and will waggle his pencil no
more. His inane grin no longer pollutes our game. Good riddance, you
vain little twerp. And get your hair cut.