Referees, to me, were never anything other than ‘ref’. I couldn’t have told you their names before or after games, I didn’t speak to them away from the pitch. I didn’t really know much about them.
What I did know, however, is that they were always prepared to give as good as they got. One game at Bolton, when I was at Tottenham, confirmed this quite memorably.
Gary Cahill had been all over me this particular day and, after one foul too many, I lost my rag — and one man was going to be told. ‘Oh come on, ref!’ I shouted. ‘How many more times can he come through me?’
I complained to the ref that Gary Cahill was all over me but he came back with a witty reply
My protests — which have been edited for the sake of family reading — meant nothing.
‘He hasn’t come through you,’ came the reply, quick as a flash. ‘He’s got you in his back pocket.’
That was me put firmly in my place. There was no disrespect, nothing to take offence over. The referee — looking back through record books, it was either Chris Foy or Mike Jones — made a quip and we got on with the game without a problem.
I thought about that incident this week, in light of Jon Moss and the spat with Bournemouth’s Dan Gosling.
Dan Gosling has said ref Jon Moss made disrespectful comments to Bournemouth’s players
It took me by surprise, actually, that a player could take offence from something reasonably trivial.
Some of the criticism aimed at referees is remarkable and I’ve often wondered how they don’t react. I played with Craig Bellamy at Liverpool and he would take what he said to them as close to the line as possible. He’d probably admit there were times when he crossed it, too.
Things have improved in recent years — you don’t tend to see big groups surrounding match officials to berate them — but I’m willing to bet Jon Moss has been on the end of insults down the years that are much worse than him saying to Gosling: ‘You’re having one.’
I had referees say identical things to me! There were games when referees would come out with lines such as ‘There’s nothing I can do to help you’ or ‘Crouchie, you’re having a ‘mare!’ if I was barely getting a touch. They could use those words to talk about your team, too, if you were losing.
Is it that bad? I don’t think so. What do we want referees to be — robotic or human? I always found the best ones to be those you could engage with.
Craig Bellamy would take what he said to referees as close to the line as possible
I’ll never forget, for example, Howard Webb saying ‘F***ing hell! What a goal!’ after I’d scored a 30-yard volley for Stoke against Manchester City in March 2012.
It took me that much by surprise, all I could say back was ‘Cheers mate!’
True, there are some who don’t help themselves. The worst were those who made a decision and then waved you away like a school teacher, refusing to listen. They would come across as arrogant, as if they were above you. That was never good. I’d much prefer them to give me stick.
When you can engage with referees, it makes things flow better. Do you want to see yellow cards handed out every time there is a decision to be debated? Or do you want to see the game handled sensibly with the scope for dialogue?
I spoke to Mike Dean recently and the conversation we had opened my eyes to the world of a referee.
How can someone like Mike Dean be regarded as someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing?
They are always seen as the bad guys, the men who ruin games. The reality is that they love football as much as the players and the game wouldn’t be possible without them.
How can someone like Dean, who began refereeing in 1985 and has taken charge of more than 500 Premier League games, be regarded as someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing?
They know exactly how players and fans feel and the frustrations they have about the decisions they make.
They will never be popular — we know that, they know it. After the events of this week, Moss will know that better than most. I don’t believe that he deserved to have been singled out that way. In time, perhaps Dan Gosling will see he got this one wrong.
I love Jimmie. Saturdays were all about Saint and Greavsie
During my peak years for England, my goals to games ratio used to get highlighted and I was proud to end my career scoring 22 times in 42 appearances.
It worked out as a goal every other game, which I thought was very respectable — until I saw Jimmy Greaves’ 44 in 57 for England.
It was an extraordinary hit rate and my dad used to explain to me just how good he was, quite possibly the most natural goalscorer we have ever produced.
Saturday fixture: Ian St John with Jimmy Greaves was a lunchtime staple in our house
I have never had the pleasure of meeting the great man but he was someone I loved and admired as a kid, as Saturday lunchtime in our house during the 1980s was all about ‘Saint and Greavsie’ — what a television programme.
People can take football too seriously but Jimmy had a way of telling stories on that show that really struck a chord with me.
He saw things in a light-hearted way, he always had a smile on his face and that outlook had a lasting impression.
Reading the stories and tributes for him this week, as he approaches his 80th birthday, has been an education and it is timely, as it should inform those from a younger generation who were perhaps unaware of his genius just how big a personality and player he was in our game.
The campaign to get Greavsie a gong is something that I am proud to stand behind.
If you haven’t signed the petition, I would suggest you do.