Ref Eddie calls full-time on 56-year career
PUBLISHED: 13:02 30 April 2015 | UPDATED: 14:43 30 April 2015
FROM Baytree Rec to Wembley, Congresbury to Chelsea, and Bobby Moore to Bob from the Dog and Duck - it's been an incredible journey for one Weston referee, who is hanging up his whistle for the final time this season after a career in the middle spanning more than five decades.
Once a football league referee, Eddie Hughes, president of Weston Referees Society and a stalwart of the area’s local football leagues, announced this week he will retire from the sport at the end of the current season, having first taken up the labour of love in 1959.
His decision follows a career spanning not just the Football League, but also the world, refereeing matches as far afield as Gambia and Libya while serving in the Royal Air Force.
Closer to home, he was the first referee to officiate two Somerset Senior Cup finals, and received a recognition of outstanding contribution to refereeing from Somerset FA in 2013.
Mr Hughes, now 81, told the Mercury: “While I was in the air force and was in various different countries I refereed wherever I was. I was based at RAF Locking after moving down, and even played for Weston’s first team for a little bit.
“I was lucky enough to spend seven years working on the Football League. It was nothing like it is now, you refereed across all four divisions – one week you could be at Torquay, the next you could be in the First Division at Arsenal, and my wife was always there to support me at every game. You got to see a lot of the country.
“Working across all the divisions gave you more experience too. The referees in the top flight can be detached from the other divisions now.
“It’s changed on the pitch in more recent years as well; the influx of foreign players has changed the way the British ones do things sometimes.
“I had the honour of refereeing Bobby Moore, George Best, Billy Bremner and Rodney Marsh all in the same game.
“Moore was an absolute pleasure to work with. Graham Taylor was one of the most amenable managers. Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles were exceptional players too. I’ve enjoyed every moment of the last 55 years.”
From meeting Mr Hughes, given the thousands of players, managers and matches he must have presided over during his tenure in the middle, it is remarkable the clarity with which he can discuss individual games from decades back – with one, perhaps bittersweet memory, in particular.
He said: “It was first against third in what was the old Second Division, and Crystal Palace were losing 1-0 to Fulham. There was an injury in the second half and my stopwatch hadn’t gone back on when I tried to restart it, so I was looking at the clock in the stand and thought ‘it must be full-time by now’.
“I blew my whistle, thinking we were done, but when I came off the field, my assistants told me we were a couple of minutes short – I told the managers, Bobby Campbell and Terry Venables, not to let their players get changed.
“We played the extra four minutes, and afterwards Brian Moore, of The Big Match fame, came in and said it had been a brave call. I ended up winning the show’s sportsman of the month trophy ahead of Luther Blissett and John Burridge, it wasn’t even meant to be for referees.”
In more recent years, Mr Hughes has looked to give something back to the game, using his ample experience to officiate in youth leagues in Weston – and, in fitting style, will bow out at the end of his 56th season with a cup final in May.
He said: “I’ve kept myself fit down the years, and I referee in the Woodspring Junior League now.
“I wanted to give the young players advice with the laws of the game, I feel I can be more helpful to the youngsters as a referee, and I’m signing off with the under-11s cup final in a couple of weeks.
“I’m still physically fit enough to carry on – but it will be nice not to have to say ‘I can’t do that weekend’ from next season, especially for my wife.”