National RA History

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RA History

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, it is difficult to imagine what satisfaction the pioneer referees acquired from their craft. Part of their reward would no doubt have been the same as the modern day referee, pleasure in helping the game develop, personal exercise in the open and of the psychological feeling of being in control. Their task would have been more difficult, as there were no Referees’ Associations or local Societies to provide guidance, encouragement and education. Financial rewards were meagre, the refund of minimum travelling expenses plus a few shillings, at a rate per hour very much less than any Trade Union would tolerate. Considering that the referee was – even then – an essential factor in any match (and in view of the hardships they had to endure), they did not grumble about it – instead, rather like today, they continued to enjoy it.

Following the introduction of the first thirteen ‘Rules of Association Football,’ handwritten in the Freemasons’ Tavern in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, by the newly formed Football Association (The FA) on 26 October 1863, referees for the first time had a standard set of Laws to apply. Initially, there were two ‘club’ umpires on the field and disputes were referred to a referee who was off the field. In 1891 the referee went onto the field with two linesmen assisting him, one on each touchline. This ‘neutral’ referee was disliked from the outset. Clubs did not like his absolute authority, preferring a mutual agreement between their umpires. Spectators disputed decisions and referees were even assaulted.

In March 1893, The FA formed the first referees’ society at a meeting in Anderton’s Hotel, London where 79 were in attendance. C.W. Alcock (Secretary of The FA) became President, F.J. Wall (later Chairman of The FA) as Chairman and Arthur Roston Bourke as Honorary Secretary. The London Society’s prime purpose was to examine the qualification of referees orally and appoint them to matches. In 1895, William Pickford, a Vice President, was instrumental in the Society producing “The Referees’ Chart, 1895-96”. This contained 17 Laws (or rules) and was far more substantial than those drafted in 1863.

With the growth in popularity of football, more people became referees. They began to group together to teach each other and recruit others. They formed associations, branches, societies, and even a club – the North Staffs Referees’ Club was formed in 1896. They also appointed themselves to games!

In 1899, the heavy workload of 27 societies, 773 members and the appointment of referees became too great and responsibility was transferred to The FA. The London Society ended its short but important career, having given association football a status and initiated many improvements.

The idea that all these groups form a Union was proposed by C.E. (Charles) Sutcliffe, a solicitor, “in consequence of certain unpleasant experiences of referees in many parts of the country.” He had an important supporter in the media, J.A.H. Catton the Editor of the now defunct ‘Athletic News’. James Catton was later to become President 1913-14.

In 1906, Catton wrote a series of articles urging referees to get together to strengthen their position. Referees were disliked, cursed and assaulted, a sound reason for banding together. Referee associations, branches, societies and clubs, mainly from the North and Midlands, gave their initial approval believing that in unity lay strength. Sutcliffe and Catton spared no effort to get things going. Meetings took place in Carlisle, Manchester, Birmingham and London.

Charles Sutcliffe convened an informal meeting on 5 March 1908 in Manchester. He and James Catton emphasised the “need of a Union and how it might serve the interests of referees and promote the good of the game”. 39 Football League referees were approached; they and many others promised their support.

On 9 May 1908, over 300 referees met in Nottingham. Sutcliffe presided, and after he and Catton had spoken, T.P. Campbell (Blackburn) proposed and J.T. Ibbotson (Derby) seconded “That a Referees’ Union be formed”. Every hand went up. W Gilgryst (Manchester) asked for the Union to be for referees’ societies only, and not for referees and referees’ societies. This was defeated by 99 – 65. The following were appointed: President: C.E. Sutcliffe; Honorary Secretary: H. Pollitt; Hon. Treasurer: W. Pickford.

The country was divided into three areas: Northern (Berwick to Sheffield), Midland (Sheffield to Worcester) and Southern (south of Worcester). The meeting appointed a Vice-President and Secretary for each Division. These were, for the Northern, Midland and Southern, respectively: W Gilgryst & H Pollitt; A.G Hines & H Ward; J.C Stark & C.D Crisp. Each Division had three Committee members who were, respectively: T.P Campbell, J.T Howcroft & F.H Dennis; J.H Pearson, F Heath & J.T Ibbotson; FR Viveash, AG Neale & JT Clark.

These 18 men were the founder members of The Referees’ Union. Absent through illness was J.T. Howcroft (Bolton) but he was elected onto the Northern committee. Membership was set at five shillings for seniors and two shillings for juniors; members to decide themselves their status! It was agreed to hold an Annual Conference and this has taken place every year with the exception of the years of the First and Second World Wars.

Key Events – The Early Years

First Annual Conference in Derby
C.D Crisp became Hon. Secretary
W Reynolds Vernon and E.W ‘Teddy’ Child were elected Auditors; the latter remained an auditor until his death in 1950
The Executive committee reserved the right to review, or veto, Notices of Motion and suggestions for amending the Rules
The Referees’ Union dealt with:

Payments to Leagues by referees
Referees acting as football agents
Referees and gambling
Publication of referee suspensions
Formation of referees’ societies

A set of Standing Orders prepared by the Southern Vice-President, J.C Stack, was adopted
President Charles E Sutcliffe proposed £25 should be transferred from the general account to form a Benevolent Fund “to aid referees or their dependants in case of need, sickness or death”

J.A. MacGregor (Morecambe) moved that The FA be asked to recognise the Union by granting a representative a seat on its Council, but it was decided a better way to advance was first through the County FAs; Newcastle society had already been given a seat on Northumberland County FA
New Hon. Secretary was Alan H. Page after Charles D. Crisp’s resignation in February

Membership exceeded 2,000
J.A.H Catton, the non-referee editor of ‘Athletic News’ was elected President. He appealed for a spirit of unity, and jealousy must be put aside. He proposed a monthly referees magazine and it was decided to produce ‘The Football Referee’ as from September 1913

F.R. Viveash was elected Treasurer succeeding William Pickford. Three months later, in the early days of the War, bank manager Viveash died on the cricket field
During the War, applications to affiliate from the Scottish RA and the Army RA were not pursued

Six months after the War ended, Council resolved to hold a conference on 9 August 1919 in Nottingham despite the refusal of their County FA Referees’ Committee to assist
C.E. Sutcliffe, President for one year, appealed that differences be forgotten and a fresh start made. He deplored the past spirit of jealousy
Hon. Secretary was Alan H. Page and the new Treasurer was Harry E. Smith (Sheffield) who also became Editor of the new ‘Football Referee’ in 1923 until his death in 1930

Membership had dropped to 1,422; largely due to the war

The early 1920s were turbulent years for The RA. Alan Page, keen to get influential people involved, secured the agreement of W. Claude Kirby (Chairman of Chelsea FC) to be elected President, but he did not attend the 1921 or 1922 Conferences, which were chaired by Arthur Pellowe (Oldham)

Charles Sutcliffe was no longer at the helm and he strongly criticised RA policy and charged the officers with apathy. He said that when he was President, the organisation was successful, now it was disunited and unrepresentative, he could have no further interest in it! Alan Page said the attack was unsporting, unfair, inaccurate and a wilful misrepresentation of the facts. Sutcliffe also made destructive comments and sarcastic remarks in newspapers. The founder President’s parting was eventually accepted by Council with “thanks for past services”

A.J. Hutchins (Reading) proposed a name change to ‘British Referees’ Association’. He told The Executive that we should be an association of associations. Executive agreed but preferred ‘British’ to be dropped. The following day, E.A. ‘Teddy’ Eden (Essex), who was about to become Birmingham County FA Secretary, delivered a powerful speech affirming we were successful in spite of our name, The Referees’ Union. There was no other organisation, we were The Referees’ Association, so The RU became The RA.

Arthur Pellowe presented The RA’s first Honorarium to the Hon. Secretary – Alan Page received a £100 cheque

Arthur Pellowe became President until his death in 1925.
Life Membership was created, the first two being A.H. Page and J.W. Kirkwood (Gateshead)
Membership reached a record 2,795
Treasurer Harry E. Smith also became Editor of the new ‘Football Referee’ until his death in 1930

Ernest H. Spiers (Birmingham) became President until 1931. G. Wagstaffe Simmonds (FA), Principal speaker at the lunch said: “With regard to the direct representation of referees on governing bodies, the Association must confine its demands to claims they could justify and having satisfied themselves on that point, they should take a lead from the politician and be most persistent in putting forward their claims”

Divisional Vice-Presidents and Secretaries became Council members instead of elected delegates
One of the auditors, E.T. ‘Monty’ Mountford (Essex) took over the business side of the ‘Football Referee’, to reduce the workload on the Editor, Harry Smith, who was also treasurer
Membership 4,100

The Overseas Division was formed with Dixon Barker as Secretary

President J.R ‘Dicky’ Schumacher died on the eve of Conference

Ernest H Spiers (Birmingham) began a second period as President until 1937, when the position of Immediate Past President was created, a position he held until his death in August 1956

Southern Division split into Southern and Western Divisions

Membership was 5,706

Key Events – Post World War II

Post-war membership dropped to just over 4,500 in March 1947. Even though many Societies continued to hold meetings during the war period with diminished numbers, it was many years before pre-war membership levels were regained. During the transitory period following the war, the RA rallied their members onwards under the banner of “Knights of the Whistle”.

The Meritorious Service Award was instituted

The President’s badge of office was presented to The RA by Dixon Barker (Sunderland) and his wife. Walter Turnbull President (1948-64) was the first to wear it. Dixon had succeeded Harry Smith (Sheffield) as RA Treasurer in 1931 until his death in 1956. He was a founder member of the Bishop Auckland society, and their first secretary
Northern Division split to form North-East and North-West divisions

Jack Taylor (Wolverhampton) refereed the FIFA World Cup Final – Holland v West Germany
Ted Ring became editor of Football Referee magazine

Annual Draw introduced

Owen Venning appointed as the first full-time General Secretary
The first RA office, a rented property at Kingswinford was opened on 8 October by the Minister of Sport, Denis Howell MP, himself a RA member and former Football League referee

Welsh Division formed
Each division now elected their won Vice-President and Secretary who represented the Division on the RA Council, which was chaired by the National President

Membership reached an all-time high of 18,674

Paul Gresty became editor of Football Referee

Leasehold property purchased at 1 Westhill Road, Coventry

New office opened by the Lord Mayor of Coventry on 24 November

Bill Hudson became editor of Football Referee

Restructuring for the 21st Century

Following many years of discussion, Conference 1999 accepted a proposal to consider restructuring the Association. A five member Management Consultancy Team was appointed to make recommendations and their report was published in September 2000. The RA Annual Conference 2001 approved a motion to form an Implementation Team to propose a restructuring based on the MCT report. Their proposal to replace the Referees’ Association and the Divisional structure with a newly constituted Referees’ Association and three independent National Referees’ Associations for England, Wales & Northern Ireland was approved at Conference 2003 in Cheltenham. The Council of the RA was replaced by a nine-man Board of Management of the RAE, electing one of its members as its Chairman.

Key Events

David Elleray became President. Amongst other improvements, his vision instigated a complete revamp of the 2-day Conference structure, with more emphasis on providing instructional workshop sessions presented by our top officials, for the benefit of member referees of all ages and levels. The business element of Conference (the AGM) now takes place on the Friday afternoon, with Saturday left for the enjoyment, learning and meeting colleagues
Magazine renamed Refereeing Today, edited by Chris Hall and Julian Carosi
Conference was chaired by John Bunn

RA magazine publication ceased and replaced by RAE news Digest and joint RA and FA publication ‘Refereeing’

Centenary Conference held at St. Johns Hotel, Solihull; attended by distinguished guests including Geoff Thompson – Vice-President of UEFA and FIFA, Lord David Triesman – FA Chairman, Pierluigi Collina (2002 World Cup Referee) and John Motson (BBC TV commentator)
Membership was 12,528 in 305 societies

New constitution accepted, reverting to the title of ‘Referees Association’
RA-FA partnership formed, developing closer links with the two organisations. As a result, all qualified referees registered with the FA become Associate Members of the RA
Howard Webb (Rotherham) refereed the FIFA World Cup Final – Holland v Spain, with Assistants Mike Mullarkey (East Devon) and Darren Cann (Newmarket)
New lion’s head motif and logo introduced
New office opened in October

Three members awarded MBE in the New Year Honours List: Terry Farley (Bishop Auckland), Lou Jones (Burton) and Howard Webb (Rotherham)
Optional physiotherapy scheme launched, designed to assist members to get refereeing again quickly after injury


New constitution agreed


New website launched

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Annual Conferences :
1909 Derby
1910 London
1911 Leeds
1912 Sheffield
1913 London
1914 Newcastle
1919 Nottingham
1920 Birmingham
1921 Southport
1922 Reading
1923 Sheffield
1924 Hull
1925 Lewisham
1926 Birmingham
1927 Durham
1928 Bristol
1929 Sheffield
1930 Newcastle
1931 Southend
1932 Birmingham
1933 Middlesbrough
1934 Reading
1935 Bristol
1936 Plymouth
1937 Hull
1938 London
1939 Cardiff
1946 Cheltenham
1947 Sheffield
1948 Sunderland
1949 Margate
1950 Exeter
1951 Stratford-upon-Avon
1952 Southport
1953 Harrogate
1954 Eastbourne
1955 Bath
1956 Malvern
1957 Blackpool
1958 Southend
1959 Newcastle
1960 Newquay
1961 Coventry
1962 Douglas (IOM)
1963 Cambridge
1964 Scarborough
1965 Plymouth
1966 Llandudno
1967 Morecambe
1968 Margate
1969 Kingston-upon-Hull
1970 Weston-Super-Mare
1971 Llandudno
1972 Preston
1973 Portsmouth
1974 Gateshead
1975 Torquay
1976 Solihull
1977 Liverpool
1978 Norwich
1979 Harrogate
1980 Cardiff
1981 Birmingham
1982 Manchester
1983 London
1984 Newcastle
1985 Birmingham
1986 Swansea
1987 Blackpool
1988 Coventry
1989 Southampton
1990 Scarborough
1991 Torquay
1992 Cardiff
1993 Liverpool
1994 Kingston-upon-Hull
1995 Hove
1996 Stoke-on-Trent
1997 Plymouth
1998 Newport
1999 Bradford
2000 Manchester
2001 Coventry
2002 Coventry
2003 Cheltenham
2004 Cardiff
2005 Southport
2006 Warwick
2007 Warwick
2008 Solihull
2009 Solihull
2010 Solihull
2011 Hinckley
2012 Hinckley
2013 Hinckley

2014 Hinckley

2015 Heathrow

2016 Hinckley

RA Presidents :

C.E. Sutcliffe 1908-13 & 1919-20
J.H. Catton 1913-14
W.C. Kirby 1920-22
A.Pellowe 1922-25
E.H. Spiers 1925-32 & 1934-38
J.R. Schumacher 1932-33
J. Gilroy 1938-48
W.S. Tumbull 1948-64
A.H. Lavender 1964-72
K.H. Burns 1972-82 & 1983-84
F. Lightfoot 1982-83
P. Willis 1984-2003
J. Bunn 2003-04
D.R. Elleray 2004-date

Life Members (those surviving with year awarded) :

E. Adams 1984
K.H. Burns 1987
N. Chamberlain 1988
R.P. Skidmore 1989
R. Reddaway 1990
A. Robinson 1991
J.W. Crowther 1993
E.P. Molyneux 1993
M.S. Price 1994
K. Hampson 1998
R. Croysdale 1999
T. Farley 1999
W.D. Goodsell 2002
P.N. Willis 2002
B. Challis 2003
A. Rouse 2003
L.J. Ensor 2004
E. Price 2004
H. Hardy 2005
G. Isaacs 2005
G. Isom 2005
A. Parker 2005
F. Bastin 2006
J. Chalmers 2006
P. Hodgson 2006
J.Simms 2006
W. Cleere 2008
W.H. Bombroff 2009
M.J. Fenning 2010
J. Wilson 2010
F.G. Richards 2010
R. Smith 2010
R.T. Boulding 2011
C. Downey 2011
T.H.B. Miller 2011
J.R. Spain 2011
P.J. Waller 2011




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Society Centenaries with Year Celebrated:

1996 North Staffs Refs Club
1997 Bolton
1998 Colchester
1999 Blackburn
2001 Lincoln & District
2002 Lonsar
2003 Great Yarmouth
2004 Coventry & Yeovil & District
2005 Bishop Auckland
2006 Birmingham & District, Keighley & Sunderland
2007 Leeds & District, Northampton & North Riding
2008 Bath, Blackpool, Fylde & Wyre, Portsmouth, Sheffield & District, Wigan & District and York City & District
2009 Doncaster & District
2010 Barnsley & District





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