Oh, Ref! – Pat Partridge

Brief outline
On 31 October 2014, Pat Partridge, 81 years of age, passed away. His career in English and international top football spanned a period between 1966 and 1981, during which the Northerner with the impressive sideburns and easy-going, talkative manner lived through an age of remarkable changes, to which he added a few himself.
In his 1979 book of memoirs, Oh, Ref!, Pat, assisted by John Gibson, recounts the story of his life, his climb up the refereeing ladder, his encounters with players, managers and other self-professed luminaries of football. Being taken by his father to Middlesbrough FC matches, he soon took a liking to sports, first having a fling at swimming, water polo and basketball. He also played football for his school and local teams, but injury prevented him from continuing his career as a player. An apprentice electrician, he was goaded into taking a referee course by two colleagues, first wielding a whistle in 1953.
He made steady progress, which was both halted and advanced while he was in the military, stationed overseas in Hong Kong. On his return, his path to the top followed the usual progress through feeder leagues, doing linesman duty in the lower tiers of professional football to, at last, promotion to the Football League. He instantly made a name for himself in 1967, overseeing the Manchester United v Stoke City match. When Paddy Crerand and Peter Dobing fell out, Pat tried to settle nerves by taking Crerand in a hold. But unbeknownst to him, Crerand – looking over Pat’s shoulder – spat at an opponent. Though Pat did not, the cameras registered this filthy act. It caused a great furore, which eventually led the International Board to make spitting a red-card offence.
Still, Partridge went on to become one of England’s top referees, not the least because of his tendency to let play flow. Though he had some spats with players and managers, he was generally a well-liked and much-respected referee. He also made it to the FIFA list of international referees and took charge of many finals, including the FA Cup final in 1975, the World Club Championship final of 1976 and the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup of 1977. In 1978 he was the sole English representative at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, to which he devoted a full chapter in this book, and in 1980 he reffed at the European Championships.
Refereeing was in his blood: even after retiring from professional football refereeing, he continued to oversee local matches, football and water polo alike. Later, though not in the book, he became chairman of the Referees’ Association and during his career he was president of the Association of Football League Referees and Linesmen. Even at the age of 70 he took the flag at a local match when a linesman was taken off injured.


Pat Partridge at kick-off for the match between Poland and Holland (1975)

Value for active referees

Not very high. Pat’s memoirs are highly entertaining and although a full chapter is addressed to those who consider becoming a referee, those pages are more an ode to strength of character, persistence, self-reflection, training and preparation. Quite generic stuff. However, between the lines throughout the book it is easy to pick up pointers. Humour, used sparingly and carefully, can be very effective at defusing nasty situations. Partridge always advocated a dialogue between referees, players and managers, on and off the field. Let players know that you understand their way of thinking and reacting. And always keep a positive attitude.

Final verdict

It is this positive attitude that suffuses Oh, Ref! from start to finish. Pat Partridge will always be remembered for a string of incidents, but he should be remembered for his positive outlook on life and his fellow humans. Using this quality, he took himself to the top and got the best out of those he worked with. This attitude even made it possible for him to turn the most used expletive used for refs into a positive:
B – Brave
A – Adventurous
S – Solid
T – Tenacious
A – Audacious
R – Reliable
D – Disciplined

For all its lack of practical insights into refereeing, Oh, Ref! is a thoroughly entertaining read.

Title Oh, Ref!
Authors Pat Partridge and John Gibson
Publisher Souvenir Press
Year 1979
Pages 189
3.5 / 5     

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