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A premier league gentleman
A recurring theme of this column is the small number of people who spend much of their lives organising leisure and social activities for lots and lots of other people to enjoy. It is, sadly, a dwindling bunch so many of the veterans keep soldiering on.
Peter Marsden is one of these people and he has spent much of his adult life in an activity at which, he admits, he was never much good.
He was the ungainly lad in the school yard who was always picked last when it came to organising a game of knock-about football “because, although I loved the game, I could never play it very well”.
Although he would never admit it, this was probably much to the benefit of amateur soccer in, first, Craven and then across the whole of the old West Riding of Yorkshire – with bits of Lancashire thrown in for good measure.
Instead of playing, he became an administrator who was to spend more than half a century fighting hard to keep some of the recent evils of the professional sport out of the local amateur game.
It was a career that was to take him from a part-time referee on 7s 6d per game to president of the West Riding Football Association, filling most of the intermediate posts in between.
Peter, now 73, was the son of a Skipton butcher with a shop in Brook Street and went to Ings Primary School during World War Two. Those were hard times, both at school and in his dad’s shop, where he worked at the weekends.
“Customers were only allowed meat worth 1s 9d a week (less than 10p in Monopoly money) and it was always causing augments,” he chuckles. “If I remember correctly, that was reduced even further to one shilling a week. But we got by of course.”
On a Saturday afternoon, he had an escape: he went off to watch Skipton Bulldogs play soccer nearby and eventually became something of a team mascot. It was there he got his first job in soccer: taking a jug of coffee and 22 tin mugs from a café in Engine Shed Lane to the players at half time (posh this: at rugby, players were lucky to get half an orange).
When he got older, he began to be a regular fan watching Burnley play at Turf Moor and even took his wife-to-be Maisie there when they were courting. So by now, after years on the touchline, he knew the laws of the game as well as anyone and in 1958 he and a friend took a referee’s course.
Now as a dyed-in-the-wool rugby fan (although I think that soccer is indeed a beautiful game) I have grave reservations about many of the men who play, manage and finance association football at a national level.
For sportsmen to earn £130,000 a week is to me absurd. For sportsmen who rarely win a game, at least in an England shirt, it is a total obscenity.
But how do you put points like that to an old-style sporting gentleman who has devoted thousands of hours of his leisure time to that sport without sounding churlish?
So I approached it in a roundabout way and found, much to my relief, that Peter soon saw my point – and agreed with me.
“I was a ref for many years and rose high enough to take charge of the youth teams from professional clubs,” he recalls.
“I officiated over players like Frankie Gray, who became one of the stars of the great Leeds United teams of the 1970s and I rarely had any trouble.
“I got a lot of verbal flak, of course, particularly as a Yorkshireman when I officiated in games over the border in Lancashire, but most of it was banter more than insult.
“I was once hit on the shoulder by a fan’s umbrella when I was acting as linesman in a cup match, but he came up and apologised later.
“But the foul language and the threatening behaviour towards referees in today’s professional game appal me.
“On the rugby field they would get sent off, but in the Premiership they seem to get away with it.
“Fortunately, we rarely get trouble like that in the local games here in Craven. The worst offenders, particularly in youth games, are not the players but their parents, who can get totally carried away.”
As president and former chairman of the West Riding FA, as well as a long-time server on its disciplinary panels, Peter Marsden is one of the old-time football administrators, struggling to curb the vicious side of professional soccer by backing a new Respect initiative to be launched at a national level to bring players, managers and fans back to a more civilised code of behaviour both on and off the field.
Meanwhile, the amateur game is alive and well here in our part of Yorkshire. The Craven and District Football League is celebrating its 100th anniversary this very season and will end it next summer with a centenary lunch.
After that, Peter Marsden, a man who has done more for the game than many a brilliant player, plans to retire. These will truly be boots hard to fill.