Tom Wharton

'Jeeves of the refereeing world'
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Tom Wharton, engineer and football referee: born Glasgow 3 November 1927; Member of the Referee Committee, Fifa 1981-2000; OBE 1990; married 1946 Cathy Walker (four daughters); died Newton Mearns, Renfrewshire 9 May 2005.

Denis Howell, the former Birmingham MP and Minister of Sport, and a celebrated football referee himself, once described Tom Wharton (at 6ft 4½in known as "Tiny") as "the best referee ever to officiate at Villa Park - and that includes myself". But Wharton's involvement was not only in Britain, but worldwide. He was the first former referee ever to be given the Fifa Order of Merit. Sepp Blatter, President of Fifa, described Wharton as a "one of the world's most distinguished refereeing officials. At Fifa we liked Tiny and treated him as part of the family. He served the football community with dignity and commitment. We will miss his presence and his wit."

Wharton's wit stood him in excellent stead. There is the tale of Wharton and John Hamilton, an argumentative left-winger in the 1960s for the Heart of Midlothian football club. Hamilton was a tough player, who through various accidents had lost his own teeth. He was well-known for the fastidious way in the dressing room in which he left his false dentures in his locker. At Tynecastle, the Hearts ground, he was booked early on in a derby match against Edinburgh Hibernian. Again, in the second half, "Hammie" became involved in an incident on the pitch. Wharton beckoned to him. He showed him to the dressing room, saying "The time has come, Mr Hamilton, for you to rejoin your teeth." It was part of Wharton's authority that he practised formality and called every player "Mr".

Tom Wharton was born in the East End of Glasgow in 1927 and went to Newlands Public Primary School and Riverside Senior Secondary School. At the age of five, he had serious mastoid complications, which made him medically unfit for National Service. So he went to the Royal Technical College of Glasgow (now the University of Strathclyde) to study engineering and, after a short spell in a lawyers' office, joined the then famous engineering firm of Redpath Brown. He became manager of a small steel firm, Scottish Fabrications, in the Gorbals of which he later became the owner.

In 1946, when a referee failed to turn up for a Juvenile Churches League match in which Wharton was due to play, he volunteered to stand in. He liked it. He qualified as a referee at the age of 21 and became a Class One official in 1951, at the age of 24. Youth did not detract from his authority. The Scotland and Rangers captain George Young told me once that "there was one referee Willie Woodburn, Dougie Gray and I, the so-called Iron Curtain of the Rangers defence, never tangled with. Tiny would take no nonsense from players."

In truth, Wharton was not as agile as many referees, but finessed any criticism by growling: "If you can't see a foul from 20 yards, you can't see it from two yards!"

In 1962, it was thought that I, as a candidate in the West Lothian by-election, should go to the League Cup final between Heart of Midlothian and Kilmarnock. In the 88th minute Kilmarnock, at that point a goal down, appeared to have got the ball in the Hearts net. However, a linesman had put up his flag, because of the use of elbows and arms, as Wharton imagined. Furious Kilmarnock players, and the manager, Willie Waddell, were shouting at Wharton that he ought to consult the other linesman. Quick as a flash, Wharton realised that he needed to go across to the other linesman and elicit the answer "No".

Pushing the Kilmarnock players back, he strode over to the second linesman, whom he knew to be vehemently against alcohol and an abstainer. It transpired later, to the huge merriment of the east of Scotland at least, if not to the west of Scotland, that in fact Wharton had said to him in a gentle voice: "Ah, I suppose you'll be having a wee dram of whisky this evening." There ensued a vigorous shake of the head from the linesman. Wharton seized the chance to put the ball in place for a free kick and then ran up the field.

Wharton was very reluctant to send players off and when he did so it was usually kindly done, as when in the New Year derby fixture between Celtic and Rangers in 1965 he put his bear-like arms round that diminutive genius Jimmy Johnstone before sending him off for taking a reckless kick at the Rangers inside-forward Theorolf Beck.

That shrewdest of observers of Scottish football, Bob Crampsey, described Wharton as the "Jeeves of the refereeing world". "Any temporary difficulty and he dealt with it with the minimum of fuss."

In total, Wharton was asked to handle no less than 23 international club fixtures, including the 1962 Cup-winners final between Atletico Madrid and Fiorentina. He handled, on 22 April 1959, at Windsor Park, Belfast, Northern Ireland's victory over Wales, and 15 subsequent international matches. He was also invited to officiate at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

My father-in-law, John Wheatley, as Lord Justice Clerk reported to the government on the Ibrox disaster of January 1971 and he paid tribute to the thoughtfulness of Wharton in proposing safety considerations, not only in relation to the Glasgow disaster, but also to the Bradford football fire of 1985.

In May 2002 I sat next to Wharton at the Junior Cup Final between Linlithgow Rose and Auchinlech Talbot at the Partick Thistle ground at Firhill. Towards the end of the game, there was a much-disputed goal which gave Linlithgow, the county town of my constituency, victory. The secretary of the club instructed the MP that I had to go to congratulate the team, who by that time were already in the shower.

What does a Member of Parliament say to 11 naked men, on a high at their victory? With trepidation I entered the shower room and bellowed out: "I sat next to Tiny Wharton. Tiny says that he would have given you the goal. If Tiny says it was a goal, it most definitely was a goal!" Cheers. Exit the MP. Tiny Wharton's authority was magic.

Tam Dalyell