My own goal

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The Independent Online
In the second in a new series in which sportsmen and women recall their biggest mistakes, the former international football referee looks back to two freezing fixtures. Midgley retired three years ago with a cv that includes 11 Wembley games, one of them the 1987 FA Cup final, and matches in 58 countries. His job as an official monitor of refereeing takes him to Uefa Cup matches and back to the less glamorous stadiums. .

I COULDN'T possibly confess to any own goals on the field of play, because the laws of the game say the referee is right no matter what he does. So that's my excuse there, even though the fans would say I've made loads of mistakes - and I've no doubt that the players would agree.

No, I scored my own goals by visiting Hartlepool and Bangor on two foul days in the Seventies. The point is that refereeing isn't all glory and Cup ties at Wembley and going to the Stadium of Light or the Bernabeu. Everybody thinks it is marvellous, but you've got to do these other games as well.

The Hartlepool match was New Year's Day 1977 and what happened will probably satisfy all the people who booed me on the day. I'd travelled there the night before with my wife - given up a New Year's Eve night out for my football, I think that's what you call preparation - and attempted an early night at The Swallow in Stockton. This was impossible as the party was raging downstairs, and we were forced to join in until about 3am. So that was a bad start.

It was horrendous weather at Hartlepool, who played Doncaster the next day, and after the game I was in a right mess and looked as though I'd been playing rugby against the All Blacks. I was also absolutely frozen and couldn't get my boots off as they were wet through and actually stuck to me. I put my thumb down the back, gave it an almighty push and I heard a snap as pain shot up my arm. So Tom Johnson, the Hartlepool physiotherapist, came along, said the thumb was dislocated and told me that he could put it back. He yanked at it and I felt another snap and hit the ceiling with the pain.

The next morning I went to hospital, they X-rayed it and found the thumb was broken in two places - so I can only presume that Johnson did one of them. Johnson is still working and whenever he came on the field for an injury after that, I'd always say to the player, 'Don't let him near your hands.' However, I was in plaster for six weeks after the Hartlepool game and took a load of stick from the players because of it. That said, though I am a mickey taker, I do like to laugh at myself as well as everyone else. That was my man-management technique; it tends to keep things light.

Three years later, on Boxing Day, Bangor City were playing Telford United. At the time, all league referees used to have to referee in the Alliance League as it was then called. I set off with my wife, the rain was lashing down - I'd already rung to check the match wasn't cancelled - and we got a puncture near Colwyn Bay. Changing the wheel was my first soaking. We got to the ground, and it was under about a foot of water, but the groundsman said, 'Don't call it off yet. When the tide goes out, we'll be OK.' Seriously. So we rang up the harbourmaster to find out what time the tide turned, and sure enough, at 2.35pm, all the water vanished.

So we played, but it was still freezing - sleeting - and afterwards I was invited into the boardroom for a hot toddy. I had a sheepskin coat which cost me about pounds 150 and which I valued higher than my wife at the time because it was beautiful and I was in love with it. I made a point of taking it into the boardroom for safety, but there it was stolen. Terrible. So that night, I was miserable, had caught the flu, was in a real mess and, to cap it all, my wife had bought that record 'Didn't we have a lovely time the day we went to Bangor', which eventually I slung through the window.

So Hartlepool and Bangor - two of the high spots. It could only get better from there.

(Photograph omitted)

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