Rosy future for man in black

AS Jason Peake trotted back to the halfway line you could see the referee sharing a joke with him. A midfielder for Rochdale, Peake had just hit a screaming 20-yard shot into the roof of the Scarborough net to bring the scores level at 1-1 in a windswept Third Division encounter on the North Yorkshire coast last Tuesday evening.

"I told him that I thought he must have miskicked it," Steve Baines said afterwards as he stood in the club bar having a drink with his two linesmen and reserve referee. "I talk to the players all the time. I think it makes it easier to sell them decisions, as it were. I may be an easy- going sort of fellow, but I like to think that at the same time I'm controlling the players with my verbals. I get that close to them that I see potential trouble and sort it out before it gets serious. The art of it is communicating with people."

Most referees would agree with that, but what is different about Baines, a jovial, guardsmanlike-figure who in his other life owns an insurance company in Mansfield, is that for 14 years he was a professional footballer himself. "I think I understand where the players are coming from," he said. "For someone who's never played, it might take three or four seasons to get the experience I've already had from being out there. And some of them will never get it."

As charges of refereeing incompetence multiply at about the same rate as yellow cards in a match involving Wimbledon, one of the more frequently proposed solutions to what seems to be a minor crisis in the game is to have more men in the middle drawn from the ranks of the ex-players.

You might expect it to be a logical progression. After all, of the 26 umpires officiating in first-class cricket last summer, 25 had played the game to that level. But in football, Baines is the only referee of the 66 operating in the professional game this season (19 in the Premier League, 47 in the Football League) who can look back on a career as a professional footballer.

Baines is 41. A steady, honest centre-half (his own description), he made his League debut for Nottingham Forest in the 1972-73 season and went on to play for six more clubs - Huddersfield Town, Bradford City, Walsall, Bury, Scunthorpe United and Chesterfield - before retiring aged 31 in 1986. He clocked up 438 League appearances, three sendings-off and "I wouldn't know how many bookings - a lot".

He never thought about becoming a referee while he was playing. "I wanted to go into management." But the opportunity did not arise, and when he read a newspaper article in which Tommy Smith and Ron Harris, two legendary hard men, advocated players becoming referees: "I thought, 'what a good idea'."

It was the right time for Baines to come along. Three years ago, Fifa lowered the retirement age for its referees from 50 to 45 and the Football Association realised that if its own officials were to stand a chance of making it to the top, their rise would have to be accelerated. From breaking up fights in the local Sunday league to repositioning a wall at Hartlepool used to take about 12 years. Baines, now in his first season on the League list, has done it in seven.

In the eyes of some referees, it is a suspiciously rapid rise. "Obviously, with my background people take a special interest in me," Baines said. "And I know that they're queueing up to see me fall." One of Baines's linesmen at Scarborough, Dick McGregor, said he had come across officials who were so put out at what they saw as preferential treatment that they were reluctant to work with Baines.

Arthur Smith, the general secretary of the Referees' Association, said: "In any profession there are always people who will say that so-and-so has got where he is because of who he is and who he knows, but there is no question that Steve Baines has progressed entirely on merit. If he wasn't up to it he wouldn't be there."

None the less, there is surely something in the fact that, according to Baines, he has generally received higher marks for his performances from the two managers than the referees' assessor up in the stands. If it would be wrong to suggest that there are forces working actively against him, it does seem that his light touch - he has yet to send a player off in 21 matches this season - has gone down better among his former colleagues than his present ones. "I think he's excellent," Ray McHale, the Scarborough manager, said. "Playing hundreds of games like Steve has must stand you in good stead. He knows the script."

So should even more be done to put ex-players on a fast track to refereeing? McHale thinks that after five years they would be ready for the League list; Arthur Smith, though, stresses that "it's a totally different trade" and still needs a lengthy apprenticeship. But for Baines, the problem may be getting players interested in the first place. "A lot of them won't even cross the road to see a game once they've retired."

News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own