Ref Jim was chief whistleblower

Jim Bryson
Jim Bryson
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The Big Interview

You would imagine former local referee Jim Bryson’s ears will start to suffer from ‘withdrawal symptoms’ on Sunday mornings when the new football season kicks off in a little over a month’s time.

For so long, he and his wife Ann have become accustomed to the familiar jingle of their household telephone shattering the peace and tranquility inside their Deepdale home.

As the long-serving referees’ secretary of the Lancashire Sunday League, Bryson has been the ‘go to’ man when a match is about to go-ahead without an official referee.

Such has been Bryson’s importance to the game in Preston, the six digits of his telephone number are almost as well-known in local football circles as dialling 999.

But having served the league for 40 years in a variety of capacities – both on and off the pitch – Bryson has decided this year to stand down as referees’ secretary due to ill-health.

His position will be fulfilled by David McNamara – the son of league chairman Eamonn,

At a recent league meeting, Eamonn McNamara paid tribute to the retiring officer, who he described as ‘like a brother to me’.

He said: “Jim has served the league in a variety of positions such as promotions secretary, fixtures secretary and over the past 15 years as referees and fixtures secretary.

“He is at his best when working with referees and they have responded by supporting Jim and the league.

“We went season after season where every single game had an official referee.

“Even in the past seven seasons when Jim’s health has been in decline, it is worth noting that the league played a total of 7,483 and only six of those games did not have an official referee.

“And that is down to Jim Bryson.”

So how has he managed to do it all?

In his typical modest and understated way, Bryson – who does not drive – revealed the secrets behind his success.

“What I used to do is I would make it clear to the referees who did not have a game, that they could expect a phone call from me on a Saturday night,” he said.

“So if I received any late backwords, I would always have somebody on standby.

“The refs could even expect a phone call off me on a Sunday morning.

“And also if there were games which had a linesmen, then I would take one of the linesman off that game and ask them to referee this other game.

“There were all ways and means of making sure games always had referees.

“And failing all that, I would jump in a taxi and referee the game myself.”

One of the tricks of the trade Bryson used to employ was becoming familiar with the family members of all of his referees.

“I used to find out all sorts about my referees, just by speaking to their wives or girlfriends,” he said.

“Sometimes I would just communicate through them, say if it was on a Saturday night and their husband had gone out for the night.

“Sometimes, if I was struggling to get in touch with a particular referee, I would discover that they had walked out or they were having personal problems.

“Usually the referee would not tell me, but his wife or girlfrend would.

“I certainly had to be a diplomat.”

To keep games covered by match officials for so many years also requires a steady stream of people to take up the whistle.

No matter where he was, Bryson was – and always will be for that matter – on the lookout for suitable prospective referees.

Such are his persuasive powers that the Sunday League have retained his services in a recruitment and liason role with Preston Referees’ Society.

“I used to talk people into refereeing when I was shopping around Sainsbury’s,” said Bryson, who was president Preston Referees’ Society.

“I would see people who I knew used to play or I had probably refereed them in the past – I would try to get them into refereeing.

“I just would never let it drop and would keep on at them.

“Some people would say no to me, but a lot of people said yes.”

Bryson even used to encourage players to take up the whistle in the middle of a match.

“I always say goalkeepers, centre halves and centre midfielders make the best referees,” he added.

“One of the best referees the league has had in recent years is Mark Doherty.

“He used to be a goalkeeper and he was always quite chubby.

“But he turned into a great referee. He’s still a bit chubby, but he’s refereed many of the finals like the LFA Sunday Trophy.

“He now runs the referees academy and looks after all the youngsters.

“He watches them and keeps them involved.

“He is fully committed to it and I think he’s now a level three referee.

He added: “Probably by far the best referee we have ever had has been John Kerrigan.

“He was the league’s leading goalscorer in the 1979/80 season.

“I think he got 47 goals for Grimsargh, but then he became a referee and had every final going.

“He was never anything other than a probationer referee but he was just a natural.

“He would never have any controversy during games.

“But there are a hell of a lot of good referees out there in Preston and I think Preston is unusual in that it has got so many referees and good referees too.

“It is very difficult to get good referees.”

Bryson, who has two daughters Elizabeth and Rachel, first got into refereeing as a young man in the early 1970s.

He was the secretary of PNE Supporters’ Club FC which played their games on Moor Park, usually without the luxury of an official referee.

It was then that he decided to take up refereeing and the rest is – as they say– history.

An employee at Fulwood Barracks, Bryson even took his whistle and notebook with him to the Falkland Island when he was stationed over there.

Perhaps is funniest tale was the time he refereed a game in Horwich on New Year’s Day one time.

Having travelled to his appointment by bus, Bryson was horrified to discover that all the services back to Preston had been cancelled.

He was forced to walk home – his match fee unable to cover the cost of taxi fare back home.

Eventually he was picked up by his dad’s friend and neighbour – former Preston player and manager Jimmy Milne.

“I ended up walking back from Horwich,” he recalls.

“I got to Chorley at about seven or eight o’clock – remember my game finished at lunch time.

“I then walked in a pub and won the jackpot in tokens on the bandit.

“I bought a load of bottles of Guinness and then carried on walking.

“I was eventually picked up by Jimmy Milne, who had come looking for me in his car.”