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Alan Wiley's life and times in football

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Alan Wiley, this region's finest referee since Jack Taylor, is stepping down from the Premier League.

Alan Wiley, this region's finest referee since Jack Taylor, is stepping down from the Premier League.

And before you ask - no, his decision has got nothing to do with you-know-who.

Wiley nurses a mixture of regret, irritation and sadness that the final imprint of a distinguished 11-year career in the thick of the world's most intense, talked-about league was provided by one Sir Alex Ferguson's typical - and sadly graceless - verbal barrages.

He infamously accused the Burntwood copper of not being fit enough to cope with the demands of Manchester United's home game with Sunderland last October and plunged Wiley, an official who prided himself on a calm, under-stated and low-profile refereeing style, into a media firestorm.

You know it still rankles with the 50-year-old.

On announcing his retirement, he conducted a pre-emptive strike on the national media he knew would be after him to, above all else, take a 'pop' at the emperor of Old Trafford by informing the Premier League press office he would speak only to his local paper.

But when I finally bring 'Fergie-gate' into the conversation, he shoots his ever-patient wife Carol a knowing look as if to say 'here we go.'

So let's get it over and done with shall we?

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He said: "It just makes me think I've done 11 years in the Premier League, refereed some really, really top games, good games, refereed a special, memorable FA Cup final but, through no reason of my own, that's what gets brought up when you mention 'Alan Wiley.'

"When it happened, I thought it would be the usual three-day media firestorm. There was an international weekend following and I thought by the time the next set of fixtures were upon us, it would all have died down.

"When it's still making the 'News at Ten' bulletins a week later you start to worry just what on earth is going on.

"Sir Alex? I have either refereed or been a fourth official at Manchester United games on five occasions since then and there have been no problems. It's always a handshake and hello.

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"To be fair, Sir Alex wrote a letter of apology in which he made it clear he was keen to also apologise to my wife and daughters too.

"None of this has altered my view of Sir Alex as a manager. He's unbelievable. He has that incredible skill of rebuilding football teams.

"But he maybe stepped over a line that day."

It was Ferguson's heavy-handed criticism of his ability to do his job which got to Wiley more than the force of the controversy and it's easy to see why.

Since 1987, he dovetailed his refereeing career with police work and handling all those egos and volatile temperaments every weekend is not so demanding when you've coped with the human calamities that are a copper's lot.

One occasion comes readily to mind and explains why the rantings of over-heated footballers failed to disturb Wiley's persona.

He said: "I've had knives drawn on me and been in the middle of pub fights when all the time the idea is to talk people down from confrontations - you're trying to lower the temperature.

"And that's what refereeing is all about in my book. My refereeing has always been about calmness.

"I don't think it's any co-incidence that the calmest referees of this time - Howard Webb, Chris Foy, Martin Atkinson - are all police officers.

"My scariest moment was probably in Brownhills, in the mid-1990s where a chap was worrying neighbours because he was convinced he was going to be re-admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He wasn't - but he thought he was.

"We had a bit of a stand-off outside his front door. He wouldn't let us in but was demanding to see his brother.

"All the time, I'm just trying to calm him down. 'You're not coming through here,' he was shouting at us and it was getting pretty tense.

"We got the brother there and again started talking to this man. The door was at least now open but he wouldn't have it that he was not going back to hospital.

"Suddenly, before anyone can react, he poured lighter fuel all over himself and while we're still shouting 'don't be stupid' sets himself alight - and then jumped on to his brother to set him on fire too.

"All I could do was get them on the ground and roll them over as much as possible to try to extinguish the flames. We got coats, anything to try to stop the flames.

"The brother recovered but unfortunately the poor soul lasted a couple of weeks in hospital before he died.

"So when I'm asked if I get intimidated by players shouting or ranting at me I don't need to tell you the answer do I?"

Wiley was challenged to take up refereeing by a father who accompanied him to Blues and Walsall matches and got fed up hearing him berating officials.

"If you think you can do a better job, why don't you?" argued Wiley Snr one day in 1981. He did. He passed a refereeing course, began locally and by 1991 was on the Football League list as a linesman.

Eight years later, he was walking out at the old Dell to take charge of Southampton's home game with Leeds and, as it transpired, enjoyed a lengthier top flight career then player whose hat-trick won that game for the visitors, Michael Bridges.

Wiley would finish at Anfield last May with the Liverpool versus Chelsea match which saw Abramovich's new power effectively clinch the title.

He said: "It's changed dramatically even in that time. It's much, much faster - it seems to have a spurt every four years. And there are so many more foreign players involved now.

"I walked out for that first game looking at the names of the shirts thinking 'Crikey, I've arrived now.' But everyone on the ground seemed to know it was my first match - especially the players. They were clearly going to test me, see what I was made of.

"I looked at the two teams for players I thought I needed to get on my side. Leeds were a lively bunch but I figured if I could get David Batty working with me it would help.

"Southampton meant Matt Le Tissier, a god down there. If he is with me, I'll be alright, I thought - but I booked him after four minutes so that was Plan A out the window! Five bookings before the break, nine in all - the players were testing me.

"But I refereed both teams two or three times later on that season and they were as good as gold. So I like to think I passed the test.

Yes he did. Even the one set by the biggest personality of them all.

Best moment: -

"The 2006 FA Cup final - for so many reasons. I had never missed a Cup final since watching my first in 1967 so to wake up on the morning of the 2006 Liverpool-West Ham final and realise I would be 'reffing' it was very, very special in a personal way.

"It's unreal when you're out there on the pitch in the centre of it all. I was about seven or eight yards to to his left when Steven Gerrard struck that incredible equaliser - as he made contact I was right in line and thought 'bloody hell, that's got a chance.'

"But I was so pleased it went in. Really, really pleased. It meant I could have another half hour out there!

Worst moment: -

"September 2003. It's burned on my brain and it still rankles with me now. I allowed a penalty in the Arsenal-Portsmouth match when I thought Stefanovic had tripped Pires. I watched it on 'Match of the Day' that night, from a camera behind the goal which was a view I couldn't have of course, and it was clear Pires instigated the contact.

"I spent a week waking up in the middle of the night fretting over that, watching the incident time and time again, wondering what I could have done better.

"Even now it gets to me, all these years later."

The managers: -

"The most gentlemanly, courteous manager of them all was probably Gerard Houllier.

"If he had a problem over a decision at the end of a game, he would go away and look at the TV replays, take his time and come back to your changing room and not be afraid to say: 'You were right.'

"He took time to do that. Sven-Goran Eriksson was similar in that respect. He would look at things very calmly."

The players: -

"I think I've got on with most of them and enjoyed a good rapport. Players I admire? Well, I know he's not everyone's cup of tea but for sheer, unbelievable talent I've got to go for Cristiano Ronaldo.

"After him Thierry Henry, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Alan Shearer.

"This may surprise some folk bearing in mind the recent publicity he has had to deal with but I enjoyed a particularly good working rapport with John Terry.

"There was a time a few years back when Chelsea had a reputation for being a difficult bunch of players to handle, you know, crowding the referee at flashpoints in the game.

"But I always said to John 'look, move them away and I will talk to you.' To be fair, that's what he would do and we got things sorted out."

Top referees: -

George Courtney in the 80s and 980s and Philip Don - both for decision making, consistency and managing people. I would have to say Graham Poll, warts and all, because you cannot deny he had a terrific career even if all he will ever be remembered for was his three-card trick!

"These days, you've got to say Howard Webb."

Howard Webb and the World Cup final: -

Lots of people have spoken to me since then and he was in a no-win situation. He has tried to keep all 22 players in a match, the biggest match of their lives.

"I listened to the pundits saying at half-time it should have been 11 players versus 9.

"I have no doubt that if Howard had sent off players they would have been saying 'he's ruined this game, those players have worked all their life to get there and had it taken away from them by the ref.' That's the way it is.

"I thought Howard did a fine job."

By Martin Swain

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