Play to the Whistle! – Jim Wiltshire


Jim Wiltshire was the referee of the 1947 FA Cup Final. This appointment marked the end of a long career on the pitches of England, which career had been broken by World War II, as was the case for many in football at the time.

Wiltshire’s account is interesting in that it started in the early days of the sport, the early 1900s, when getting around to ref – or play – matches was more troublesome than it is nowadays. Wiltshire lived near Plymouth and though football had definitely taken root there, travelling was still a task to reckon with. Many of his anecdotes in the first part of the book recount his travails and vicissitudes on the way to and from matches. The reason for his taking up the whistle is a rather funny anecdote as well. Though his father was secretary of the county FA and an active referee as well, he specifically told his son not to get involved in the sport. But if it’s in the blood… So young Jim studied for and took the exam without his father’s knowledge. That’s how he started his way up. Literally at times, for his travels to the various “fields” of play around the county took him through sheep meadows, over narrow planks crossing ditches, in rowing boats and on the back of tractors. Later, when Wiltshire started rising up the ranks, the train became his standard mode of transportation.

It never ceases to amaze me, reading Wiltshire’s memoirs and those of his contemporaries, how the British tried to live life – and play football – in as normal a fashion as possible during the war years. Many conscripts and volunteers, Wiltshire among them, had to move around all the time, gaining new impressions and first-hand experience of the war. Still, he kept reffing when he could, earning himself the right to lead one of the first post-war FA Cup Finals.

The book includes stories from his travels abroad and what it was like being an – international – referee back then. This part of the book, though entertaining, does not contain many useful hints, apart from the need to join a referees’ society and to train yourself, in the laws as well as physically, to gain stamina. That advice still holds true today.

Jim Wiltshire

Jim Wiltshire

Value for active referees

Not very high.

The chapter titled “The Art of Refereeing” is too short and contains too generic information to be of much use. Apparently, that was not the idea behind the book, which definitely was aimed at the general public and football fans rather than aspiring referees.

Final say

The cover praises this book as a ‘fascinating’ read. While that may have been the case for anyone reading it in 1948, modern readers will have higher expectations. Life has moved on, the times having changed so much that we really should not blame the author for that. In fact, it’s quite interesting to see how much the world has changed in 70 years – the LOTG, technology, society, etc. – yet how little interpersonal relationships, especially on the football field, have changed. Now that is a fascinating fact.

Title Play to the Whistle!
Author Jim Wiltshire
Pages 128
Publisher W.H. Allen
Year 1948
3 / 5     


  1. I’m his nephew and always held him in high regard. He was a lovely uncle and always full of anecdotes. He had a glass cabinet in his lounge where he kept spirit miniatures (he worked for Ind Coop brewery) together with all his football memorabilia. This included a gold cigarette case and silver and diamond cuff links but his most treasured possession was a small bronze medal engraved with the words “FinalTie” Referee Empire Stadium, Wembley 1947.
    Derry Wiltshire

    • Thank you for that lovely reminiscence, Derry.
      Your uncle’s book is one of the first referees’ biographies ever, so you can say he set a trend.
      I don’t suppose there are still any memorabilia of your uncle’s left in the family that they would mind giving up, are there? I’d love and be honoured to add something of his to my personal refereeing museum. Would you be willing to inquire? Thank you for your time.

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