Whose Side Are You On, Ref? – Norman Burtenshaw

Brief outline

Not the best-known British referee from his time, Norman Burtenshaw still spent 11 years reffing at football’s top level and was awarded the 1971 FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Liverpool. It shows he must have been quite capable after all. His memoirs mark him out as a rather strait-laced person, not atypical for a referee, but also a trait that occasionally puts one in the line of fire. In the UK, Burtenshaw is remembered for a number of incidents, being knocked unconscious by Millwall supporters being one. Also, in said FA Cup Final, following his final signal (after extra time) he was observed sinking to the ground and pumping his fists, later explaining he had been relieved the game hadn’t gone to a replay, as he wouldn’t have been able to ref it, having barely come through this match (it was scorching and he had an injury). Another was when he – against the grain of his character – did not stand by his own observation but followed the advice of his linesman and gave a penalty. He was immediately scoffed at by players for being a spineless coward, although television footage proved him to be right later on. This incident does attest the opportunist mentality of players (as well as managers and fans!), who cannot be bothered to look at the big picture and tend to found their judgments of referees on isolated incidents.

Which is the common thread to Burtenshaw’s memoirs, actually, their overtones consequently being somewhat bitter. Burtenshaw felt misunderstood and undervalued, as a referee and an individual, believing that the rest of the football world fails to appreciate the heavy task he and his colleagues face every Saturday. What’s more, referees – and their decisions – tend to be put under much one-sided, and usually negative, media scrutiny.

Value for active referees

Norman Burtenshaw

Norman Burtenshaw

Not very much. Burtenshaw fails to give a great deal of advice for aspiring, beginning or advanced referees, although between the lines he does issue tips on how to deal with the various types of players. But even these are few and far between. What he does have is opinions, though. For instance, he finds the diagonal system too restrictive. He has therefore devised an adjusted version, which looks more like a hook of sorts: a slightly off-kilter line, then a perpendicular cross-line, followed by another off-kilter line. Worth a try! Burtenshaw devotes the final chapter of his memoirs to predicting the future. Funnily enough, his view that referees would turn pro at some time has come true. He considers it a natural consequence, as he himself, a mere amateur, already invested a lot of time into training, preparations and travelling. “I’m a fulltime referee as it is”, he writes. He does oppose the introduction of electronic aids to review refereeing decisions, mooted as early as the 1960s. In Burtenshaw’s opinion, such aids would serve to undermine the referee’s authority, whereas the referee’s decision on the field of play should be final.

Final say

These memoirs have somewhat bitter overtones, the work of a man feeling misunderstood and undervalued. Although it paints a solid picture of football in the 1960s and 1970s, Burtenshaw’s account fails to engage the reader, not least because of the lack of practical use. Burtenshaw does turn out to have been prescient with regard to the professionalisation of football and refereeing.

Title Whose Side Are You On, Ref?
Author Norman Burtenshaw
Year 1974
Publisher Sphere Books
Pages 206
2.5 / 5     

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