Longford town native Paddy Nolan recently hung up his referee’s whistle after 44 years as a soccer referee in the county and surrounding areas.
“I played for St John of God’s in Celbridge and for Longford Town’s ‘B’ team, he says, looking back on his early involvement in football.
Paddy also played in the town league and it was from here that he took his first steps into refereeing in 1971.
“Mickey Croghan from Teffia Park came to me and said ‘would you not take up refereeing?’,” he recalls. “I tried it for a few games and I thought it was a disaster, but I kept at it and got more comfortable and went on from there.”
Ever since then, Paddy has been a familiar face to local league soccer players throughout Longford, and indeed the wider Midlands area.
“I started out in the local leagues, and then I joined the Midlands branch of the Irish Soccer Referees Society,” he continues. “From the very start I refereed in the Paddy Clabby Cup. There were some great games in that and there would be a great buzz around town. The five-a-side tournaments at the old grounds down Little Water Street were great, too.”
Down through the years Paddy has also officiated at a number of prominent and memorable fixtures.
“I’m the only referee from outside Dublin to have reffed the Sheeran Cup Final,” he reveals. “I’ve reffed the Counties Cup Final 16 times, 36 All-Ireland College Finals, the Midlands area Leinster Junior Cup Final, and the Senior Women’s Cup in the De Bruin’s League.”
Paddy has also had the opportunity to take charge of games featuring players who have gone on to become household names in the sport.
“Wes Brown was playing for a Manchester United Under-17 side in a game I was in charge of out in Mullologher,” he says. “In another game, Alan Maybury was playing for Leeds United’s Under-19s.”
Other teams Paddy has refereed include Tranmere Rovers’ Under-17s and a German Schoolboys Selection.
In more recent times, Paddy has refereed over-35s games locally. “I’ve had a referees’ assessment role in the Combined Counties Football League, too,” he adds. “I’ve also been doing a lot of five-a-side refereeing.”
Paddy finally drew his refereeing days to a close earlier this month, with his final game being an encounter between Mullingar Athletic and St Peter’s at McCarthy Park in Athlone.
Looking back on his time as a match official, Paddy says he viewed himself as being firm but fair.
“If you’re fair to them, they’ll be fair to you, and never under-estimate the power of a joke to get you out of trouble!” he says. “As I said to one fella out on the field, “Son, a referee can make a mistake but he’s never wrong, and if you remember that you’ll never get into trouble with me.
“I’ll miss it but everything has to come to an end and there are some good young referees coming through.”
A life-long Liverpool supporter like his father, son and grandson, he hints that he may now have the time to travel over to the UK to see them playing more often.
“I saw them three times this year,” he continues.
Asked about his most memorable incident on the football field, Paddy admits it’s one which involved his own son, Damien.
“He was being a little bit on the bold side, so I called him over to book him and take his name,” he says. When I asked him his name he said ‘Donald Duck’, so he got a second yellow for that, and I said ‘You can waddle off to the shower now, so! There was picture and no sound for weeks in the house after that,” he laughs.
There is more laughter when his nickname is mentioned - one which was given to him by the Longford Leader’s Sports Editor, Padraic O’Brien, during his playing days.
“He christened me ‘Red Card’ and it stuck!”