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Credit: Matt Eagles

Sorry this is not about a boy at all, but a lad… a lad from Macc, as he once sang night after night, up and down the country.

Except for when his band was banned, that is, and his regret at missing an open goal in the shape of increased notoriety is obvious, as he sits and recalls the zealous immigration officers who once refused him entry to Boston, Massachusetts, of all places.

Meet Muttley O’Neill, honorary player/chairman at Mary Dendy FC of the Crewe & District Saturday League, and a qualified referee, to boot.

Named after the naughty dog in the cult Hanna Barbera cartoon Dastardly and Muttley, who’d have thought he’d end up playing for a team with a girl’s name? Mary Dendy’s chairman, the founder and lead singer of the Macc Lads, sips on a pint of Cornish ale and recounts being turned back on entering the USA in their heyday… on what grounds?

They were just too smart to say it was the words in our songs, it would certainly have had a beneficial effect publicity-wise if they had. But it took hours and hours moving us from office to office and they weren’t letting us in!

Even though a more recent example like Goldie Lookin’ Chain defended the idea of a satirical band supposedly trashing taboos by spouting the same taboos, some of Muttley’s lyrics you’d gladly shirk the job of defending. Make up your own mind here. So I ask Muttley if he sees defence as a priority in these sensitive times, and there’s no Guardian-friendly mea culpa forthcoming…

I’ve always shied away from explaining the songs to be honest, I just don’t think you should do footnotes.

Is there a get-out-of-jail card offered by some of the band’s defenders, the way the butt of the joke tended to be the singer, not the subject, for example? Apparently not…

Well as far as the lyrics went, if it was funny it went in, simple as that.

 Did you always play football?

Yes, I continued from schoolboy to student before rock’n’roll took over for a while. I remember not even being deterred when the university captain gave me some excuse for dropping me the morning after a big night by claiming I was “too good not to start on the bench!” It might have had something to do with having been smashed in the eye with a bottle of Newcy Brown…

sandbach
Credit: Matt Eagles

Even after I’d given up playing for a while I’d regularly go and watch Liverpool with my dad.

He first took me to Old Trafford to watch us play United in about 1971. I also managed to get tickets for that special Wembley final in 1989 by luckily attending the Wimbledon home game which gave you the voucher you needed.

The player I imagined myself to be, though, was Jamie Carragher, I still have a lot of time for him and I get to most Anfield games with my business partner, who has season tickets.

We can talk pundits later… did you get to see much football abroad in the course of touring?

I did get to the Europa Cup Final in Basle last season, but my one time getting swept up in a proper tournament was France 1998, which was after the band had split. I intended to follow England but made my first mistake second-guessing the group results, when I ended up with tickets for Croatia v Romania!

I’d convinced myself we were going all the way to the World Cup Final and I thought we’d sell the tickets easily by getting there the night before, but there was no one to sell them to, at least not in the Bordeaux bars we frequented.

So we ended up going, Davor Suker scored the winner and I remember the ref was Argentinian.

Roy Hodgson imageNot that I got to any Euro 16 games, held in many of the same grounds 20 years on, but I actually felt sorry for [Roy] Hodgson in the summer. What can you really do if the players let you down on the day that badly?

Why retire so young as a musician and keep going so long as a footballer!

True! I last played last week in a 2-1 defeat. I’m in my mid-fifties, and it would make a welcome change if I was always the oldest on the pitch, cos I worry where all the 20something, 30something, 40something refs are coming from.

As for the music, I always thought it was a young man’s game even if the Stones and Iggy Pop are doing their best to prove me wrong. We packed it in thinking it doesn’t get any better than this in 1995, and the last gig was at our favourite venue, Rock City in Nottingham. No regrets, either.

Given that your facial scars are from neither run-ins on the touchline nor terraces but from the dozens of pint pots hurled at the stage, was it hard leading the line for the Macc Lads and trying to fit football in?

It definitely didn’t help that we toured during the season, and this was before the festival circuit became so all-important and you could make a living just playing through the summer…

Having gone through a lot of line-up changes, it did help if a band member liked his football. It stops me in my tracks when I think of everything my old bandmate, who was a big Sunderland supporter, has missed since he passed away prematurely.

What made you want to pick up a whistle, then?

As a member club you get these missives from the league reminding you that at least one person has to be able to take a game in an emergency, so I volunteered to go on the course.

The thing that frustrated me, though, is it’s like a lot of things, driving for instance, where they teach you how to pass the test, not how to actually referee!

When I say I passed, I got a score of 99%, and the answer to the only question I got wrong has since been changed, so I’d have got that right.

But I find doing it’s a nightmare to be honest, and I’m definitely in no hurry to get any more games! I think the main reason for that is basically because I’m used to playing on the edges of the game, position-wise, as a full-back. To find myself literally in the middle requires a 360 degree thing I don’t think comes naturally to me at all!

I might know all the Laws, but that doesn’t make me any good.

I also think amateur refs are too exposed, certainly compared to their counterparts lucky enough to be on the PGMOL’s payroll. I know they are under massive pressure too, but it’s a lot safer for them. They don’t have the touchline warriors to negotiate, either during the game or in the car park.

I’d agree it takes a strong character to stand your ground when you’re being deliberately mobbed by a team that’s been coached to intimidate you, but try throwing in the fathers on the touchline, too!

If you ask me, the courses they run should be more practical and not all theory, for the simple reason that the biggest part of the role is managing people.

The advances in technology are all well and good but I worry that they will take too many decisions away… we all need something to argue about afterwards, don’t we?

What was the question you got wrong?

It was how you arrive at the decision as to which end penalty kicks are taken at in the event of a shoot-out.

Football - England v Ecuador - 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany - Second Round - Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion - Stuttgart - 25/6/06 Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville of England sit on the bench Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Tony O'Brien

So glad you brought that up! From 18 penalty shoot-outs since their first in 1974, Liverpool have won 14 of them including two European Cups, two League Cups and an FA Cup Final. Does that success rate influence whether you think they are fair or not?

I think they are justified on drama alone, and I would not change deciding a game back to any other solution. You find yourself watching games on TV where you are looking forward to a shoot-out.

Lastly, on the subject of TV, you’ve mentioned Carragher, so does that mean you always take his side against a Neville?

Well obviously! But there are some dreadful TV pundits out there now, and Owen Hargreaves is the latest in a long line. Martin Keown has his moments, though, I like what he does on the Premier League Show when they use the graphic with a pundit magically walking around the pitch, because I think he’s good at explaining aspects of defending.

I also love what Ian Wright comes out with. What a season last season was and this one could be, and I think he comes out with things not just the players but the fans watching are thinking, too.