Alex Griffiths talks to Roger Dilkes (Football League/PL, 1983/1997) about the refereeing giant whose shoulders he was honoured to stand upon.
The very first burning question for Roger had to be: when he surveilled the ranks of top officials and their chosen professions in the days long before professional referees, did he not feel daunted when he saw so many were coppers, if not teachers, as was the case with the man he set out to emulate? “Not in the slightest!” comes the reply.
“I just didn’t look at it like that, coming as I did from HR training. I felt I had lots of transferable interpersonal skills plus the ability to communicate, both through my work and having played myself.
“There’s no denying, however, that George’s job as a head teacher stood him in good stead. He had the people skills, a good manner and people working for him, which helps you relate to what we used to call linesmen in those days…”
What else made Courtney stand out among what was a talented bunch in Hackett, Thomas, Midgeley and Willis, to name but four?
“He looked the part for a start, always in short sleeves. From experience he used his humour at just the right times and kept it on the field of play, and, even then, more so with the players as opposed to his assistants.
“That group of rivals all got on very well, in fact, and the late Pat Partridge could be included even if he was slightly older. Of course he was from the same neck of the woods as Courtney and Willis, up there in the North-East, too.
“As well as being mentored and supported by George I acted as his linesman and the instructions he would give beforehand were always very precise and only served to heighten his authority.”
Courtney certainly prided himself on his fitness, did he not? “Yes,” Dilkes readily confirms. “He used to play tennis and golf to a high standard and I remember one particular occasion in Istanbul when he gave the hotel pro a game of tennis prior to a Galatasaray versus Austria Vienna match.”
Who won? “Oh, I’m sure George let the pro win, simply because he did not feel he should exert himself so close to such a big appointment… he was that professional! He had a good go, all the same, as I recall.”
Hang on, must this tribute to Courtney face a steward’s enquiry, given that most people and their idol have an age gap comfortably bigger than Roger’s and George’s… is Dilkes just trying to come off as younger than he really is here?
“Not guilty! He was on the list nearly ten years before I was, and I can’t overstate what a positive influence he had on me.
“In terms of motivation to succeed that really was what he was all about, and again those were key skills he brought with him from teaching.
“Consistency was his trademark, if you like: you knew what you were getting, whatever the standard of the game might be. And he kept going long after retirement.”
Consistency does appear to have been Courtney’s legacy, so, in closing, how did he manage to loom so large in the Dilkes story, in practical terms?
“It was not just me, but many others who he supported along the way. He simply seemed to know how to get the best out of you, and after a pep talk from him you felt able to take on any game.
“His mentoring allowed me to go into games with no qualms or any hint of negativity whatsoever, and for that boost in confidence I will always remain grateful.”
*Born 19/8/1948 in Lancashire
*Made FL list as linesman in 1980, as referee in 1983 (aged 34) and PL as referee in its inaugural season, 1992
*Ran the line for FA Cup Semi-Final 1984, Watford (1) Plymouth (0)
*Refereed 1988 FA Trophy Final & replay: Enfield (0) (3) Telford (0) (2)
*Refereed 1989 Women’s FA Cup Final, Leasowe Pacific (3) Friends of Fulham (2)
*Refereed 1991 Upton Park Cup Final in St Helier, Jersey: Sporting Academics (3) Northerners (1)
*Reserve referee (to Philip Don) at 1993 FA Cup Final
*Refereed FA Cup Semi-Final 1994, Chelsea (2) Luton Town (0)
*Refereed League Cup Semi-Final 1996, second leg: Leeds United (3) Birmingham City (0)
*Retired 1997 after Coventry City (1) Derby County (2)
*Assessor and referee coach until 2012
*Born Spennymoor, County Durham, 4/6/1941
*Made FL list in 1974, aged 33
*FIFA ref 1977-91
*Refereed Northern League Cup Final at age of 30
*Refereed FA Cup Final 1980: Arsenal (0) West Ham United (1), including the momentous decision to caution Arsenal’s Willie Young for an example of the erroneously named ‘professional foul’
*Refereed UEFA Cup Final 1982, second leg, in Hamburg, West Germany: SV Hamburg (0) IFK Gothenburg (3). IFKG, managed by Sven-Goran Eriksson, won 4-0 on aggregate
*Refereed League Cup Final 1983: Manchester United (1) Liverpool (2) aet
*Refereed Euro 84 Semi-Final in Lyon, France: Spain (6) Denmark (5) on penalties
*Refereed European Cup Winners Cup Final, 1989, in Bern, Switzerland: Barcelona (2) Sampdoria (0)
*Refereed two games at World Cup 1986 in Mexico, inc 3rd place match, France (4) Belgium (2) aet
*Refereed two games at World Cup 1990 in Italy, inc Italy (2) Uruguay (0) in last 16
*Refereed League Cup Final 1992 (only referee to be honoured twice with this appointment): Manchester United (1) Nottingham Forest (0)
*Retired in 1992 after Division 2 play-off final, Blackburn (1) Leicester (0), having awarded the penalty scored by Mike Newell to gain promotion to the inaugural Premier League for 6th-placed Rovers
*Served as Director of Community Projects at Middlesbrough FC
*Served as Northern League President