Championship Play-Off Final | A walk down memory lane

Championship Play-Off Final | A walk down memory lane

    Author: Roger Dilkes

    The Play-off Final for the Championship between Huddersfield Town and Reading that will take place at Wembley on Monday 29th May, 2017, brought back memories of my refereeing this game in the FA Challenge Cup way back in 1986. This was the Third Round of this famous trophy and took place at Leeds Road, on Saturday 4th January.

    Despite being in the middle of winter, the weather had been quite mild in the week leading up to the game, so much to my surprise was the call from the Huddersfield Secretary to undertake a pitch inspection on the Friday afternoon. As I only live about 17 miles from the old ground, this was no problem.

    When I arrived, I met the Secretary, who escorted me to the pitch, where we met the groundsman. The playing surface was soft and perfectly playable, so why was I being called in to look at the pitch. The groundsman explained that locally, they were expecting a minus seven degrees that night and he wanted to ensure that he had done everything to guarantee that the game was played. We walked the whole pitch up and down removing all the small pieces of earth and grass cutting to ensure that if the pitch was rock hard the next day, it would be absolutely flat.

    I left for home with the Secretary asking me to be back at the ground the following morning at 8-00 am and also confirming that in all his years at Huddersfield Town, as Secretary in all four divisions, he had not known a more local referee from another County being appointed to one of their home games. He was even more astonished when I told him that I had played for their Youth team in the mid 60’s and I was just as surprised as he was when I read my name on the fixture list.

    The next day I was up early to travel over to Huddersfield and there had been a severe frost as predicted. Everywhere was white over and the journey was not easy with ice on the roads. On arrival, the groundsman met me and when we looked at the ground, it was rock solid but perfectly flat and playable in small rubber studs or trainer type boots. Mick Buxton, the Huddersfield Manager was present and as soon as I gave the game the ‘go ahead’, he arranged to meet, Ian Branfoot, the Reading Manager, so they could look at the ground together. The Secretary did the rest notifying everyone that we had a game later that afternoon.

    The game went well, despite some snow showers, and artic conditions, with a final score of 0-0. All to play for in the replay down at Reading on the following Wednesday night. The Reading Secretary confirmed all the details with me after the game and I left the ground looking forward to my trip south during the week ahead.

    On the Sunday morning, I received a call from Reg Paine, the Referees’ Secretary from the Football Association, advising me that I had been taken off the game, as they had made a mistake with the original appointment. They had misread the town where I lived and thought I was from Moseley in the Birmingham area, which was about half way between the two teams, which would have made sense. So my trip to Reading never materialised, and to this date I have never been there to officiate or watch a game of football.

    The ironic thing about this game, however, is that a colleague John Moules was appointed as my replacement and on the Wednesday night, he postponed the game at 6-30 pm, due to a waterlogged pitch, following a heavy rain storm and the game was then arranged for the 13th January, the result of which was a 2-1 win for the home team.

    I still think about that replay, even today, because if Reg had not given me a call, I would have had two trips to Reading at a colossal expense for the FA and my team losing the game.

    Let’s hope that this time, the Terriers can come home from London with a win that will take them into the Premiership next season, for the first time. Fingers crossed.