Martin Bodenham

Martin Bodenham spent almost 50 years either refereeing or umpiring before calling it a day in September last year.

He presided over international fixtures in both football and cricket, either side of the very last Football League Cup Final replay ever, in 1997.

Alex Griffiths caught up with Martin to reflect on his career and the current state of refereeing.

Tell us how you came to plump for the life of the man in the middle, and not just in one sport?

I’d always been a great cricket watcher and I also played to a reasonable level. I’ve a real enduring passion for both sports, so there’s no point whatsoever in asking me to choose between them.

I originally got into refereeing through playing football at school, where my sports master, who came and watched me umpire at Arundel, not far from Brighton, many years later, really encouraged me.

My hero when I started, however, was Jack Taylor and at 17 I had the privilege of watching him in action at the Goldstone Ground, Brighton’s original home, and of meeting him, too.

He would present awards down the years which led to some longer conversations, especially after 1974 and the highlight of his own career, that World Cup Final in Munich. In just 10 minutes over a drink you could learn so much and he remained a great inspiration for myself.

I went from junior to intermediate then Sussex County Football League, then the Football Combination, then the linesmen’s list and the referees’ list before making it onto the first Premier League list of 1991/92.

Looking back, my favourite years would have been 1992 to 1994, which coincided with when I was on the international list, taking a couple of Germany games.

The three FA Cup semi-finals I refereed are obviously among my own highlights: the Liverpool/Portsmouth one plus replay then Manchester United’s replay win over Oldham at Maine Road in 1994. I was also on standby for Philip Don, although that kept me on the sidelines, when AC Milan met Barcelona in Athens for the Champions League Final, also in 1994.

You retired as a ref at 48 in 1998, 32 years after taking up the whistle?

Yes, there are a couple of inaccuracies on my Wikipedia page but you have that right! When I retired from actually playing cricket it felt like taking up umpiring was a natural option, so I joined the Sussex League, got onto the recreational side and went from second XI fixtures to championship cricket as an umpire. But even when I was refereeing I umpired, so Wikipedia’s got it wrong there!

It was Peter Moores, who was then the highly successful coach at Sussex CCC [later appointed as England coach on two separate occasions], who suggested I apply to join the reserve list in 2006 and it was Alec Stewart who seconded me.

Alec, as well as being a very keen Chelsea supporter, himself played for Corinthian Casuals and, despite having captained Surrey and his country at cricket, is forever talking football!

I had three seasons on the reserve list before the main list and I retired at 65 last September. I was always a passionate Sussex supporter since becoming a junior member at the tender age of 7 or 8, and I’ve always taken the view that, wherever you live, you take a look at the home team’s football results, and Brighton is only just over 10 miles away.

How did you find the transition?

I must admit, even more than I’d expected, my football banter was helpful once I’d crossed over to umpiring. Most first class umpires follow their own team and take an interest.

It also used to help that you could be stood at square leg and be asked questions by fielders such as ‘hey, how many players did you send off in your career’ and so on…

So, all in all, it was a bit of a lever for me, and not having had the customary first class cricketing background, it certainly turned out to be a good influence on how I was received.

You stressed when we made contact that you are currently a match observer, not an assessor, so what’s your view of the state of play?

The current crop of elite referees is excellent if you ask me: your Clattenburgs, Olivers, Atkinsons and so on. The Euro 2016 appointments for Mark and Martin really were fantastic news and it only goes to show that UEFA consider them both top notch. They have both worked so hard and it’s absolutely brilliant for English officials on the whole.

For me, recruitment itself remains less of an issue than the challenge we face when it comes to retaining them! I see no reason why we can’t be doing both, though.

The support mechanisms are there now and I found the mileage really could take its toll, for example, which is something a top referee no longer has to worry about so much. Driving to games on the motorway? Tell me about it… it must be far easier now to focus, with the drivers and the mentors that are provided and so on.

I lived in Cornwall for a bit when I had the guest house in Looe, and that was always seasonal work, by which I mean we were only busy during the summer. That obviously was not so much of a problem for me as it would otherwise have been! But it still meant hours spent on that motorway…

Have you observed that supporters look more or less likely to be fair to officials in future, given that coverage of football and its laws has advanced somewhat?

We do need to make sure performances are kept to a standard. And I believe that the watching public needs to be better educated. If you all of a sudden had an incident-free game, for example, with no fouls, I don’t think the general public would be particularly happy. Debate is good just as long as that debate remains a healthy one…

Now, as I said before, what with the mentors and the support available at every level, it can only be good, while in my day, if perhaps there had been a game or two when you honestly felt that you’d not been at your best, in my case I would confide in David Elleray, Stephen Lodge or Gary Willard, who lived in the next village along from myself. That always helped.

Refereeing will not always be everyone’s cup of tea, that’s just the way life is, but I think I’ll always be the kind of person that, if I’m driving through a village on any given day, I will stop and watch a game, whatever the standard.

I’ll still be out most Saturdays doing a review now… and I have even considered writing a book. My great niece writes poems and said she would be glad to help! Then again that will just have to wait until after my PGMOL responsibilities are long over and done with.