TWO local football referees, and members of the Northallerton & District Referees Association, Jim Wilson from Leyburn and Martyn Coombs from Bedale have received long service awards to commemorate 40 years refereeing in the Black Sheep Hambleton Combination.

Between them, they have refereed in excess of 1,500 Sunday football games over the last 40 years (and countless £’s in fines for the North Riding County Football Association).

Coombs qualified as a referee at college in Manchester in 1976 and started refereeing in the Hambleton Combination in September 1977, the year the league was formalised when he started as a teacher of physical education at Bedale High School.

Coombs looked back over the last 40 years with a glowing sense of nostalgia saying ‘in the early 80’s, every game took a lot of refereeing with teams like the Board Inn, Robert Thompsons, Leeming Bar, NALGO, Northallerton Police, the New Inn and the Bolton Arms, all of whom had players with character, and a wicked sense of humour and took few prisoners. Most games had an edge and took some refereeing.

In one particular game, in which I fought to keep control of the players, the late ‘Gentleman’ Geoff Hunter who was running the Board Inn from Richmond said to me after the final whistle ‘well done Coombsy, you tried your best.’

Having kept a copy of all the games I have refereed since I started, it is interesting to see familiar names of players I have had reason to caution or send from the field of play regularly cropping up, except these days it is their sons I am disciplining or in some cases, the grandsons!’

He said ‘despite there being fewer teams these days, the league is still expertly run and remains a pleasure to referee in and I still get a kick from getting up early on a Sunday morning to enable 22 lads to kick a bag of wind about a football pitch.’

Coombs received his salver from the fixtures secretary Ian Richardson after the Mark Ward memorial game held at the Heck Stadium at Bedale Sports Club.

Jim Wilson qualified as a referee under Mark Jarvis’s tutorship in February 1976, officiating his first game in March 1976 so it was fitting that Jarvis presented Wilson with his 40 year service salver after the Frank Bainbridge Cup Final.

As well as the Hambleton Football Combination Wilson and Coombs have officiated in the Wensleydale League, the Teesside League and the Northern League as well as countless schools football games.

At the funeral of Geoff Hunter several years ago, Wilson noticed, as the coffin was carried into the church, that he had cautioned or sent off the 3 bearers on his side.

As the coffin was carried out, he noticed that he cautioned or sent off the other 3 bearers as well.

‘That’s the way it is in local football, a funny old business’ said Wilson. Like Coombs, Wilson still enjoys refereeing immensely and says he has always taken his dad’s advice.

‘You are a long time retired, so keep going as long as your legs will carry you’ and he firmly believes you don’t stop refereeing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop refereeing so expect to see the two sexagenarians refereeing in the Black Sheep Hambleton Combination for many years to come.