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Who's the B*****d in the Black? By Jeff Winter

Release date: 06th February, 2006
Publisher: Ebury Press

List Price: £18.99
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A few years ago, the Premier League's top brass reluctantly agreed to let a television producer attach a microphone to top-flight referee David Ellery while he took charge of a Premiership match.

The subsequent film of Ellery's working performance was accompanied by a unique, warts-and-all soundtrack, although by the time it was broadcast, few members of the viewing audience were surprised either by the players' foul language or by their constant, juvenile attempts to get Ellery to change his mind.

Verbal abuse, backchat, feigning injury (or cheating as it is more commonly known) has become so ingrained into the beautiful game that unless it is eradicated, football's loyal followers will start finding something else to watch.

Regrettably, this is not a top-flight phenomenon: referees are regularly abused on local parks and in junior leagues by amateur players every week. Perhaps it's because an increasing proportion of them have never had to abide by a father-figure's rules that they react in such a way, but if on-field behaviour continues to deteriorate, fewer people will be prepared to take up the refereeing mantle.

This is one of former referee Jeff Winter's principal concerns, aired, one feels, as a genuine football supporter.

Winter has written an occasionally compelling book - the tale of his rise through the ranks is one of determination, after having happened upon the very idea of refereeing almost by mistake. Here was the archetypal terrace hard knock, a Middlesbrough boot boy intent on causing trouble who became instead a figure of authority.

Mocked by pals when he advised them of his decision to become a referee, Winter's local reputation and background worked in his favour and ensured he could face down aggression and intimidation on the pitches where he too had once been a wannabe footballer.

We get insights into his confrontations with a number of the Premiership's most arrogant footballers from Bellamy to Keane and learn of his dealings with managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. Having absorbed all of this, readers may feel that Steve Bruce's comment that Winter has the personality of a bag of chips is a tad harsh.

Nevertheless, despite his candid approach, one suspects that only the laws relating to defamation have prevented readers from learning how Winter really felt about some of the Premiership's dramatis personae.

Winter tells more of a story than that other high profile referee, Pierluigi Collina, managed in his otherwise intriguing Rules of the Game. Nonetheless, unlike Winter, Collina spends a lot of time examining referee's motives: "Delusions of grandeur or some kind of jealousyÖare not the things that drive refereesÖYou may enjoy yourself a bit as well, but you certainly help others' enjoyment much more than you satisfy your own," writes the angular Italian.

While Winter is less expressive, there is little doubt that he became a referee precisely because he is a massive football fan and saw his role as a way of contributing something to the game, not as a means of raising his own profile. Nor should he be criticised for having done so via this book, for without people like Jeff Winter and the sacrifices they make, the beautiful game would look even shabbier than it presently does.

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