‘I sent off Pele...and then got fined $10!’: retiring Northamptonshire referee looks back on 60-year career

Kislingbury Football Club, Beech Lane. Guard of honour for referee Ron McCahill for his last-ever match (Kislingbury v Inspiration FC under 12's) after 60 years. NNL-160228-130921009
Kislingbury Football Club, Beech Lane. Guard of honour for referee Ron McCahill for his last-ever match (Kislingbury v Inspiration FC under 12's) after 60 years. NNL-160228-130921009

A referee from Northamptonshire who conquered his disability to become a top official has retired after taking charge of 5,000 matches over six decades.

Ron McCahill, aged 69, first took up the whistle when he was a 10-year-old boy who had tremors associated with being born with water on the brain.

He had just seen an FA Cup Final and told his mum he wanted to be a footballer.

He recalls: “She said I couldn’t, so I thought ‘the most important person on that field was the man in black; I’ll be a referee, then’.”

Banned from playing the game he loved by his school because of his condition, he was allowed to be a linesman and soon progressed to refereeing games.

He registered with the FA in his teens and, despite being told his disability meant he couldn’t handle the pressure, he was officiating at up to seven games a week.

By the time he moved to Canada in the 1970s he was refereeing professional games and even got to share a pitch with the Brazilian striker Pele, arguably the greatest player of all time.

Mr McCahill, who lives in Weedon, said: “It was a match in New York in 1973 featuring his Cosmos team versus a Florida team featuring Rodney Marsh. I had to send Pele off. He did a studs-up tackle which made me think the other bloke would never have any kids.

“I called him over and he asked if I knew who he was. I told him I was about to find out.

“He gave me his long, full name rather than his nickname. I just wrote ‘number 10’ in my book.”

There was a postscript to the sending off too: “I think he was only ever dismissed five times in his career but they tended to get expunged.

“That one did too and I was even fined ten dollars.”

Mr McCahill’s favourite game was an FA Youth Cup semi-final at Old Trafford where his beloved Manchester United trounced rivals Manchester City.

He admits he was chuffed at the result but insists he was completely neutral while he was on the hallowed turf.

Once he even sent off all 22 players in a match between Yorkshire Police and Lancashire Police. When a goal was scored after six minutes a brawl ensued. Unable to determine who started it, he dismissed everyone and the game was abandoned.

After reaching the heights of professional matches in the old Fourth Division and the old First Division’s reserve fixtures, he did countless local games on Northampton Racecourse.

In recent years, he has focused mainly on youth games, where he says he enjoys himself more, even reffing players whose great granddads he had previously officiated over. It was at that level that he blew the final whistle on his career on Sunday at a game between Kislingbury and Inspiration FC under 12s sides.

They gave him a guard of honour, which he admits he was slightly embarrassed by.

He said: “All I ever wanted to do was show disability can’t hold you back.

“Did I feel it ever inhibited me? Never. It made me more determined to be the equal – not the equal, the better – of a normal person.”

What did he do to mark his official retirement at the weekend? He oversaw five more five-a-side matches at Goals in Mereway, Northampton.

He said: “I’ve been invited to referee some friendlies next season too. I might just do those...”