Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Death of a Legend

It was with great sadness that I opened up the newspaper the other day and discovered that Myles “Gobshite” Aweigh, the celebrated former League of Ireland referee, had passed away following a nasty lawnmower accident.

Conceived and born out of wedlock, Myles was, from the earliest age, supremely qualified to follow his chosen career as a referee. Profoundly short-sighted, he attended Peadar Kearney’s [Victuallers and Grocers] for five years, before discovering that the school was next door.

Fellow-pupils recall the tousle-haired future referee with affection. “He was a complete tosser,” said one. “A right bastard,” said another. Former school principal, Ned O’Crikey was more circumspect. “A geek of the highest order,” he said. “Couldn’t stand the little bollix.”

As his personal magnetism grew, so did his ego. He left school at sixteen and went home, causing much disquiet within his family, who had forgotten about him. It was then that he saw an advert in the local paper. “Are you unpopular?” it read, “Have you a thick skin and a schizophrenic personality? Then come and join us at the Dublin Refereeing College….” Myles applied and so impressed the interviewers that they emigrated. His family waved him off proudly on his first morning and then moved.

For three years, Aweigh learned his trade at the college. It was said that he was the loudest whistler ever to attend the institution, much to the annoyance of the sausage factory next door, whose workers frequently mistook his whistling for the lunch-break hooter. He quickly mastered the intricacies of coin-tossing and was able to recognise the difference between heads and harps on most occasions. He was somewhat slower at picking up the principle of the ten-yard rule, though, and even during his professional career, he would often pace out the required distance in the style of a triple-jumper.

Starting at the bottom, the fledgling ref immediately made a name for himself in the Dublin & District U-6 league when he sent off four players from one team for incontinence. Promotion was rapid, and on the 20th October 1973, he proudly ran out at Dalymount Park to referee the big Dublin derby between Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers. Unfortunately, as a solitary groundsman pointed out to him, the match was on at Milltown and so he had to wait another week to make his debut.

For the next twenty years, “That old shitehawk”, as he was affectionately known, was a permanent fixture on the League of Ireland’s referee list, save for a brief two-week suspension he served for accidentally sending off a linesman. The highlight of his career was being picked by FIFA to officiate at the prestigious World Cup Qualifier between Burkina Faso and Tanganyika in 1985, a game which unfortunately had to be abandoned when it was discovered that the Burkina Faso currency didn’t have a harp on it.

He was quite forthright in his views. When questioned about the amount of personal abuse he got from the terraces, he replied, “Abuse? I thought they liked me,” and sidled away nervously. He was asked on many occasions about what had drawn him into the world of refereeing. “It’s the uniform,” he said. “There’s just something about black that turns me on.”

He officiated at many Cup Finals, the most infamous being the “Twenty Minutes of Injury Time” Cup Final of 1982. “Forgot my watch,” he explained later, “and I was trying to judge it by the sun.” Controversy reigned again in 1988 Cup Final when, awarding a free-kick just outside the penalty area, he insisted on both teams standing ten yards away. After twenty minutes, he realised his mistake, but most of the crowd had gone home by this time.

He refereed his final game on December 21st 1992 in Terryland Park. A crowd of over 20,000 turned out to shout abuse at him one final time. Though nearly at retirement age, Aweigh had probably his finest game in the black, with the visitors winning 2-2. After the game, the FAI presented him with a plastic whistle as a memento of the occasion, which brought him close to tears.

Aweigh used his retirement profitably and penned his now-classic “Off You Go, You Bastard,” whose sales quickly reached double figures. In the book, he expounded at length on his career in the game and at the new challenges facing referees today. He was totally dismissive of referees wearing purple, claiming it eroded the players’ confidence and didn’t match one’s hair. He was equally scornful of referees’ assessors, likening them to “putrid pus-filled baboons with no idea of the pressures of the job.” Ironically, he became a referee’s assessor himself a week after the book was published.

On behalf of everybody here at Shelbourne FC, I would like to extend sincerest sympathies to his guide dog, Bessy, in her sad loss. Before the match tonight, there will be one minute’s giggling as a mark of respect.

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