Paul Duddy remembers how a trip to Arranmore to officiate in only his second ever game as a referee cost him money – but how the love of the game kept him hooked to the job for 20 years.
The St Johnston man this week officially hung up his whistle for the last time, conveying his decision to the local branch of the Irish Soccer Referees’ Society.
His time has a referee has included a 12-year stint as a League of Ireland official.
It all began when he took charge of a Donegal League game between Inver and Cranford United. He shrilled the whistle for the final time last month when he called time on the Oscar Traynor Trophy final between the Inishowen League and the Claire & District League.
Picture caption: Paul Duddy (third from right) with the team captains and fellow officials Vincent McLoughlin, Packie Coll and Marty Quinn before the Oscar Traynor Trophy final last month.
“It was a good level of a game that ended with no controversy,” he says.
“It was better that way, rather than to either peter out or go out on a negative.
“I had been considering it for a while now. I’ve done 20 years, including a good spell in the League of Ireland. The Oscar Traynor final was a good way for me to finish.”
There have been many highlights for Duddy, not least last year when he was appointed to referee a junior international between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in Roscommon.
He has taken charge of games in the European Defence Forces Championships while he refereed the European Futsal final between Russia and Ukraine in Switzerland in November 2010.
The highlights reel include being fourth official for a friendly between Derry City and Manchester United in 2000 and being an assistant referee for Barcelona’s visit to take on Derry at Brandywell in 2003.
“Before the Barcelona game, Marc Overmars came in and just sat down beside me,” Duddy recalls.
“You can’t be star-struck. You have to be professional and you can’t be asking for photos or autographs. These were genuine superstars of world football, but the respect that they had for us as officials was amazing. They were just pure professionals and we all had to be the same.”
Those days were the reward.
When he first rocked up to Inver-Cranford in the mid-90s, he wasn’t quite sure where the journey would take him.
“Eddie McGinley was at centre-back for Cranford, so it was a bit of a baptism of fire,” he says.
His next assignment took him to Arranmore Island for a game between Arranmore United and Lagan Harps, who were managed at the time by Gerry Gallagher, now a refereeing colleague.
The match fee he received was 20 Punts. The ferry cost five Punts and he took his wife, Sonia, and their daughters, Gemma and Micheala with him.
“That game cost me money, but I just enjoyed refereeing,” he says.
It brings him to a topic that is certainly relevant. Twice in the last month, leading referee Aidan Redican has warned that referee numbers are heading towards a ‘crisis’.
“You have to get into it for the right reasons,” Duddy warns.
“There are a lot of referees of late who have gone in for the love of the money – you need to have the love of the game. That’s what makes a good referee. You have to enjoy the wet days and you actually have to enjoy the abuse too! If you’re in it solely for the money, it won’t work out and you definitely won’t get a chance to climb the ladder.
“You make a lot of sacrifices. You sacrifice family time, which is a big thing. You have to have a high level of fitness so you have to keep in shape. That takes time. And you’re all the time reading up on the laws and analysing games. All of that takes a lot of time, too – you have to be ready for that.”
Duddy acknowledges that the Branches across the country need new members, but recruitment has been slow.
He says: “We need young blood coming into refereeing.
“We need to look at getting young people interested in and actively involved in refereeing. The age profile is very high and the numbers involved are decreasing all the time now.
“It’s sort of an FAI issue in a way as the youngest they take in to referee is 18.
“The IFA, for example, take in people much younger and you see these people involved in games at the likes of the Foyle Cup, which is a brilliant stage to be on at that age. We need to pick up the young person who loves football but who won’t make it as a player.”
Duddy was a lifelong Finn Harps supporter, who followed the team home and away during those days in the early 1990s when his good friend Maurice Toland was among the stars at Finn Park.
Duddy broke his leg playing for St Bridget’s, a now-defunct Donegal League team that was based in Porthall. He was managing their Under-12 side when Eunan Kelly handed him a referee recruitment page from a Donegal League booklet and ventured: ‘Would you not think about doing that course?’
Duddy laughed but soon he was on his way into a 12-week course.
He says: “That in itself showed commitment. Nowadays, I think it is, in some ways, too easy to become a referee.”
He would get to the League of Ireland stage himself and his first game was a First Division game between Monaghan and Limerick.
“It was quite scary going into the senior seminar,” he says.
“I’m from a small town in the middle of nowhere and here I was in that arena of the League of Ireland.
“The League of Ireland isn’t an easy place to be. It’s dog-eat-dog and one decision could get a man sacked.
“But walking out for the first game in Gortakeegan for Monaghan-Limerick I realised that I had reached the pinnacle of my career and it was all about staying there.”
He had been spotted and recommended to the FAI by John Duffy, the Donegal-based assessor, who was a big influence.
“The Ulster Senior League gave us a great schooling,” Duddy, who emerged around the same time as the also-recently-retired Stephen Toner.
“The likes of Fanad United, Letterkenny Rovers, these teams all had real class, ex-senior players and the fact that it was so competitive was brilliant experience.”
Duddy, whose home is in the shadow of Kildrum Tigers’ home at Station Road, has paid tribute to his family for their support over the years and his fellow referees for their assistance and dedication.
Duddy has been a football nut all his life and is unlikely to change now that his career as a referee has ended.
He has some brief advice to budding whistlers, too: “I’d advise up-and-coming referees to read the laws of the game at least once a month.
“That’s the minimum to stay at a good level. There is a lot of mental preparation and a lot of tactical preparation too, believe it or not. You have to do your homework on teams you’re going to be doing, you have to analyse your own performances honestly and you need to be self-critical.”Tags: