The Saturday Movie Club: Scene – Don’t Shoot The Ref! (1981)
The days of schools broadcasting haven’t quite died yet, but they’re not as much of a part of the schedules as they used to be. In the 1970s and 1980s, when there were just three – four after November 1982 – television channels, the governmental requirement that television companies made educational programmes to be shown in schools meant that they were considerably more prominent than they are now. For the kids themselves, this often meant silence for half an hour or an hour a week as a large television on stilts and wheels would be wheeled into class so that the wisdom of elders could be piped directly into the brains of the nation’s youth. Series such as Words & Pictures, Experiment and How We Used To Live remain fondly remembered to this day.
Scene was one of the BBC’s longer-running schools television series. Running from 1968 until 2002, it was an anthology of short dramas and documentaries for teenagers, and it was critically well-received, winning nine BAFTAs over the course of its lifespan as well as numerous other awards. Its heyday was the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, and this morning’s short film features a juncture at which it intersects with football. Don’t Shoot The Ref! starts with a group of young lads giving their opinions on referees – suffice to say they’re somewhat more reasonable that we might find nowadays – before shadowing a parks league referee and First Division referee Neil Midgeley in their very different roles in the same job.
The parks referee is running a match featuring two teams with numbers peeling off the backs of their shirts and non-matching socks, while Midgley is at Ayresome Park for a match between Middlesbrough and Sunderland. The programme shows the Eccles Referee Society in Manchester training parks referees and the very different pressures that the referees of top professional matches were also under. Stripped of the court of public opinion that is social media, we can only wonder whether top referees might have had things a lot easier three or four decades ago, but there’s a lot more to this episode of Scene, not least fascinating detail of Britain in 1981, from the marching band on the pitch prior to the Middlesbrough vs Sunderland match to shots of Midgley’s kitchen.
Midgley himself was one of the top referees of his day. Born in Salford in 1942, he became a Football League referee in 1977, his career hitting its high when he was selected to referee the 1987 FA Cup Final between Coventry City and Tottenham Hotspur. He subsequently became a referee’s assessor for the Premier League upon its formation in 1992, but died of cancer at just 58, in 2001.