A high-profile undercover investigator has shattered an underground refereeing ring in Strabane where up to 30 Tyrone referees meet up weekly and laugh at some of the decisions they made and are going to make the following weekend. Joe Wheeler, the Welsh freelance TV reporter, pretended to show an interest in refereeing this coming season by getting himself into some shape and buying a shiny new whistle.
After an initial vetting service, Wheeler was asked along to the first meeting which was held in an underground bunker on the Urney Road.
“To be honest, the vetting process wasn’t too taxing. They just asked me to blow the whistle three times and point in various directions. That was it. I was in.”
Wheeler was told he’d probably referee a few U16 games in Ardboe to harden him up before embarking on Division Three of the Tyrone All County League.
“They reckoned a few underage games between Ardboe and Moortown would make a man of me. But it was what went on during the meeting that shocked me. All 30 refs took turns in telling yarns about the worst decisions they made last weekend and everyone was bent over laughing. The drink was flying but it was some craic to be fair. One ref said he deliberately turned a blind eye to a player getting the head battered off him because he remembered the lad’s father refused him access to a rampart years ago. They did some guffawing at that one.”
The Welsh reporter was even more astounded when matters turned to this weekend’s matches:
“Remarkably, as well as being given their fixtures to referee this weekend, they were also given a scoreline to work towards. There was a rollover jackpot with all men putting a fiver into the pot which now stood at £490. Anyone who got their score correctly won the dough. A bonus pot of £100 was also given every week to the ref who made the worst decision. This time a ref from Killyman won for sending off a Killeeshil player for wearing ankle socks.”
Wheeler reported that they all agreed to give the following teams ‘a bad touch’ this year: Owen Roes, The Rock, The Moy, Killyclogher, Dregish, Derrytresk, Carrickmore and Kildress.
The Tyrone Referees’ Association were unavailable for comment.