How it all began
In the beginning…In a game that is often fraught with controversial refereeing decisions, it will probably come as no surprise that such a decision brought about the birth of the Irish Soccer Referees’ Society.
On an afternoon in 1959, Shamrock Rovers played Sligo Rovers at Milltown and during the course of the game a “controversial” incident occurred. No doubt many spectators turned to their neighbours to ask, “What did you think of that?” One particular question led to a conversation, as the neighbours were the late Jack O’Byrne and Ignatius Martin, who were both referees. This conversation sparked off an idea in Jack’s mind that great benefit would be derived from regular meetings between referees. Thus, in November 1959, seven men responded to a letter to the newspapers to attend a meeting at 321 Crumlin Road, where a “Referees’ Debating Society” was formed. The word “Debating” was subsequently dropped.
The need for such a Society was evident in the number, who clamored to join, and in a very short time, larger accommodation was needed and on a “quid pro quo” basis, Football Promotions at 94A Upper Dorset Street arranged this. Successive homes were at North Frederick Street, 16 Parnell Square, 3 St. Stephen’s Green.
In the early days the Society was Dublin-based and its first President was Brendan Torsney a very prominent referee who upon retirement became a Referee Inspector. John Igoe, to whom the credit for the design of our crest must be given, succeeded him.
In 1961 the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) granted official recognition of the Society and in that same year, the Society became an overseas member of the Referees’ Association. That latter connection has since been severed.
The Dublin Referees were not the only ones who saw the need for organisation and in many parts of the country, notably Kilkenny, Waterford, Cork and Limerick, referees were coming together. The first union of Branches took place in 1964 when Kilkenny joined with Dublin in efforts to form a national Society. In 1965 the first Executive Committee (now called the Council) was elected and the first national President was John Waldron of Waterford, who is now a Referee Inspector in that area. The current President is Paul O Brien (Wicklow), having been elected in 2014 for a three year term. He was preceded by Bernard Foy (Donegal) 2009-2014, Joe O Brien (Dublin) 2004-2009, Tony Lawlor (Dublin) 2002-2004.
Thus, from an initial gathering of seven, the Society has grown to having over 700 members and 21 branches. Today there is a strong and vibrant Council running the affairs of the Society and the Council meets four or five times a year. The meetings rotate between the branches with most being held in Dublin.
In the course of its growth, the Society has not neglected the social side of affairs and down through the years many bruising encounters have taken place on the field in annual inter-branch matches. One of the first social get-togethers was held in the CIE Club in Inchicore in 1960 where for 6s. 6d. (32p) a first-class spread was provided, and for this price there was also a band that kept everyone on their feet until “the small hours”.
Moran’s Hotel was the venue for the inaugural dinner-dance in April 1962 and this venture proved to be such a success that within a short time the Referees’ Dinner became “The” dinner in football. For many years this event was known as “The Eve of the Cup Final” dinner as its primary aim was to honour the FAI Senior Cup Final match officials. In more recent years the date of the dinner has been changed as now awards are also made to a team of officials from the ranks of the members in Junior football.
As referees we are concerned for the welfare of players on the field of play, so too our off-the-field activities reflected our concern for the welfare of those less fortunate than ourselves. For many years it was our custom to provide toys and eggs for the children in one of the orphanages in our city at Christmas and Easter, respectively.
Many years ago the organisers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade asked the branch to provide stewards en route. We have also been involved in stewarding at International matches and FAI Cup Finals both in Dalymount Park and Lansdowne Road.
The performance of our members on the field of play and at home has so often impressed the inspectors that with the advent of European Club football many of our members have had the call to “do international duty” and our first “export” was “Pip” Meighan who officiated at Wembley.
In the area of international schools’ competition the branch has had a unique achievement in that a member has officiated in the final of four successive tournaments. Tom Smith in Turkey 1975; Willie Attley in Dublin 1977; Tom Hand in Spain in 1979, and Aidan Gallagher in Sweden in 1981. We have also had the first lady referee to be registered by the FAI – Alice Prendergast.
Little did either Jack or Iggy realise the far-reaching consequences of that casual question at Milltown all those years ago and how we have grown since then.