Obituary: James “Jim” McCluskey, football referee and surveyor

Jim McCluskey. Picture: SNS
Jim McCluskey. Picture: SNS
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Born: 1 November, 1950, in Salsburgh, North Lanarkshire. Died: 14 November, 2013, in Ayr aged 63.

JIM McCluskey, who has died following a lengthy battle against an inoperable stomach condition, was one of the finest referees of his, or any generation. He had an advantage over most referees, inasmuch as he had played senior football, albeit too-briefly, before a knee injury forced him to switch from playing to officiating. But the fact he had been there and done that, gave him an advantage when it came to pointing out the error of their ways to miscreant players.

His calm, unflappable manner in defusing flashpoint situations, and the fact he spoke the language of a player, went a long way towards earning him the respect of everyone within the game. Other referees, indeed some players and managers who played under him, spoke with admiration of his “feel” for the game and the way he was able to speak to players in such a manner as to calm them and prevent trouble from escalating.

He was born in Salsburgh, where his father ran the local garage. From the local primary school, he progressed to Airdrie Academy, where he not only learned his football and received a good education, but also met his future wife Anne, a fellow pupil.

Jim left school and embarked on his apprenticeship as a quantity surveyor, working during the day and studying at night and by day-release; combining this with playing football for Shotts Bon Accord, then Airdrie. However, in 1975, he sustained a serious knee injury, was promoted with his employers CTCF and moved to Ayrshire. He spotted a newspaper advertisement for trainee referees, went along and was soon making his way up the to Grade One and ultimately the elite Fifa list.

His potential was quickly spotted, with his firm control of the games between fierce rivals Auchinleck Talbot and Cumnock. Indeed, in one Whyte & Mackay West of Scotland Cup Final between the Ayrshire sides, his control was so impeccable the sponsors sought to present him with the Man of the Match award after the final whistle – but reluctantly had to give it instead to a player. He took only five years to progress from rookie referee to Grade One.

Later, by now recognised as Scotland’s top referee and on the Fifa list, the SJFA asked McCluskey, Hugh Dallas and Willie Young to take charge of a midweek Talbot v Cumnock clash at Beechwood Park, to prepare them for controlling an England v Brazil game at Wembley; one of two A-class friendlies he controlled – the other being Germany v Italy.

The players were shocked to see three such big names arriving and legend has it that, for once, there wasn’t a single foul, far less a yellow or red card in a fixture notorious for all three – the players knew they’d get away with nothing under those three and concentrated on just playing.

McCluskey never refereed on football’s ultimate stage – at the World Cup Finals – but he did officiate at the Women’s World Cup in 1991. He also controlled the second-leg of the 1994 Uefa Cup Final, between Internationale Milan and Casino Salzburg.

He officiated in six European Championship matches, and at more than 40 international club matches, including the 1991 Uefa Women’s Championship Final between West Germany and Sweden and the Uefa and Fifa Under-16 Championships Finals in 1989.

He controlled ten domestic Scottish finals, indeed, his last game as a referee prior to retiring at 50, was the Rangers v Aberdeen Scottish Cup Final at Hampden in 2000.

McCluskey also had the whistle in several Old Firm games – memorably. After some Celtic fans wrongly questioned his impartiality after one such clash, they hired a private detective to follow him in a vain search for Rangers sympathies.

In retirement, he served as a referee supervisor, had a place on the Scottish Football Association’s referees committee and acted as a Uefa referee observer. He was also a guiding light to his successors among the men in the middle in Ayrshire, as a trainer and mentor.

He eventually took over CTCF, becoming managing director, while, away from football he enjoyed golf and squash.

He was the ultimate safe pair of hands, a true gentleman and his loss will be greatly felt in football as a whole, not merely among the refereeing family.

Jim McCluskey’s funeral will have a traditional 3pm “kick-off” at Dreghorn’s Holmsworth Bridge Crematorium, on Wednesday.

He is survived by his wife Anne, daughter Julie, son Scott and three grand-children.