Tom Wharton

TOM "Tiny" Wharton OBE - strange that the diminutive comes more naturally when referring to a man of such impressive proportions - could fairly be described as the Jeeves of the refereeing world. Any temporary difficulty would be dealt with unobtrusively and with the minimum of fuss.

He had not meant to be a whistler, as early 20th-century jargon had it, but going out to play football one night, he found his game imperilled by the referee's failure to show up. Tom stood in and found that he had an aptitude for the role.

Nature had dealt him a strong hand. A player arguing with a 6ft 4in referee could easily be seen as a figure of fun. Errant players were spared this fate because Tom treated them with dignity, always according them the title of Mr. He was supporter of formality and realised it was a more dependable weapon than false bonhomie.

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Time was on his side, for he was coming through just as the pre-war referees were giving up, and from 1948 he rattled through the various refereeing grades, reaching Grade 1 by 1951, an eminence he enjoyed for 20 years.

There is a temptation to concentrate on the big matches; certainly, there were enough of them, including 16 full internationals. But his services did not cease when he stopped refereeing, or even when he ceased to be chairman of the Scottish Football Association referee supervisors committee in 1990, a position he had held for 14 years.

Before that he had been a member of FIFA's referee committee and was recognised as a world authority on refereeing. Such was his standing with FIFA that the game's governing body awarded him its order of merit in gold in 1992.

The public, of course, knew him best for his on-field activities, as he officiated at many top-of-the-bill games. He had charge of 16 international matches at a time when they were held much less frequently than they are now.

He refereed the second big club match to be held at Hampden, the European Cup-winners’ Cup final between Fiorentina and Atletico Madrid in 1962. The match was unsuccessful. The night was dark and wet, the crowd, at 27,000, was poor and any other game would find it difficult to compare with the superb Real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfurt European Cup final in Glasgow two years previously. It was not a game he looked back on with particular fondness. Domestic finals were another matter. He did four of them, seven games in all, since each of the three Old Firm Scottish Cup finals he took charge of went to a replay.

His own stately progress on the field had occasionally seen him stranded by an unexpected pass but his intelligent anticipation meant that such occasions were few.

The greatest service he rendered his countrymen was his work as second deputy chairman of the Football Trust from 1990 until 2000, when his duties included the disbursement of money from football pools companies to British clubs for ground improvements. His work made going to a match at many a Scottish ground a more pleasurable experience.

He had a gift for defusing potentially difficult situations. Johnny Hamilton, the Hearts left-winger of the 1960s, was inclined to argue the toss, although he was anything but a malicious player. As with many players of that era, collisions and the ravages of time had largely deprived him of his own teeth, and he had formed the habit of leaving his dentures in his locker.

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In this particular match "Hammy" was booked early on, became embroiled again at a later stage and was called over by Tom, who pointed to the dressing room with the immortal words: "The time has come, Mr Hamilton, for you to rejoin your teeth."

Tom Wharton was always willing to concede that he had operated in a more disciplined world. But he always thought common sense could save a situation such as the 1962 League Cup final, in which Hearts took on Kilmarnock. Killie, a goal down, appeared to have equalised in the last minute, but the linesman had flagged for use of arms and elbows, Tom thought.

He was surrounded by protesting Kilmarnock men, not the least of whom was manager Willie Waddell, demanding that the other linesman be consulted. Tom realised quickly that he needed a question which would be met with the answer "no".

Pushing the Killie players back, he went over to his linesman, a noted abstainer, and asked him quietly: "Ah Archie (not his name), I suppose you’ll be having a wee dram this evening."

A vigorous shake of the head from Archie and "not at all", and Tom seized the chance to place the ball for the free kick, then ran off up the field, and the Kilmarnock team had perforce to follow him.

Other referees might be pacier but few if any were quicker in thought. We shall miss the giant friendly figure whom one always seemed to meet in an airport lounge.

Tom Wharton was born in November 1927, and died on 9 May, 2005. He is survived by his wife, Cathy, and their four daughters.