Ref still in love with the game after 50 years

It IS often said that officiating in football fails to eclipse the pleasure of playing the game. However, if Brian Latto can gain such satisfaction from refereeing that he has played the man in the middle for almost 50 years, there must be some attraction to pulling on the all-black uniform ahead of a match.

For Latto, 70, his long standing affiliation with Edinburgh youth and amateur football is a commitment to be savoured. His decision to give up playing at just 23 and take up the whistle is one many would fail to comprehend. He has witnessed an evolution of football at this level through the decades he has served as a referee.

“The game is a lot faster and more physical,” he said. “The players are a lot fitter now, too, as some are playing both Friday and Saturday and training twice per week. But, with amateur football in particular, I often feel the ball is treated as an enemy as it is thumped up and down the park repetitively over the course of the 90 minutes – and that hasn’t changed today.”

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To many, the prospect of being physically and verbally abused isn’t perceived as the most preferable way to close the working week. Latto himself admits he has questioned his reasoning for continuing with his hobby for such an extensive period, but prefers to reflect on the advantages of being recognised as the man in the middle – a duty he first commenced in 1965.

“It’s great being in control, but it can be difficult trying to keep players disciplined,” he explained. “I enjoy the physical side of it, but, being 70, it’s not as easy getting up and down the park as it was when I was in my 20s. There is a lot of banter to be had with the players and it’s great to have that. I still enjoy the thrill of it and seeing guys enjoy themselves as it should be a character-breeding game.

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“But, I do say to myself: ‘Why am I doing this’, when it’s pouring of rain and my pants are soaked right through after just ten minutes. I hope to referee for another two or three years and I think I will miss it when it all comes to an end.”

With his career as an official stretching almost half a century, Latto, understandably, is unable to put a definitive figure on the number of occasions he has donned his black kit or blown his whistle to signal the beginning of a match. He vividly recalls one fixture in West Lothian, however, which produced headlines for all the right reasons. “I remember this particular game which took place in the Lothian Amateur section. I was officiating out at East Calder and the score ended up 17-16. Looking back, this match was just unbelievable and maybe one or two of the goals were marginally offside, but the players were enjoying themselves as much as I was. There was no animosity whatsoever and it was just such a great game to be a part of. For such an amount of goals to be scored at this level is unheard of.”

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The former bank manager and university lecturer refers to his time refereeing the junior scene in Glasgow as an experience where the brutality was not solely restricted to the field of play. Despite acknowledging there are disciplinary issues to a lesser degree affecting the amateur game within the Capital, he does offer a strong appraisal for the effort made by league and club officials to ensure the game runs according to plan.

He added: “I think the amateur game in the city is really well organised and a lot of hard work is required.

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“There are a lot of disciplinary problems in the amateur game, but I think it is better here in Edinburgh than it is anywhere else in the country.”