Valediction for Bob Valentine as referee blows final whistle after 40 years

Official can take his eye off the ball at last

Although he might have hung up his whistle over 20 years ago, Bob Valentine has finally walked away from the refereeing game after 40 years at the top.

Where Valentine is concerned, it really has been the top. He was the man in the middle at the infamous "Anschluss game" between West Germany and Austria in the 1982 World Cup. He was also running the (other) line 13 days later when Harald Schumacher attempted to behead Patrick Battiston as the Frenchman prepared to lob the German goalkeeper. "In fairness there was not much protest in the stadium about that challenge," Valentine says now. "The French manager came into our dressing room after the game. There was no: 'what about that?' It looked worse on television than it did on the field."

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Although he retired from the senior game in 1989 it is a tribute to Valentine that he has continued to make a contribution to refereeing both in this country and abroad. He stopped refereeing before the rule banning the back pass had even been conceived. Yet Valentine has moved with the times. Even now, when asked to reflect on his first foreign assignment, he uses the correct modern term to describe himself as an "assistant referee" at a match between Barcelona and Lugano in 1968. The referee he assisted in this European Cup-Winners' Cup match was Jack Gordon. Valentine had never been abroad prior to this trip to Spain and had to quickly arrange to get a passport. However, he would go on to eclipse all other Scottish referees.

"I have one claim to fame that no other referee in Scotland has," says Valentine, now 72. "I have refereed at five major international tournaments. Willie Collum, one of our young up and coming referees, is going away to referee at the World Under 20 championships in Colombia. That was my first tournament in 1981, in Australia. I also refereed at the Olympic Games as well as at the World Cup and at two European championship finals. Five major world tournaments. No other referee did that."

It has been an exceptional career. Only now has the whistle been blown. Valentine and colleague Kenny Hope both retired as referee observers at the Scottish Football Association's referee training camp last weekend, in St Andrews. Valentine only stopped working for Uefa in various capacities in 2010. "When I started refereeing I thought it would take me round the public parks in Dundee," he says. "It's been quite astonishing. I remember my first game. It was on Caird Park. It was an under-18 game between Milton Rangers and Ashvale. I had started refereeing when I was 21. I was a goalkeeper at school and boys' brigade and in amateur football. But I decided I was not going to make a career there. So I thought I would try refereeing, never honestly dreaming I would ever be among the elite."There is no doubt that he deserves to be included in the top bracket of referees produced by Britain. Valentine has officiated in such bear pits as the Bernabeu - at a European Cup tie between Real Madrid and Juventus - and at Red Star Belgrade, who were hosting Barcelona, Maradona et al. He considers it to be his greatest privilege to have been on the pitch for France's 5-0 drubbing of Belgium in the 1984 European Championship finals, won by a stylish French team including the likes of Michel Platini, Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana. "Belgium were no slouches either," he says. "If there had been a World Cup that year, France would have won it."

It was not all about exotic trips abroad. He returned home long enough to take charge of the League Cup final between Dundee and Dundee United in 1980, at Dens Park. It was not 'home' in the sense that this particular ground was where he learned to love football. His father took him to Dens one week and Tannadice Park the next.

"I took it as a compliment that the town was evenly divided about my allegiance," he says. Reflecting on that League Cup final appointment, he adds: "Every person I met wanted one or the other team to win. Somebody would try and persuade me that it would be a good idea if Dundee won and then someone else would say they hoped Dundee United would win. It was non-stop hassle, although a great honour."

He was allowed to travel further afield than his home town when on domestic business. He red carded Roy Aitken during the 1984 Scottish Cup final between Celtic and Aberdeen, becoming the first referee to send a player off in Scotland's showpiece occasion since 1929. Aitken's offence has been described variously as 'impeding' Mark McGhee to stopping him with "a chest-high tackle". Mike Aitken, in these pages, opted for "lunge".

In all Valentine refereed three Old Firm finals, one of them being his last ever match in senior football in 1989. Celtic won the Scottish Cup after a 1-0 win over Rangers, earned courtesy of Joe Miller's strike. Just as memorable is Aitken, possibly believing he was owed something by Valentine, awarding himself a throw-in in the run-up to the winning goal. The Celtic skipper got the last touch as he tangled with John Brown on the touchline and then brazenly bent down to grab the ball, before quickly throwing it back into play.

Like all referees, Valentine had his critics. However, he is treated like Pierluigi Collina when doing the rounds now. "When I was working, it was always quoted to me that we don't have referees like 'Tiny' Wharton any longer. Then when I stopped refereeing I would go to games and people would say, 'We don't have referees like you now'. But it's only because I am retired. When I was refereeing they did not say that."He has tales to tell, some of them surreal. He recalls the aforementioned match between West Germany and Austria. It was played at walking pace after West Germany took an early lead through Horst Hrubesch. The 1-0 result meant both countries would qualify for the next stage at the expense of Algeria, who as well as beating West Germany in their opening game had also defeated Chile the day before the two old rivals colluded in one of football's most shameful episodes.

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"It was my first ever World Cup tie," recalls Valentine. "As you can imagine it was a huge occasion for me. And it was a massive game to be given - it was like Scotland v England, a local derby. When I was handed the game it obviously was not known that Algeria were going to beat West Germany. It took me about 30 minutes to realise that the game was not going anywhere. I refereed the game in front of me. It's all I could do.

"After that furore, the last round of games in all competitions, from the World Cup to the Premier League here, now kick-off at the same time," he adds. "It was the game that changed football."

The same could not be said of his first senior match as a referee. It was 1971, Valentine was 31 years old. East Fife were hosting East Stirlingshire at Bayview. "East Fife scored a goal in the first minute and the whole of the East Stirling team surrounded me, telling me it was offside," he recalls. "It was a quick welcome to the joys of refereeing, I can tell you."