AS the 2022/2023 season starts this weekend, there is be one man absent from the pitch. Referee Jim Wynne has called time on his refereeing career after 26 years. Harry Shorthose sat down with him for an open and honest evaluation of his career as well as discussing what’s next as he gives an insight into the world of refereeing.
AFTER 26 years, Jim Wynne has called time on his career after battling injury after injury throughout the course of last season. Wynne was always regarded as one of the county’s best referees and was held in high regard by both players and the Carlow League respectively. For 26 years, Wynne stood out and made a name for himself across the league and beyond. If you got Jim Wynne as referee for a game, you were happy because you knew that the game was smooth sailing. But where did it all begin for one of Carlow’s most loved referees? Before he became a referee, he was a player for several years. He started out with St. Killian’s, one of the founding members of the league, before moving to Castle Rangers once they folded. He then moved on to play for Killeen FC and furthermore Killeshin. He then spent a year at New Oak where he won the Carlow Cup.
Upon retirement, Wynne’s next logical step was to get into refereeing.
“I was talking to ‘Blocky’ Walsh and Kevin Barry and they asked me if I would take up refereeing. I gave up playing in May and did my referees course in July. The course is easy if you’re a former footballer. I took to it like a duck to water. The first game I refereed was a local derby down in Bagenalstown, between Park Rangers and Bagenalstown on a Friday night. It was hot and heavy and I was happy enough with it and straight away I knew it was for me.”
He rose to the top quite fast and made a name for himself almost straight away.
“I became Junior Referee of the Year in my first year there and then I went straight in in my second year and started doing Premier matches or First Division matches or whatever they were called at the time. The standard was much better and I was refereeing lads I’d played against so I knew what they were like so I was able to handle myself. Went from there to doing the Division One final that year and I started doing outside matches-FAI Junior Cup, LFA Junior Cup, Oscar Traynor matches. I never looked back after that.”
Wynne was lucky in that he got the chance of a lifetime after getting a gig refereeing at the Special Olympics in Dublin in 2003.
“A lot of people would say doing an Oscar Traynor final was their highlight but the highlight of my career was the 2003 Special Olympics in Dublin. My good friend Johnny Coughlan was a coordinator in it and I was Secretary of the Referee’s Branch and I went to a meeting with the Carlow League and he put it out there that he was a coordinator in it and if any referees were available, he’d put our names forward and he’d appreciate the help. I went back to the branch then and myself, Mick Salter and Brian O’Reilly decided we were going to do it. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done, it really opened your eyes to what we’ve got and what we haven’t got. There were teams and people from all over the world, and we got to meet so many different people, met referees from Dublin, Cork, Galway, everywhere, we’d all have lunch together. I used to leave at 6.30am, go up to Dublin, the soccer would start at 9.30am, we’d go and get our fixtures off the fixtures secretary first and we’d be there til 4/4.30pm and wouldn’t be home til 6/7 at night. We did it for eight days and I was working nights at the time. I’d go straight from work to collect Mick Salter and Brian O’Reilly in Tullow. I didn’t regret a second of it, it was a fabulous time. From the Opening Ceremony to the Closing Ceremony, it was amazing.”
“We were presented with three Carlow jerseys at the Courthouse Hotel because we were representing Carlow and we wore them up to Croke Park. We got to see Jon Bon Jovi, we got to see Muhammed Ali, Roy Keane, famous actors and actresses, footballers, so many different people. Absolutely fabulous time. I still have all the memorabilia upstairs, my badges, my jerseys, t-shirts, etc. It’ll never be surpassed, no matter what I did as a referee, it would never be surpassed. It was such an opportunity, no other referee in Carlow or anywhere around us has done anything like that. The next one would be doing an Oscar Traynor final in the AUL in Dublin, the AUL in Cork, in Ferrycarrig Park in Wexford, I did a Leinster Junior Cup in Buckley Park in Kilkenny in 2008 between Cherry Orchard and Evergreen. I also refereed a couple of FAI Junior Cup Semi-Finals in Thomastown. They were all massive games. I did an Irish international U16 game once down in Carlow IT with Christy Haughney and Morgan O’Reilly. Christy Haughney refereed it, I did the line with Morgan. I refereed the Irish men’s disabled team in Carlow IT, guys on crutches. They played a Carlow Legends Select one day down there. I got Referee of the Year six times too. When you sit back and look at all the stuff you collected over the years, I feel very, very lucky to have achieved what I achieved. I never dreamt it would be possible. My only regret is not getting an FAI Junior Cup final, I would’ve fulfilled everything then that my grade would allow me to but they only go to Dublin referees usually so I probably wouldn’t have ever been in line to get one. If I have raised the bar in refereeing in Carlow and brought a few referees to improve their game to a higher standard, then that’s what I really would have achieved.”
However, as many people know, refereeing is not always glitz and glam. It can be the toughest job in the world at times. Wynne has had his fair share of bad days in the job too, to go along with the amazing memories and experiences he’s had.
“I remember one day I was refereeing in Parkville, it was a shockingly wet day. I was just starting out refereeing, two or three years in. It was Parkville against Burrin Celtic, a local derby, they kicked lumps out of each other. Then I had to go to a place called Killoughternane, far side of Bagenalstown, to referee a second match. The pitch was dirt, it was a mud bath, it never stopped raining. I didn’t want to be there, they didn’t want to be there but the game had to be played. It was the longest 90 minutes ever. It was 90 minutes of pure hell. They didn’t want to be there, they kept begging me to call it off. I couldn’t call it off because the pitch was playable. I had to stay going. I was soaked through, freezing cold, couldn’t even open my laces at the end of the match I was so cold and wet. There was a day that I got so much abuse from a parent at a pitch. What he didn’t call me wasn’t worth writing down. All because he thought his son was fouled for a penalty. I asked him to step out behind the fence. He just told me he’d shove his umbrella up my arse and open it. I said to him if you’re that brave, come on and do it. You can’t let people see that you’re afraid of them, so you have to be brave. I’ve got more good days than I’ve got bad days though. No referee ever had all good days. There’s been a couple of incidents where you’d go this isn’t worth it but as soon as the day is over and you get up the next morning, you’re right and ready to go again because you love refereeing. It’s not because you love the money for refereeing, it’s because you love the game.”
It became apparent last season after a couple of games that Wynne was struggling. He injured himself and he couldn’t seem to get it right and it started to dawn on him that he couldn’t keep going anymore. “I always told Mick Walsh the first season that I started refereeing was the day that I couldn’t keep up with play anymore is the day I would retire, that all teams, from U-12’s up to O-35’s, deserve the same respect. You have to be as fit as them and if not, you’re not doing your job and you should think about packing it in. Last November I was refereeing a game between New Oak and some crowd from Meath and that day I walked off the pitch and I was absolutely shattered. I couldn’t train because my knee was giving me trouble, my calf was giving me trouble. I’d been to physio four times with it and I knew I was in trouble. At the end of November, my knee was swelling up after all training sessions and matches. That’s when I decided that I couldn’t continue, that I wouldn’t continue. I didn’t want to disrespect anybody by continuing to be a referee when I wasn’t able to keep up anymore. The last time I refereed a match was the last weekend in November.”
It’s not been easy giving up something that he’s loved doing for 26 years. It was his entire life. From doing kids games on a Saturday to one or two matches on a Sunday to even doing college matches midweek, he spent a large portion of his time focused on refereeing. He admits it’s been tough letting go.
“I cry every day thinking about it and I find it very hard to go and watch matches because I’m always saying I wish I was out there, I walk around the local greens with the dogs and I just want to go back and do it again. I would go out and do another 25 years if I could. I have to get a knee replacement now so that’s that. It came a few years too early unfortunately because I would have stayed going for another four or five years and I only wish I could stay another four or five years. I don’t regret a minute of it. When you’re as active as I am through football and refereeing and work, something has to give and unfortunately for me it’s my left knee. The minute I couldn’t walk down the field, I had to go good luck. I’ve been asked to stay doing juvenile matches and women’s matches, told you’ll be able to just walk around, I said under no circumstances would I do that, I wouldn’t disrespect the kids and the girls so I said no to doing that.”
As for what’s next for Wynne, he says he wants to still remain involved with the referees branch and will join Seamus Ivers in doing an observers course and becoming a referees observer for the league. “I’m doing an observers course in the first week of September and I’m going to become an observer in the Carlow League. I want to give something back after being involved for 26 years.”
Jim was always known for his friendly banter with players, always being a laugh and for generally being good fun to be around. He shares his secret to refereeing. “The way I look at it, if they respect me, I’ll respect them. Respect is the biggest word in a referee’s vocabulary If you don’t respect the players on the pitch, they won’t respect you. You speak to somebody the way they should be spoken to, you speak to a man like a man, a child like a child, a lady like a lady. If they can’t understand what you’re saying to them, there’s always going to be conflict. If you can get your point across without having to take a card out of your pocket, do that. A card is not always the answer, an explanation is the answer, then if that’s not working out for you that’s when you use your card. I had the least yellow and red cards record every year successively in the Carlow League. I got on very well with 90% of people, you won’t ever get on with everybody. You can’t under any circumstances bring it back onto the pitch because then you’re not doing your job. That’s not part of a referee’s vocabulary to hold a grudge or say I’ll get you back next week. You wipe the slate clean after every 90 minutes. A lot of players would often say you’re thick, but you’re thick for both sides.
“I loved what I did. It didn’t matter if I had eight matches a week, I don’t think I ever turned down a match. The bigger the game, the better for me, didn’t matter who was playing because you had to pay attention, you had to stay focused, you had to be at your best, just like they were. You couldn’t think about anything else, only that 90 minutes. That’s what motivated me, the bigger the game, the better. You get lads that don’t want them, I’d beg for them, I absolutely love them. It’s all them big games that I’ll miss, it’s what gets the adrenalin going. You can have a laugh and a bit of craic in them too, you don’t have to be shouting and roaring at players, you can joke with them until it’s needed. Like I said though, I’d go back in the morning and do another 25 years if I could but unfortunately I can’t.”