“The development of young referees was something that he took a great interest and a great pride in,” reflected Andy Parkinson as he paid tribute to his father George who passed away last week aged 90.

George Parkinson spent a lifetime involved in refereeing in the Fermanagh and Western, starting out with a whistle in 1968, he went on to serve in various roles in the Fermanagh and Western Referees’ Association - of which he was a founder member - from President, Vice Chairman, Secretary, Appointments Secretary and Committee Member.

He refereed up to 1978 before then taking up another role of Referee Assessor and he was honoured at the 50th anniversary of the Fermanagh and Western Referees’ Association for all his work for that organisation while in 2019 he also picked up the Fermanagh and Western League’s Merit Award.

Passion for football

“He had a passion for football and in particular the local game and local referees and he wanted to see them pushing to the highest level that they merited,” explained Andy.

“He had a great interest in how the young referees developed. No matter what game I was at he would very rarely ask me the score, he would ask me who was refereeing and the score might have came later on. He was very interested in how the local referees got on.”

And in particular he had a keen interest in the progression of local referee and his nephew, Arnold Hunter who pushed on to the international stage.

“I don’t think I’m going to offend anyone by saying that Arnold was his pride and joy but by the same account he got no special treatment, he earned his praise.

“I know though that he was particularly proud of Arnold’s achievements and it gave him great satisfaction watching him on the television and then discussing it with Arnold when he came home. As Arnold would tell me, ‘the game would last 90 minutes but when I got back to uncle George the dissection would last for about two days’. The amount of times that I got into the house and Dad would be going through Arnold’s latest European adventure - he took great pride in Arnold’s success.

“He was proud of the fact that he was representing, first and foremost, the Fermanagh and Western and the same goes for young Timmy Marshall, he took great pride in these young lads from this area being able to reach a really high level. When he became an assessor and travelled around he became acquainted with those from other areas as well and he enjoyed watching their progress too,” stated Andy.

Highly respected

It wasn’t only the young referee’s that he kept an eye out for with some of the more experienced ones also a great source of pride for George.

“He really enjoyed the fact that the likes of Pat Chesters and Joe Crawford refereed for so many years and not only had they refereed the amount of the games that they had but that they were highly respected within the local game and loved that they stayed involved for as long as they had.”

Indeed, George stayed in touch with a lot of the referees who would call with him after matches.

“He was great friends with many of them and in recent years referees would have rang and said that they were in Castle Park refereeing that afternoon and would it be alright to call on the way and there would always be a wee cup of tea waiting for them when they came. I always thought that was terrific, that he still had that friendship.”

Andy acknowledges that his love of football came from his dad although his involvement was the playing and coaching side instead of the officiating.

“From I was no age I went to games although my mum was not overly keen on me going with dad when I was really young as a referee doesn’t always get applauded off the pitch, shall we say! But I still went to a lot of games and there is no doubt that is where my interest in the game was harboured. He wanted me to try out refereeing but I never really seen myself as doing that but last year my son Ben did his courses and refereed a bit at youth level and he was again very proud of that.”

Andy says that the family are very proud of the awards that George collected from his involvement in refereeing.

“We couldn’t be more proud of the awards that he picked up, to see your father pick up the awards he did through the Fermanagh and Western and beyond is a source of great pride for myself, my sister (Helen), my mother (Irene) and the rest of our extended family. We are very proud of the fact that he did all those things. At the end of the day he wanted to make a difference to the local game and we are proud of the fact that he achieved what he set out to do,” he stated.

Away from football, Andy says that his father was a family man and he explains that he was active right up until recent weeks.

“First and foremost, he was a family man and he will be missed in that sense, but we are very thankful that he lived to the ripe old age of 90 and until very recently was in reasonable health. Ben was 18 on October 12 and it was the last time he was in our house and he drove the car to it and home again. He was active up until three weeks ago so we are immensely grateful for that.”

Hugely indebted

The family were also keen to express their gratitude for the care George received at SWAH.

“We are hugely indebted in these difficult circumstances for the care and attention that he received in SWAH. It was absolutely second to none. We weren’t able to go in and visit him, only my sister was allowed in but I know having spoken to him on the phone when he was in there, that they did everything they could to make him comfortable and look after him and we are eternally grateful to them,” acknowledged Andy.