Craig Charleston: Pain of losing job as top referee still raw

Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson gives Charleston an earful
Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson gives Charleston an earful

After a career in refereeing spanning an impressive 18 years, Craig Charleston was forced to hang up his whistle, professionally,  this summer

The 48-year-old returned from holiday expecting to continue refereeing at the top level for at least another season, but failed a fitness test which has left him refereeing in the Lowland League and beyond.

Alan Stubbs argues with Charleston

Alan Stubbs argues with Charleston

He told the Falkirk Herald about his summer: “I’m a bit lost, to be honest. I expected to be refereeing for one more year and then retire at the end of the season.

“But you need a high level of fitness. I was a referee for 18 years, five as an assistant and 13 as a Class One referee. It’s a high level of fitness.”

Although he’s not refereeing at the top level, Charleston is still whistling in Scottish football - and has now completed what he described as a ‘full-circle’ having returned to Bonnyrigg Rose recently, where he had not been since 2005.

Despite having a lot more free time now, with class one referees training three or four times a week, he has still not watched a football match on TV.

“I haven’t watched a single game this season. It’s still raw.

“I tried watching sportscene the other night, but I just kept thinking ‘that could be me refereeing that game’.

“I don’t even watch to see how other referees are getting on.”

Charleston, who grew up watching Falkirk at Brockville, returned to watch his beloved Bairns for the first time as they were hammered by Queen of the South at The Falkirk Stadium at the end of August.

And many of Charleston’s best memories centre around his boyhood club, but he also talked about working at some of Scotland’s bigger and more iconic venues - as well as naming his favourite Scottish ground.

“One of my career highlights was running the line in the last game at Brockville, and then doing the same for the first game at the new stadium against Dundee.

“I refereed at Parkhead, Ibrox and Hampden, places where I used to pay to go as a punter.

“But also Ayr, Forfar, Stranraer - you get that same buzz. Places I travelled as Falkirk supporter. These clubs and people that turn up there are just as important as the thousands at Ibrox and Parkhead.”

“But without a shadow of a doubt, the best stadium for atmosphere is Tynecastle – and credit to Hearts for staying there. The crowd is so close to the pitch.”

Charleston wasn’t interested in hiding the fact that he is a Falkirk fan and that’s a fact that was also well known across the divide at Dunfermline’s East End Park.

“Punters knew I was a Falkirk fan and gave me stick, which is fair enough.

“My dad came along to a Dunfermline game to see what it was like and told me ‘I had to start shouting at you in case they found out who I was!’”

After years of dedication to refereeing at the football, he now admits that he sees matches through the eyes of referees - although that isn’t always the case when he watches the Bairns.

“Everyone watches matches through rose tinted glasses. I can always see what the referee is trying to do. Unless I’m watching Falkirk.”

Charleston moved from the terraces to the pitch and, despite not being remembered as a ‘fan favourite’, the whistler has plenty of stories to tell.