Stephen Finnie is giving up on refereeing football games after almost a quarter of a century – but he’s keen to see more young officials follow in his footsteps.
The curtain fell on the SPFL Premiership season on Sunday, and on Finnie’s career as a whistler. He took charge of his final match, a 1-0 win for Kilmarnock, over Hearts, at Rugby Park, and ran out with son Logan (7).
He also closed the season for his local side Falkirk, and though they’re nearby they’re not HIS team.
“A lot of people might get me mixed up with another bald-headed referee from Falkirk area,” he laughed, in reference to fellow whistler and Stirlingshire association member Craig Charleston – a well known Bairns fan. “What people don’t seem to realise is I’m originally from Kilsyth.”
That’s how it started for Finnie in his late-teens and early 20s, playing amateur football in the local amateur leagues around Kilsyth and Cumbernauld. Since then, and a football playing career that threatened to go no higher than amateur level, he’s performed in front of 10,000 at Hampden, on national television and played a part in a Scottish Cup final.
And those opportunities are why he reckons more people should consider refereeing to stay involved in the game.
“I think for students it’s a way of making money. An alternative to waiting tables or bar work.
“It’s a way of staying involved in football too. I was never the greatest player but I’ve run out at Hampden which is a big thrill for a Scotland fan like myself, I’ve seen behind the scenes at big games too. There’s been European trips and it’s been a fantastic experience.”
After the eight week course in 1994 his first game was an under-10s fixture on red ash pitches adjacent to Cumbernauld Juniors Guy’s Meadow ground. “It was a kids 11-a-side back then, and in December. It was my start.
“I was a year and a half in the youths, then a year amateur and then on to juniors. When you’re at that level you are also running the line at senior games in the lower leagues before moving up to Category four and taking charge of games.”
His first senior was Albion Rovers versus East Fife in 2004. But since then he’s moved on up the football ladder, learning about football rivalries on the way, to his high point – Scottish Cup final 2014 as fourth official.
“It’s a chance to stay interested in the game and see it in a way that many don’t. I didn’t realise Montrose and Arbroath was such a fierce derby – but it was one of my early games. Then I saw the riot vans! I’ve learned things like that and now have a look before games be it online in forums or at club video for highlights and flashpoints.
Finnie trains with the Stirlingshire referees association every Tuesday in Grangemouth. He was also monitored throughout the week via interactive fitness tracker which feeds data to the Scottish Football Association to ensure he stays in good condition for games. He does that by working with Craig Millar at Lonewolf training in Middlefield and pounding the pavements in Polmont.“It’s a big commitment, but definitely worth it. That’s what I’d say is my tip for the new referees coming through. Commit to it and listen to the advice you’re given. It’s a learning experience – we still are learning even at Grade One, category four level. You do need a thick skin and character to believe in yourself and your decisions too. I watch my games back on Sportscene – I am a football fan after all – and I learn from watching that too.
“But be yourself. We are human and get things wrong but being yourself on the pitch makes it so much easier. It’s a managerial role. You’re managing people and I’ve always managed the players in a manner I’d expect to be managed myself.”
Now though he won’t be searching for his name on Tuesday’s appointment email, nor being sent to Dingwall on a Tuesday night between his day job in the prison service in Edinburgh. Though he does intend to stay involved as a supervisor and with the local association.
“A few years ago they had an age limit on referees. – so I’ve had two more years.
“This is me going out on my terms, at the top in the Premiership and on a high note. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Anyone interested in joining the Stirlingshire referees’ association or training to become a football match official should email Wes Boulstridge on firstname.lastname@example.org