The day I was left ‘flagging’ at Wembley

The recent WHT letter ‘The team of ’55’ evoked so many memories of my years teaching in WGC.

I was privileged to have worked with many talented children in both Blackthorn and Harwood Hill Schools, in WGC.

For many years I refereed all over south east England and I was fortunate enough to be chosen as a linesman for schoolboy international matches at Wembley Stadium against Germany in 1970 and Netherlands in 1975.

I invariably carried a set of linesman flags in my kit bag, but felt this unnecessary for a match played at a national stadium.

On arrival at the officials’ changing room we had the usual referee/linesman discussion, but were then unable to discover a set of flags and made enquiries from the commissionare in charge of our welfare.

He scratched his head and replied: “Well I think we have a set somewhere!”

As he rummaged around in cupboards without success the other linesman and I were almost resigned to being the first officals in Wembley history to wave our handkerchiefs in place of flags.

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Then what a relief, he discovered the flags. The handle of each was so thick that I had great difficulty in getting my hand round it and the tape was barely long enough to secure the flag to the stick, but we had flags!

Midway through the first half I was racing along the line trying to keep up with the very speedy German right winger when I realised that there was something amiss with my flag.

A quick glance revealed that there was no flag, only the handle and stick.

Fortunately the ball was cleared by an English defender and the ball boy thrust the flag into my hand, as he did so the Germans launched another attack and I had the unenviable task of replacing the flag whilst running at top speed.

My signal to indicate that the ball was out of play was made with both arms held high as I made the final tug to get the flag in place.

For me there was a new meaning for the word ‘unflagging’.

When I returned to Wembley five years later, complete with my own flags, there on the table in the changing room was a brand new set of flags.

Tom Barker,

Heronswood Road,