Sez Les: The sporting world of Les Payne

Les Payne
Les Payne

The season finished a couple of weeks ago for most but the domestic campaign finally draws to a close this weekend with the usual Wembley drama and the mix of joy for the winners and despair for the losers.

Initially, no one liked the Play-offs. They were regarded as unfair. If you finish above someone else then you should be promoted, ran the argument.

But they have tagged on so much excitement to the fag end of the season. Before them, a season abruptly stopped. Now, most can find some sort of interest in this end-of-season lottery and you get lots of neutrals who absolutely love ’em - particularly dramatic second legs and then all the emotion of the Wembley denoument.

And, of course, you are guaranteed the cliched shots towards the end of a game as the cameras seek out glum faces of the losing fans, hopefully homing in on some tearful kid. Yes, there’ll be one somewhere.

Anyway, as it’s the end, time to recall one of my favourite stories from the season. It concerns a leading referee, although not one of our local ones. It shows how you need a bit of help and a spot of luck.

The ref in question, having got himself into not the best position, had to adjudicate on a borderline penalty decision - not least, was it inside the area?

He thought it was, checked with his assistant who agreed. A penalty it was. As it was also the denial of a goalscoring opportunity, it was a red card too. Then came the snag. Which defender was it?

Two defenders, who looked very similar, were very close indeed to the attacker and, of course, players move around after the incident. He wasn’t sure which one it was.

He checked with his assistant who couldn’t help him either.

So, he had a problem. A big problem. But before he could extricate himself - or land himself in hot water by red-carding the wrong man - the big centre-half came towards him.

“Ref, I never touched him,” he said.

“Oh yes you did,” replied the ref, most relieved that the player had just inadvertently identified himself. And up went the red card.

Hopefully there’ll be no red cards in any Wembley games this weekend which will see me reporting my final Millers game some 45 years on from the first one, a cold February day at Watford when it was one of only four games played across a country entirely blanketed with snow.

It’s a fair old place to finish, at which point I’d like to deeply thank everyone for their kind wishes this week and to Rotherham United for their totally unexpected gestures last week.

Firstly, there was the huge honour and privilege of them naming the club’s Press room after me (do I get to pop a few pot plants in there and stick up a few pictures?) and then there was Tony Stewart’s presentation (pitchside in front of a full house, wow!) of a framed, signed Millers shirt which I shall treasure.

I never, ever expected anything like that.

I’m sure you can guess what I had in my throat at various times.

I just hope, for the magnificent chairman, super staff, marvellous players and fantastic fans that my last report will be a winning one!