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Peter was educated at Spennymoor Grammar School, and later played amateur football for Tow Law Town. He was signed by Newcastle United, but never played above reserve level for them, eventually giving up to join the police force. He served at Cassop and Quarrington Hill, also playing football for their local teams. Before one of those local matches in 1963, the appointed referee failed to turn up. Peter took charge of the game, and soon afterwards formally trained as a referee.

He became a Football League linesman in 1968. He was promoted to the supplementary list of referees in 1971 and then to the full list in 1972. 

Peter was appointed to the Football League Cup Final of 1982, when Liverpool defeated Tottenham 3-1 after extra time. He refereed the 1985 FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Everton, which United won 1–0, courtesy of a Norman Whiteside goal during extra time. This appointment made him one of very few non-FIFA referees to control both major English Cup Finals.

In the 78th minute of normal time in the 1985 FA Cup Final, he sent off Kevin Moran of Manchester United after a foul on Everton's Peter Reid 40 yards (37 m) away from goal. In a 2002 newspaper article, Peter commented: "Moran just kicked him. Peter Reid might well have gone higher up in the air than he needed to, but I saw what happened and I had a decision to make. I either put the whistle on the ground and walked off, or applied the laws of the game and sent him off".

Moran put his side of it in a 2006 interview: "I didn't think it was a foul. I had no intention of pulling Peter Reid down and felt I never touched him. I went into the tackle from the side and his momentum flicked him over, as if I'd clattered him. I couldn't believe it when I got a straight red”.

Following this match, Peter had one final season on the league list (1985-1986). His last match was at Goodison Park where Everton needed to beat Southampton to have any chance of retaining the league title. They did indeed win (6–1), but Liverpool won at Chelsea to claim the honour.

Peter became President of the Referees’ Association in succession to Ken Burns, and held that post from 1984 to 2002. He suffered a stroke in 2000, which was a factor in his deciding to stand down from the presidency two years later.

At the annual dinner of the Durham County Referees' Society, held at Bishop Auckland Town Hall on 23 November 2002, Peter was honoured with Life Membership of the Referees' Association.

It was Peter who appointed Arthur Smith as General Secretary of the RA, and Arthur now reflects in a few words the feelings shared by most of those who met Peter.

Arthur writes:  
I first got to know Peter when he employed me as General Secretary in May 1992. I found him to be a very dedicated and passionate man for the RA and I would go as far to say if you cut Peter in half it would say The Referees’ Association. Peter championed the RA at the FA ensuring we had support for our members and he also took on the government when they wanted to charge VAT on members subscriptions. We also worked together as trustees for the RA Benevolent Fund ensuring our members less fortunate than ourselves had support in there hour of need.

Peter and I had an excellent working and social relationship together and I will miss him dearly. Peter will be sadly missed by all who knew and worked with him and he encompassed the RA motto to the full “Service before Self” 

R.I.P. my dear friend

Ken Ridden writes:

My memory tells me that Peter was actually the 3rd RA President from County Durham - following Walter Turnbull (RA Pres. at the time of 1966 World Cup) and then Fred Lightfoot later.

After I did a Course of Instruction for Referees in Qatar, the local FA asked for help in their League and Peter kindly obliged and spent some weeks out there refereeing. In a similar arrangement in 1990 he refereed in Kuwait and we later joked about him starting the war in August of that year, when Iraq attacked Kuwait.

He was a great character, well-liked and will be missed. RIP Peter.

Best regards,    Ken

David Elleray writes: 
Peter Willis was for many, many years ‘Mr RA’ and he epitomised all that was (and is) good about The Referees’ Association: strong decisive leadership, a shrewd political brain but a soft heart and wonderful support when needed. He ensured that The RA was respected throughout refereeing not just through his strong leadership, personality and reputation but because he worked with people who were loyal to him and he to them. He was a towering figure in many ways and many of us who had the privilege of officiating in an FA Cup final cherish his words and his presentation of the RA plaque at the Eve of the Final Rally the evening before the great day in our refereeing lives.  After stepping down as President he remained a key ‘worker’ for the RA and many people have had their RA award enhanced by it being presented personally by Peter.  He will be greatly missed and mourned but for sure he will not easily be forgotten”

David Elleray MBE
Chair, FA Referees' Committee  
RA President (2003-17) 

Current RA President Paul Field writes:

In recent times, Peter would attend various RA Conferences where he would be seen with a great gathering of members around him, holding council and discussing stories from bygone years. Peter gave great support to me personally in respect of my attempts to modernise the RA, whilst stressing the importance of the history surrounding our Association. He advised that, despite the ever-present issue of local politics, the RA had to evolve going forward. Many people have personified the RA’s motto of “Service Before Self”, but Peter really went the extra mile. When you visited local associations around England, people always mentioned his name - he is indeed fondly remembered by all. The RA has lost a great friend, and we extend our sincere condolences to Peter’s family and friends at this very sad time.

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