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An 84-year-old Derbyshire football referee who has officiated thousands of games across the county and worldwide is showing no signs of stopping as he approaches 65 years as an official.

Terry Whittaker qualified as a referee in 1968 and was paid 10 shillings to be the man in the middle on local games, before progressing to become a Class 1 referee, previously the highest level of match official in England.

After reaching the Football League as an assistant referee, Terry was part of the refereeing team at the infamous match between Derby County and Leeds United on November 1, 1975, where Derby striker Francis Lee and Leeds defender Norman Hunter were both sent off for fighting.

Almost 50 years on, he is still refereeing in the Midlands Regional Alliance league across Derby and Derbyshire, and enjoys it now as much as he always has.

One of his fitness secrets is a daily helping of porridge made with water and flavoured with tumeric, honey, fruit and yogurt,

He says of his refereeing: "I don't do it for the money, I do it because I enjoy it.

"I've always said that the first time I don't enjoy refereeing, I'm packing it in, and I still enjoy it.

"It keeps me fit, I enjoy the camaraderie and socialising. I like to help the younger referees. You have to be assertive, and you've got to get control of the game. To get control, you have got to be fit enough to be in the right place, and it comes down to fitness."

Born in Marlpool, Terry worked at the Coppice Colliery in Heanor before signing up for national service at The Strand in Derby, just shy of his 18th birthday.

Joining the Royal Air Force at RAF Padgate in Warrington, he met Queen Elizabeth II in 1955 as part of a four-year stint in the Special Air Service, which saw him serve in Iraq, Iran, Syria, the Suez and elsewhere and earned him several medals for his service.

He later became a founder member of both the National Memorial Arboretum and the Cyprus Memorial Trust, after leaving the military in 1958 as an acting sergeant.

Once back home, he joined Rolls-Royce in Ilkeston in 1961. He later moved to Loughborough University in Leicestershire as a senior lecturer in business management, before retiring in 1997.

But it was while working in procurement at Rolls-Royce that he came across refereeing thanks to a colleague, in what he says was a case of "the poacher becoming the gamekeeper".

He said: "While I was at Castle Donington, one of my workers, a chap called Robinson, was a referee but was packing up. I was still playing, for Emmington in the Notts Alliance, on a Saturday.

"He said, 'you could always referee on a Sunday, you know', and so I said, 'OK, I'll give it a go'. So, I was playing on Saturdays for Emmington in the Notts Alliance, and refereeing on a Sunday in the Long Eaton and District Sunday League, and that was 1968."

Terry estimates that he has refereed over 2,050 Saturday games in his long career, but often donates his match fees to charity and is the standard bearer and treasurer of the Horsley Woodhouse and Smalley branch of the Royal British Legion.

He is also part of the Erewash Valley Referees Society, which itself is celebrating its 80th birthday this year.

The father-of-two says he keeps fit through walking and cycling in the country park close to where he lives in Shipley, near Heanor, and says the secret to his longevity is his diet and keeping his brain ticking.

 Terry has been a referee for nearly 65 years (Image: Derbyshire Live)
He said: "I'm quite happy, believe it or not. I take the precaution, every Saturday morning, to weigh myself and take my blood pressure. I do it every Saturday morning, religiously. Last week I was 11 stone three pounds, and 149/74, and the 74 should have been my age.

"One of the secrets of my success is that I've got a very slow heartbeat, around 55.

"I don't smoke, I've never smoked in my life, but I like a glass of red wine now and again. I do play golf, when I get the chance.

"I've been fortunate during lockdown that I live across the road from Shipley Country Park. I walk wherever I can. If I can't walk I go on my bike, if I can't go on my bike I take the bus, and if I can't take the bus I get the car out.

"I have a gym, but the secret is diet. I have a good breakfast every morning and then I don't eat at lunchtime, at all, and then I have a meal in the evening.

"It's the same thing every day. I have porridge made with water, and I make it the night before. To that I add tumeric, honey, fruit and yogurt, and then often I'll have a slice of bread and jam or something like that to supplement it.

"I have it everyday, 365 days a year, and I've had it for years, if not decades.

"I walk as often as I can, most days. The park is only just down the road and I referee every Saturday, and that keeps me fit.

"But it's what's between my ears, rather than anything else. I used to do a lot of calligraphy at one time, I'm a member of the British Legion and I'm a member of the Royal Air Force Association, so I get magazines and occasionally go to meetings, and I tend to read quite a lot."

Terry also trained referees for over 35 years until 2015, including Ilkeston-based referee Andy Page, who recently officiated at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

He has officiated as far afield as Hawaii, Egypt and the Cook Islands and refereed a Women's FA Cup Final in the early 1980s.

Terry, who also has a granddaughter, said he was unable to persuade his relatives to get into officiating, as they prefer riding horses instead.

"My wife likes to get rid of me," he added. "While I'm out she will sometimes come with me, and while I'm refereeing she will be spending money."

He was rewarded for his long service by the Football Association when he hit his 50th year as a referee, and by the end of January had officiated in 17 games since the start of September, missing just five Saturdays of football in five months.

His first game as a Class 1 referee was Midland League fixture between Worksop Town and British Rope, a team from Retford, in 1971, where he was paid £14.

His first Football League game as an assistant was at Port Vale and his last at Sheffield Wednesday in 1979, but despite not supporting any team, he says his favourite ground was Derby County's former stadium, the Baseball Ground.

He remained at that level until the referee classification system changed, and is now a Level 5 - or senior county - referee.

Officiating even inspired his education, with his dissertation for a part-time degree in teaching at the University of Nottingham focusing on comparing the roles of a teacher and a referee.

Terry (right) was part of the team of the MRA's oldest officials who took charge of the League Cup Final prior to the pandemic. (Image: Midlands Regional Alliance)

But the pandemic has hampered the amount of referees available in grassroots football, with several County FAs reporting a drop in referee availability as many have not returned following lockdown.

Mel Williams, 80, has been Secretary of the Midlands Regional Alliance since July, after being involved as the league's chairman and registrations officer, and a a secretary of Sandiacre Town FC for 26 years.

He was quick to praise Terry's commitment and stressed how important referees like him were to the league's success.

"Terry obviously has a passion for football and he enjoys it. A few years ago we had a cup final, and the referee's secretary selected the three oldest officials in the league for the game, and he was one them.

"Premier Division games usually have assistants but we've had quite a few examples this year where games haven't had assistants in the Premier Division, and three or four games played this season we were haven't been able to provide a referee, and clubs soon start complaining when they don't have a referee.

"They complain when they've got one when results go against them, but if they haven't got one they're vociferous in their complaints. You really do need qualified officials, as the majority of players - even if you ask them to run a line - are out of their depth, so it is important.

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