Oldest ref in UK talks to the ‘Tiser

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While many pensioners are sat at home with a cup of tea on a Saturday afternoon 88-year-old Harry Hardy can often be seen on the sidelines of a football pitch refereeing a game.

The great-grandfather of six, who lives with wife Margaret on Gresley Road, has been a referee in grass roots football for 56 years but fears a fall three weeks ago may have put an end to his passion.

He said: “Six weeks ago I did the last match of the season, then I fell down the stairs at home and twisted my hip.

“You’ve got to keep up with the young players if possible so I’ve got to wait to see if my hip gets better.”

Harry, who has been married to Margaret for almost 66 years, has a football shirt signed by the England squad framed and in pride and place on his living room wall. He was given it 18 months ago in recognition of his hard work, which has mostly seen him referee in Long Eaton at Sunday league games. He used to referee for central midlands teams on a Saturday afternoon.

As a member of East Derbyshire County FA, he joined Erewash Valley Referees Society in 1960 and three years later was appointed secretary.

Since then he has given 50 years of unbroken service to the society, refereeing more than 3,000 matches.

Harry supports Derby County but has never been to a game because he has always been refereeing at the time.

During his working years Harry, who has lived in Ilkeston his whole life and loves his hometown dearly, was a superviser at bike company Raleigh Industries in Nottingham, which is now closed. He retired at 58 after 45 years of service because it was what he called ‘going down the river’.

He and Margaret have two sons, Christopher and Philip, six grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

During World War Two he initially joined the RAF but was transferred to the army where he served in India and Burma with the Sherwood Foresters and the Fourth Border Regiment.

He said the thing he most enjoyed about being a referee was mixing with young people: “I have made a lot of friends as a referee, it’s not all red cards - there are some good footballers. I like being active and am lucky to be mixing with young people. I can’t play it but can referee it.” said Harry.

His wife Margaret, a former school cook, used to go to the matches with him and take their sons when they were children. She said: “That’s all we do now, watch football and cricket. When I’m watching a match I always think that Harry could have refereed it better than them.”

Harry is set to celebrate his 89th birthday in September. Though he’s not sure yet how he will celebrate he said Margaret’s cooking beats any meal at a restaurant.

And while some people would think that still being able to referee a match at the age off 88 was quite an achievement, Harry insists he is very ordinary: “I’m just an ordinary bloke’ he said ‘we are all in the game together, it’s just a game of football.”

He also recalls a time, when he was 60, and took part in a pentathlon while he was went on holiday .

He said: “We took the kids to Butlins and I asked if I could enter the pentathlon. My sons told me I wouldn’t be able to do it but I said ‘of course I will.’ I did it and was awarded ‘boy of the week.’

Two years ago Harry was invited to Buckingham Palace where he was awarded an FA Carlsberg Special Award, which he received from Prince William at a service to mark 150 years of the FA

Last year he received the British Empire Medal for services to football and is believed to be the oldest referee in the country.

If it wasn’t for his hip there would be no stopping him. It is not something he had planned to give up.