‘I know when I blow the whistle for the last time on Saturday it will be emotional’ - Irish League referee Raymond Crangle

Raymond Crangle enhanced our game - there is none better - David Jeffrey

Irish League referee  Raymond Crangle  picture at the fort bar in West Belfast, Raymond will hang up his whistle at the end of this season.
Irish League referee Raymond Crangle who will hang up his whistle on Saturday PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
“COLERAINE had two great centre halves at the time - David Ogilby and Howard Beverland. Howard is a devout Christian and would come to me and say: ‘Raymond, I think you got that wrong.’
“And I would say: ‘Howard, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that - but thanks very much. Enjoy the rest of your match.’
“Big Ogilby is different. He’d say: ‘Raymond, you’re a f***ing w***er.’ And I’d say: ‘It takes one to know on.’ And Ogilby replies: ‘Dead on, Raymond’ and away he goes.
“Two players from the same team, two totally different conversations within the fraction of a second of each other.
“I was refereeing Jimmy Callacher one day and he told me to f*** off. And I said: ‘No, Jimmy, you f*** off.’ And he says: ‘Fair enough’ and walks away.
“It’s knowing your audience and knowing your players.”


THE Irish Premiership’s longest-serving referee has had many ding-dong battles with David Jeffrey over the last 17 years.

As one season has rolled into another, a genuine affection and mutual respect have been nurtured between two of the biggest personalities in local football.

“The greatest thing that Raymond does is he gives you time,” says the former Linfield manager. “That’s what I love about him.

“He takes time to explain why he gave a particular decision. Lots of times we didn’t agree but we never fell out - ever. His love for the game is immense.

“I would have him every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”

Friday April 19, 10.45am, The Fort Bar, Springfield Road, Belfast

IT’S a dry, crisp morning and Raymond Crangle is standing at the front door of the pub he runs in west Belfast watching the world go by and probably pondering what life will be like when he blows his whistle for the final time in eight days.

This listed liquor saloon bar is over 160 years old; its wooden snugs and ancient tiled floors are resplendent. When you enter the Fort Bar, part of you goes back in time with the surroundings.

Not a glass or stainless-steel jigger is out of place behind the varnished mahogany bar as Crangle boils the kettle for two coffees. It’s still too early for any of the Fort’s late-morning regulars.

Crangle has worked in the bar trade since he was 15-years-old.

“It’s a hard game now – very hard,” he says. “You just bat on, pay the bills and hope you can wash your face at the end of the week.”

It’s exactly this trade and his blue-collar roots that have helped him execute his refereeing duties with a unique charisma every Saturday afternoon.

For many Irish League fans, though, Raymond Crangle will always be their panto villain, the man they love to hate, where the west Belfast man’s irreverent approach incurs their wrath.

For 90 merciless minutes, abuse is hurled at him from every corner of the ground – and yet, on the field of play the vast number of players and managers like him – as much as a footballer or a coach can like a referee who will inevitably award many decisions against their team.

In other words, they rate him and respect him.

“In terms of what people may perceive as swear words, players are in a workplace, I’m in a workplace,” Crangle explains.

“I class it as industrial [language]. I manage a pub in a working-class area in west Belfast. Bad language, as some people perceive it to be, doesn’t bother me in any shape or form.

“I find it to be a good man-management tool. It’s not something I’d recommend for other referees because you must know your audience and find your own way.

“But there’s no point in being a stony-faced match official and not interacting with people on a human level. At the end of the day, it’s a game.”

He adds: “Referees are their own biggest critics. People think we just turn up, ruin their day and go home again.

“We put a lot of self-reflection into it. Sometimes you go, ‘Ah f***, I may have got this wrong.’

“You give decisions in an honest manner all the time. I certainly don’t go out and do any team an injustice. None of us are infallible.

“And if you’re far from home, it can be a long journey where you might be in the car with three of your colleagues - but nothing is said. You put the radio on - but nobody hears it. You’re driving 70 miles - but nobody knows it.”

Danske Bank Premiership.Glenavon's manager Gary Hamilton gets a lecture from referee Raymond Crangle 
Former Glenavon manager Gary Hamilton gets a dressing down from referee Raymond Crangle

The locals in his bar slag him from time to time, that he carries himself more like a prison warden than affable bartender, as he constantly walks up and down the bar like he’s patrolling the Vodka, Gin and Whiskey.

“I’m just trying to keep the blood flowing in my legs by walking up and down,” he smiles.

“If you stand still, then the pain increases. If you’re on the move constantly you don’t notice it as much.”

Give him a muddy pitch over a 4G surface any day of the week. His battered calves know the difference.

“On Sunday morning I’d be a bit sore. I’d go for a walk to get the papers just to see how badly the press have slammed me from the day before! That’s always good over a cup of coffee and a bacon sandwich.”

We’re edging closer to the reasons why one of Irish football’s leading match officials is calling it a day on Saturday week.

”I’m approaching my 51st birthday and I’m by far and away the oldest member of the elite referees panel, as we’re called. There are 13 of us. I’m the elder statesman. As my friend [also a referee] Peter McGrath says, ‘I’ve socks older than some of my colleagues.’

“I enjoy the banter with the guys, and I enjoy the 90 minutes with the players - but I don’t think people realise the amount of work that you put in at the top level.”

All of the north’s top refs wear GPS watches, the data of which is later dissected by an IFA sports scientist. They’re requested to train a minimum of three times per week: sprint sessions, endurance work, maybe some weights.

A longstanding back problem should have finished off Crangle’s refereeing career a decade ago – but a combination of acupuncture, a steady stream of cortisone, exercises and sheer bloody-mindedness have enabled him to remain at the top for over 17 years.

“I’m in the right head space,” he insists leaning against the bar.

“The time is right for me. But I’ll certainly miss it. I know when I blow the whistle for the last time [he’s been posted to Inver Park on Saturday April 27], it will be emotional.”

The front door creaks. Crangle’s first customers of the day enter the bar.

Tomorrow afternoon, he is fourth official in the penultimate Irish Premiership game between Cliftonville and Glentoran at Solitude alongside Rachel Greer, his long-time partner, David Burns and Evan Boyce.

Match-day, Saturday April 20 11.30am at Raymond and Rachel’s home in west Belfast

IT’S a sunny, breezy Saturday morning and Rachel is hanging out some washing and Raymond is making coffee in the kitchen.

Rachel is on the line at Solitude today and Raymond manning the dugouts. It’s rare the couple get to work together.

Rachel has packed her kitbag and checked the contents in it just once. Raymond has checked his kitbag roughly 14 times.

Checklist: four different coloured kits, tracksuit, raincoat, hat and gloves, cards, whistles, watches, pens, paper, coin, a bag of sweets, a spare set of flags, vanishing spray.

“She cracks up with me,” he says, laughing. “She’d check her bag once and that’s it.”

Rachel is complaining of a nagging back injury and mentions that she might have to ask Raymond to take over line duties at some stage this afternoon. He doesn’t know if she’s serious or not.

Just over three hours until kick-off, Crangle is in wistful mood before his second last game. You throw a few names at him.

Ballymena boss David Jeffrey was in fine form in the BBC studio at the Irish Cup final on Saturday
David Jeffrey has enjoyed a great relationship with Raymond Crangle despite their sparring sessions on the sidelines

David Jeffrey. What was he like on the sideline?

Standing in his kitchen, Crangle declares: “David Jeffrey – the master of manipulation in a very, very funny way.

“I was fourth official at the old Windsor Park - and the crowd were on my back in front of the old wooden South Stand, and DJ was standing there.

‘Get away from him Crangle!’ the Blues fans were shouting.

“And Jeffrey turns around and points in my face – I’ll never forget it and we still laugh about it now – ‘They all think I’m shouting at you, Raymond, but we know I’m not. Now, I’m going to go back in and sit down and they’re going to light on you.’”

Laughing, he adds: “No sooner did he do that, and the Linfield fans were shouting on, ‘That’s it, Davy, you f***ing tell him!’ And I’m left standing there thinking, ‘You big b*****d’. He just done me up.”

Behind the curtain, Jeffrey showed a touch of class towards the Belfast whistler. Unbeknown to the-then Linfield manager, Crangle was mourning the loss of his grandfather.

At half-time in a game, there was a verbal stand-off between manager and referee over a decision the latter had awarded.

Gary Eccles, Linfield’s long-serving kitman, later whispered to Jeffrey about Crangle’s recent loss.

As the Linfield team emerged for the second half, Jeffrey approached Crangle and said: ‘Raymond, I’m sorry. You won’t hear another word from me for the rest of the afternoon.’

After the game, every single Linfield player knocked on the referee’s changing room door and paid their respects...

Time’s pushing on. Rachel has an errand to run before reaching Solitude and Raymond is meeting today’s referee Evan Boyce for their usual pre-match coffee.

Match-day, Costa Coffee, Yorkgate, 1pm

KICK-OFF edges closer and Crangle grabs a window seat. He’s full of one-liners and is buzzing ahead of the game.

He constantly jokes with ‘Boycie’ about different refereeing moments they’ve shared together and how taking up the whistle allowed them both to see the world.

When Crangle offers to get more coffee in, you ask Evan if his colleague and friend is making the right decision to retire from refereeing.

“Yes, I think he is,” Evan says, “because he’s done it all – and he’s going out on his terms.

“I think players will miss him and I think managers will miss him over the way he handles games. But it’ll take some getting used to and the second Saturday in August will be hard for him when he’s not on a football pitch.”

Crangle returns with the coffees. More craic. More one-liners. More west Belfast wit.

Solitude, Referee’s changing room, 2.20pm, 40 minutes before kick-off

RACHEL, Evan, Raymond and Davy Burns, the other linesman for the day, are all exceptionally chilled, perhaps aided by the fact that there is little at stake for Irish Cup finalists Cliftonville and an out-of-sorts Glentoran side willing the season to be over.

Davy indulges in some band work and foam rolling. Crangle is still in fun mode when referee assessor Bobby Lutton knocks their changing room door.

They all like Bobby.

Crangle stands up: “Right, Bobby – 8.5, 8.5, 8.5, 8.5 – and there’s a bottle of Gordon’s in it for you!”

The room erupts with laughter.

I shake hands with Bobby and with a wink, he says: ‘I’ll just put in my report what Raymond tells me to!’

Before Bobby exits the changing room, he wishes the officials good luck.

Davy Burns, Raymond Crangle, Rachel Greer and Evan Boyce take charge of last Saturday's game between Cliftonville and Glentoran - Crangle's second last game before retirement
Davy Burns, Raymond Crangle, Rachel Greer and Evan Boyce take charge of last Saturday's game between Cliftonville and Glentoran - Crangle's second last game before retirement

CRANGLE takes up his position between the home and away dug-outs and looks like a man out for an afternoon stroll.

Down to his right, Rachel is a picture of concentration, moving side to side. Evan, the man in the middle, exudes a calm authority and over on the far side of the pitch, ‘The Understanders’ are in subdued mode, just killing time until May 4.

In front of them, Davy is virtually invisible. The Reds are much the better team. Jim Magilton and Gerard Lyttle are contented figures in the home side’s technical area.

The difference in the Glentoran dug-out couldn’t be starker. Declan Devine is like a beaten bear because of how poorly his team is performing. He prowls outside his designated area – but Crangle understands the emotion running through the Derry man’s veins and cuts him some slack.

On the field, Stephen Mallon dances to his left and opens the scoring for Cliftonville. 1-0, half-time.

Referee’s changing room, half-time…

CHOCOLATE biscuits and tea have been left in the match officials’ room. The four of them get their mobile phones out to check the football latest.

Raymond: ‘Celtic won on penalties.’

Rachel: ‘Is that what the cheers were for in the first half?’

Evan: ‘It certainly wasn’t for our game!’

Second half…

EVAN awards Cliftonville a penalty after Rory Hale’s free-kick was charged down by a Glentoran player’s hand. Their bench protest to Raymond.

‘Lads, his hand was out. It’s a penalty. No question.’

Ronan Hale makes it 2-0 to Cliftonville. The final whistle can’t come quickly enough for both management teams.

When it does come, players, managers and coaches from both sides approach Crangle, some with firm handshakes, others with a warm embrace – a nod to his imminent retirement from Irish League football.

Just before the match officials disappear from view, a couple of supporters ask Crangle for a ‘selfie’. One Cliftonville fan sees this and utters to himself, ‘Why would you want your photo taken with Crangle?’

This was as handy an afternoon as Crangle et al can get. Before Bobby re-appears with his debrief and The Irish News leaves the room, you ask what do match officials do of a Saturday night.

Rachel: ‘We’ll probably grab a Chinese later. Quiet enough.’

Davy, who is CEO of Lisburn Council, says: ‘I’m going to a daffodil convention!’

The room erupts with laughter. Wearing a broad smile, Davy takes it all on the chin.

For Raymond Crangle, it’s one game down and one to go. He later finds out he’ll be posted to Inver Park next Saturday to cover newly crowned champions Larne versus Coleraine. And that will be that.

Given the wealth of experience he’s accrued over almost two decades, Jeffrey believes it’s a no-brainer for the IFA to retain Crangle in a mentoring or assessor capacity going forward.

“We are losing a massive character in Raymond Crangle,” says Jeffrey. “But there’s so much more to him than that. He is a man of immense ability, a man who enhanced the game of football.

“He has been instrumental in bringing players, managers and officials closer together. He’s been an ambassador for the game - and he hasn’t even realised it. Raymond Crangle is one of the greatest referees there’s ever been.”

His first-ever game he refereed was a local derby at Falls Park between Immaculata and West Belfast in the old Dunmurry & District League. It was a feisty affair where he sent four players off – two from each team.

In the mind’s eye, he can still see two of the players he’d sent off knocking seven shades out of one another at the top of the hill.

“It was tough. But I got through it, I enjoyed it.”

Years later, he was promoted to the European referees’ list and remembers one game in particular at Paris Saint Germain and rubbing shoulders with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“That night always resonates with me because I was just a boy from Ballymurphy who decided to take up refereeing at 27. It has been very good to me - and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Irish League referee  Raymond Crangle  picture at the fort bar in West Belfast, Raymond will hang up his whistle at the end of this season.
Irish League referee Raymond Crangle talks about his career before retiring on Saturday PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN