Northstand Nostalgia: Learn from legend of Bernie and ‘play on’

Pompey keeper David Forde confronts referee Nigel Miller. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey keeper David Forde confronts referee Nigel Miller. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey celebrated Brett Pitman's opening goal against AFC Wimbledon earlier this season

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Seven months ago, Notts County rolled into town and were lucky to escape with the 4-0 drubbing Pompey eventually declared upon.

Last Saturday, an equally feeble flock of Magpies fled Fratton Park with all the spoils.

Saturday’s defeat means we have now lost four of our last seven league games.

Paul Cook is feeling the pressure and fell foul of one of my pet hates during post-match interviews – ref bashing.

Nigel Miller did make some strange decisions during the game but his overall officiating was well above average League Two fare.

The FA are supposedly running a respect the referee campaign, although I see little evidence of clubs adhering to this mandate.

Referees are vital to the game. Without them, there is no game.

Would-be refs attending Fratton Park receive no encouragement towards this vocation based on the treatment of officials from the professionals.

In my playing days, many moons ago, I was just happy to see a man in black, whistle-in-mouth and two flags in his hand at 10.25am in the middle of a sodden Farlington Marsh.

His presence gave authenticity to the fixture.

In his absence, a friend, parent or team-mate would have to deputise, extending the differences between the professional game and that of our own.

One particular referee who was known to many, if not all Portsmouth park players, was a gentleman called Bernie Messum.

I don’t know how long Bernie’s refereeing career spanned but he was of a good age when I first encountered him in the late 1970s and he was still blowing his whistle right up until his late 70s.

Bernie cut a slight, lithe figure and spoke with a soft educated voice.

Age did not alter his refereeing style, he was always enthusiastic, polite and fair.

However, the passing years did reduce his mobility.

Just as players have a favoured position, Bernie was more comfortable refereeing from his favourite section of the pitch – namely the centre circle.

Although not uncommon to see him just outside either penalty area, he would rarely enter inside of one.

Very few penalties were awarded during Bernie’s games, most appeals would be met with a cheery two-handed gesture, accompanying his command to play on.

To my knowledge, Bernie never booked nor sent anyone off, while in the middle.

Although, he would often threaten to reach for a card in the presence of an offender.

I do not believe his pocket contained anything more than his Polo mints.

Bernie’s matches basically refereed themselves, as neither team sought advantage from his benevolence or positioning.

I do, however, know of one goalkeeper, who regretfully, after conceding a goal and witnessing the ball pass right through his net, quickly restarted the game with a goal-kick.

The opponents surrounded Bernie in uproar.

Bernie, then sprinted away from the throng, legs moving like pistons and trademark waving arms frantically gesticulating above his head, with all his complainants trailing in his wake (ala a Benny Hill sketch) to the tune of his high-pitched requests to ‘play on’ play on’ reverberating around the King George V playing fields.

On behalf of all the region’s parks players, including one apologetic and unsporting keeper, I thank and salute you, the Reverend Bernard Albert Messum (1922-2010). RIP.

A regular contributor to the Football Mail’s letters page many moons ago, the Northstand Critic has got back in touch and now writes a weekly column in the Sports Mail.