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Former Premier League referee Clive Wilkes looking forward to new season

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Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Monday, 25th July 2022, 09:00

Clive Wilkes Clive Wilkes

Clive Wilkes is a glass half full man. You don’t get to officiate in more than 770 games in the Football League and Premier League over 19 seasons without having a positive outlook on life.

And while some supporters are unhappy about the disruption this year’s mid-season World Cup will cause, he believes it can be beneficial for Gloucestershire’s leading clubs.

The Premier League and Championship will be suspended  to accommodate the World Cup, which runs from Monday 21st November to Sunday 18th December, but Wilkes, who is very well respected in the world of football, said: “I see it as an opportunity for clubs like Cheltenham Town and Forest Green Rovers, and also the top non-league clubs in the area such as Gloucester City, Cirencester Town, Bishop’s Cleeve and Slimbridge.

“Some of the fans who normally go to watch Premier League or Championship games might see it as a chance to watch some lower league games or even watch some non-league football.

“They might get the bug, the football is still a good standard.”

It certainly is, with Cheltenham Town and Forest Green Rovers set to lock horns in League One for the first time after Forest Green won League Two last time out.

The two teams have met at League Two level – although only a handful of times – and the fact that they are competing in the third tier of English football shows just how far football in the county has come over the past few years.

Wilkes, now 67, said: “I remember refereeing Forest Green when they were in the Northern Senior League, that would be around 1976/77ish. That’s the second lowest tier before you get into the local leagues, it’s remarkable how far they have come.”

Indeed it is, because they were promoted to the Football League only at the end of the 2016/17 season.

Cheltenham have been established in the Football League for a bit longer, of course, after winning promotion in 1998/99, although they had a season outside the Football League in 2015/16.

“I refereed Cheltenham when they were in the top tier of non-league football,” said Wilkes. “In those days it was known as the Gola League, it was in the 1980s when John Murphy was the manager.”

Both Cheltenham and Forest Green have new managers this season in Wade Elliott and Ian Burchnall following the departures of Michael Duff and Rob Edwards – the 2022/23 campaign gets underway on Saturday – but while the faces are different in the dugout, the rivalry on the pitch is just the same.

“Whatever the level, you can’t beat a local derby,” said Wilkes. “There’s always added spice even if it’s mainly because of the supporters.

“Both teams were superb last season. Forest Green were on fire until January and Cheltenham had a tremendous season in League One.

“If both clubs can finish around mid-table that would be a very good season for both of them.”

And while Wilkes, who lives in Corse, will be keeping a close eye on how the county’s two flagship clubs fare, he will be just as interested to see how Gloucester get on in National League North, Cirencester in Southern League Division One Central and Bishop’s Cleeve and Slimbridge in Southern League Division One South.

Wilkes has close ties with non-league football because he has been president of the North Gloucestershire League since he hung up his whistle back in 2003.

He refereed 51 games in the Premier League, with his first at Everton in 2000 being the most memorable. This was the game when West Ham’s Paolo Di Canio could have scored a late winner but instead caught the ball in the opposition penalty area because home goalkeeper Paul Gerrard was lying injured on the ground.

So would Wilkes like to be refereeing at the top level today?

“I’m not a great fan of VAR,” he admitted. “I’m in favour of the concept but I don’t like the way it’s managed or been implemented. There is too much onus on Stockley Park rather than the referees on the pitch.

“I’d like to see referees have more authority when making decisions, they should be deciding much more themselves whether to go to the monitor or not.

“It also needs to be quicker and smarter, it’s too forensic now. Whoever heard of being offside because of a kneecap?

“In my day the benefit of the doubt went to the forward, we judged it as the air gap. If the attacker was half a body ahead of the defender that was okay, if there was daylight between them it wasn’t, the system worked well.”

Wilkes was a Football League linesman for six years before refereeing his first game at that level in 1990 and he prided himself on getting the vast majority of his decisions right – he never had a red card rescinded or a yellow card upgraded. And it’s fair to say that as far his views on the game are concerned he’s still getting things right.

“Football will always be a great game,” he said. “This season is going to be a bit strange but then the last few seasons have been a bit strange because of Covid, I still love it.”

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Former top referee Clive Wilkes remains a keen supporter of football

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