Sunday 27th February 2005


Kent Referee pitches in

KENT referee Gary Johnson showed his good side at The Homelands on Saturday, saving the Ryman League Division One Kent derby between Ashford Town and Cray Wanderers, writes Stephen McCartney.

The 41-year-old whistle blower from Sittingbourne - an Area Manager for Barclays Bank - played a major part before the 2-2 draw and asks his fellow colleagues to follow suite.

Speaking in the Homelands bar, exclusively to www.kentishfootball.co.uk , Johnson, who didn't book a single player during the game, was obviously pleased with his day's work.

"We arrived here at 10:30am for the ground inspection and clearly at that time the pitch was unplayable," he said.

"There was a lot of snow on the pitch, covering the whole pitch at the time and Ashford Town were quite prepared to play the game.  Obviously there's the revenue issue for the club and at this time struggling as well."

Most referees would have just sat back and watched the home club officials work in the remaining hours until kick off, but Johnson was prepared to get his hands dirty and wet to help Ashford get the game played.

"They put their muscle in, they got some people down here and they did their best to play the game.

"The weather was improving at the time, it was getting warmer and the sun was coming out taking the snow off the pitch and they worked hard at it.  I was enjoying helping them as well."

Since the snow descended on Ashford on Wednesday, the game looked to be heading for a postponement giving the unusual conditions.  On the Friday night it looked all over as the pitch was covered in snow and freezing hard.

Johnson's first reaction was to call the game off as it was unplayable.  His second reaction was to volunteer to help get the game played - if the club could soak up the fast melting snow by kick off time (3pm).

For three hours Johnson and Mark Jenner pushed the super soaker relentlessly up and down the pitch to get rid of the worse of the waterlogged areas.  

Colin Brunger was left to clear a bit more in order to paint new lines down the touchline.  All credit has to also go to Peter Young, Gary Skillet and Alan Orsbourne, who made the match possible.

And when the game did get underway, what a good, entertaining game it was.  Ashford adapted better to the conditions as Cray took until the second half to realise they couldn't play their normal attractive flowing football on the muddy and waterlogged pitch.

Ashford fully deserved their 17th minute lead when Lee Blackman touched home Paul Jones' cross and missed several good chances but had to settle for a one goal lead going into the break.

As said before, Cray adapted better in the second half, thanks to listening to their manager Ian Jenkins' instructions during the interval and drew level with nine minutes left through Michael Power, who stabbed home from close range after Jamie Wood lifted the ball over the onrushing Ashford goalkeeper John Whitehouse.

It took Ashford a matter of seconds to re-gain their lead through Barry Gardner's 30-yard shot, which found the left hand corner of the net through a crowd of players.

Ashford, desperately looking to beat the drop, had to be content for just a point as Wood grabbed an injury time equaliser after 54 seconds of stoppage time, following Matt Woolf's cross and a lay off from Jamie Kempster.

Johnson added: "Both sets of players were committed and there were some committed challenges going in.

"Both sides played in the spirit that they wanted to do.  It was a good spirit from both teams, the players, the managers and the coaches alike.

"Everybody wanted to play the game.  There were no qualms, not one person moaned either before the game, at half-time, during the game or in the bar afterwards.  So credit to both clubs."

Has Johnson set a president where more match officials - at every level of the game - helps the clubs to get their games played, instead of calling them off at any opportunity, taking their wages for not doing anything, and causing clubs up and down the county financial distress?

Johnson said: "I think its about working with the clubs.  Its about asking the clubs what they are prepared to do as well.

"Ashford Town were prepared to put a lot of work into it.  I was prepared to help them and not only help them by giving them time to do that but physically manually help them.

"Everybody pulled together.  I just wish a few more people at all levels of football were prepared to put in the same effort as I did today and that would be for the better of football.

"Its a passionate game, whether you are playing, spectating, refereeing or officiating."

Visiting manager Ian Jenkins praised the efforts of the home club for getting the game played.

"It's good to see them try and get the game on.  That's the positive thing.  They could have said no, the game's off and wait a couple of weeks to play it and on a midweek night."

Tim Thorogood, Ashford's chairman-manager added: "I don't think it was unplayable, I think there was a bit more surface water than we would have liked but we've played in worse conditions than that to be honest with you.

"I thought both sides coped with it really well.  I also thought the referee handled the game really well.

"Overall you've got to play these games some time and it can't always be perfect.  I thought it was a good old British scrap so it's probably not done the pitch a lot of good but that's life."

Please credit article to: Stephen McCartney - www.kentishfootball.co.uk