Sweeney: Referees Got R35 Back Then

Author: iDiski Times
 | Date: June 29, 2022

As the PSL celebrates its officials of the season, former referee Dr Errol Sweeney has shared some of his stories with iDiski Times about his time as an official in South Africa.

Sweeney is one of the most illustrious referees in South African football history to hold the whistle. The Hanging Judge, as he is known, started his refereeing career in 1975 in Ireland.

He emigrated to South Africa with his wife in 1985, seeking work due to the lack thereof in Bettystown back home. 

” I was first promoted to the Premier League here in Ireland, in 1975 and was doing well,” Sweeney told iDiski Times‘ Joshua Hendricks.

“Refereeing was not a full-time job like it was in other countries right now. You got paid per game, so I had to tie down a job as well. Clubs here went through a very bad patch in the 1980’s so I had to up and go. “

To paint a clearer picture, Doctor Sweeney had a wife and four kids and needed employment so that he can obviously provide for his family. His sister knew about his circumstances and alerted him of opportunities that might lie in South Africa. The eventual move happened because of his younger sister back in Ireland, whose desire was to spend her 21st birthday in South Africa as well as visit their sister who had already settled in.

“We went there in ’83 and I absolutely fell in love with the place immediately. I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was the good weather and the warmth, this was in November. I said I’m definitely coming back here. 

“So I arrived back in SA, 13 January 1985, now I had done my homework with the footballing authorities back then which was the NPSL. Aubrey May was doing all the match appointments, many people might not remember him. I had written to them and he replied when you come back to SA let me know. I went out and in ’83 he already gave me three games for the two weeks that we were there. He told me straight that we don’t have referees like you in this country. I would love you to stay, or at least come back. I told him my intention was to come back, so that’s why I returned in ’85.”

The Doctor was never afraid to dish out yellow or red cards when he deemed it necessary, regardless of who was playing or how big the encounter was. This is where his nickname the “Hanging Judge” stems from.

“Got involved with the Referees, and there was a seminar in January 1985, with the referees association of SA, ” continued Sweeney. 

“Passed all my fitness tests and written tests, got on the Premier League lists of referees as a linesman. I ran my first line in Witbank towards the end of February when Stan Swart was the referee. The referees back then got R35 and the linesman got R22, so It was a labour of love really. 

“In 1987 by chance, I got the semi-final of the Bob Save Superbowl. I got it by chance because I was then working for Anglo-American mines in Carltonville.

It was a dreadful night, and apparently, the road between Joburg and Carltonville was blocked and flooded. So I got a phone call that the referee couldn’t travel, can I go and do the game. So I got my first game and It was between Vaal Reefs and Bloemfontein Celtic. Patrice Masemole, the old white head they use to call him. Even though they lost, he was high in his praise of me as a referee.”

After this performance, Sweeney was asked to handle a cup final between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. His way of managing a game got to a point where he wouldn’t take nonsense from players. He was strong and assertive and it helped him to run games to the peak of his powers. He was respected because of his hands-on approach.

This led to him winning the referees referee of the year in 1991 and the following year he won the Referee of the year which was sponsored by SABC and Adidas and voted on by the journalists. One of his biggest moments in SA football was when he red-carded former England captain Bryan Robson at Ellis Park. Which was a pre-season game between Manchester United and Arsenal.   

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