Referees' Feature - Chris Stapleton - Part 3

Chris communicates well with his whistle

Chris Stapleton and Steve WilliamsChris Stapleton set out in both cricket and rugby during his younger days in Laugharne but he started playing football when he moved into Pembrokeshire and over the last 30 years has become widely respected as a football referee who adopts a no-nonsense approach with players but also has the ability to communicate with them when he makes his decisions.
He lays the blame for his taking up the whistle on fellow Hundleton cricketer Steve Williams, who was also involved in  football in the village alongside Chris when he felt that it was time to stop playing – and decided to take up the whistle, suggesting that Chris should do the same.  

Speedy start!

Chris was already reffing at some Saturday morning matches for the junior teams but then decided it was worth a try, contacted league secretary Eddie Oliver on a Friday evening to say that he would like to go on the referees’ course – and found himself in charge of a match the next day between the second teams from Pembroke Borough and Letterston!
He had to borrow Steve Williams’ spare kit and used the whistle he had bought for the junior games as he thoroughly enjoyed the match, took the refs’ course with Pedr McMullen and has been heavily involved ever since.

Senior Cup Final takes pride of place 2005/06

His consistent refereeing has seen him rewarded with lots of cup finals and he officiated at the very last Reserve Division Final before that was ended in the new league format in 2008/09 – and Hakin United beat Merlins Bridge by 4-0.
But pride of place goes to being selected to officiate at the Senior Cup Final for 2005/06, when Hakin United beat Narberth by the only goal of the match.
“It was something of a nice surprise when I heard that I was to be ref at the Final but I was thrilled,” says Chris, “although I got more and more nervous as the day got closer. It was nice to have experienced assistants in Phil Gale and Jonathan Twigg, plus Steve Evans as fourth official.
“We all met up with about 20 other refs for brunch on the morning of the match, as traditionally happens now, but I was so nervous I couldn’t eat, which certainly isn’t like me!

“But once all the pre-match activities were over I was fine and thoroughly enjoyed a good game of football in front of a big crowd on the Bridge Meadow.”

(Editor’s Note: Chris also admits that he was so emotionally drained by the experience that he was home and tucked up in bed before seven o’clock, which certainly isn’t him!)

Chris completes his officiating at every senior competition

His first final came along in 1998/99 when he reffed the under 14s final at Marble Hall, with Merlins Bridge winning against Herbrandston, and since then he has been in charge of a number of finals as further reward for his commitment and reputation as a good referee.
Then came the Third Division Cup Final in 2000/01, when Angle beat Hubberston, the Wiltshire Cup Final (Pennar Robins beat Tenby in 2002/03), and the 2004/05 Second Division Final (Milford Athletic beat Letterston).

Taking charge of the fourth division final (Milford United beat St Florence -2012)) and the fifth division final (Herbrandston beat Angle in 2014) meant that Chris could justifiable be proud of the fact that he had completed Pembrokeshire Football’s ‘Full House’!
He was also chosen as assistant referee for the McWhirter League Cup Final which was played at Goytre United, where Afan Lido beat Pontardawe.

Not all highlights however

Like all officials there are inevitably a small number of downbeat times so ask Chris about his worst moment as a ref and he would unhesitatingly point to a West Wales Cup match between Fishguard and CRC at St Mary’s Field, where some of the visiting supporters were so drunk that he had to abandon the match when they came on the field at half time.
He had great support from goalkeeper Darren Turner and some other characters from Goodwick and although he had a momentary thought about packing up he bounced back the next week and says that being a referee means far more than being put off by a few people who don’t know how to behave!

Cricket and rugby in Laugharne . . .

As a youngster brought up in Laugharne it was perhaps only natural that Chris should play rugby and cricket for the Carmarthenshire town, taking part on the wing for the oval ball game.
“I was a bit slimmer in those days and with Barry Jackson as coach I enjoyed running in quite a few tries, which wasn’t too difficult with Alun Jenkins and Peter Herbert playing in the centre and supplying the passes.
“In cricket I played alongside real Laugharne characters in Roger Hunt, Jeff Watts and the Pearce boys – and when my work took me into South Pembrokeshire I joined Hundleton and have had a wonderful time with a genuine village club.

Chris Stapleton and Steve Williams. . . And cricket and football in Hundleton!

“The late John Williams was the club’s inspirational leader and his sons Mark and Jonathan are still very much part of the club, along with Steve Williams.
“I was captain for eight or nine seasons before handing over the reins to Jonathan and one of the highlights came when we beat Crymych in the Allan Brown Cup Final and I was not only captain but won the man of the match award as a I scored 15 not out and 37 not out, and as well as a wicket in the first innings I also grabbed 4 for 4 in their second innings.
“It was Steve Williams again who talked me into umpiring and I have really enjoyed being involved in this albeit-shortened season just finished as we both umpired Laugharne and Llanrhian in the Allan Brown Cup Final and also the Ladies Cup Final where Burton beat Lawrenny – and I joined Walter Dash in officiating at the Ken Morris Cup Final.”

65 years young and still going strong

At 65 years young Chris still enjoys refereeing but now helps out by taking charge of games in the lower leagues and using his experience to good effect.
He is also very quick to sing the praises of his partner Jan, whom he says has always given him total support in all his sport, despite the fact that she is not an avid sports lover – so well done Jan!
He says that being part of the Referees’ Society is very important and he wishes that former footballers and others would take up the whistle because they would get so much out of their involvement.
            “Just give it a try,” says Chris to anyone thinking of becoming a referee, “I really believe you won’t regret it because there is great camaraderie and support. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Refs Society chairman Chris Stapleton and president Danny Thomas with Gareth Elliott