It’s been an unconventional football career for former Football League referee Richard Poulain – but an amazing one.
Richard, now 73, was the first referee to send off five players in a match and he was also the referee at the game which marked the official opening at what is now the John Smith’s Stadium when Huddersfield Town played Premiership champions Blackburn Rovers.
Meltham-based Richard will always be synonymous with AFC Emley where he was a long-serving club secretary and still helps out as a volunteer and matchday announcer.
He was also a familiar face to Town fans as a coach driver for Milnsbridge-based Stotts Coaches.
Richard was a schoolboy apprentice on West Ham’s books in the 1964-65 season – just before West Ham players Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst helped England to win the World Cup at Wembley a year later.
Sadly, serious ankle injuries ended Richard’s playing career before it really started and he soon took up the next best thing – refereeing – and so his journey began.
Richard eventually became a Football League referee in 1989 and later made history becoming the first official to send off five players in English football at professional level.
Richard recalled: “I was a Football League official from 1989 to 1999. I started on the line and then moved to being a referee.
“I wasn’t a ref to flash cards unless it was serious. If it was then the incident got dealt with but I preferred a word in the player’s ear and talked to them that way.
“However I remember one game where Chesterfield were in the quarter-final of the FA Cup and I was refereeing their league game against Plymouth a few weeks before.
“I had already sent a Plymouth player off in the 23rd minute for a neck high tackle. Plymouth were winning the game 2-1 so there was a lot of tension.
“Then all hell broke loose in the final minute after a corner was swung in, there was an almighty punch up and I had to send another four players off.
“After the game finished I took some abuse from the stands and when I got into my dressing room both managers were standing there and they apologised for their players’ conduct.
“My assessor said to me that it was one of the best refereeing reactions he’d seen for a long time, which was nice of him to say.”
As the man in black Richard didn’t take himself too seriously and enjoyed a bit of banter with players during a game.
“I was always known as a common sense referee and I had a good rapport with players,” he said. “I remember one game where Paul Peschisolido was playing for West Brom against Stoke and wasn’t impressed with one of the decisions I’d given.
“He said it was an awful decision and I just said back to him that it was his opinion. Anyway 10 minutes later he had a shot on goal that went nearer to the corner flag than the net. As I’m running past him I just said: ‘Hey, Paul, surely you think that shot was worse than that decision I just made?’ He just put his hands up and replied: ‘Fair enough!”
One of Richard’s proudest moments was to be involved in the 1997 League Cup Final at Wembley between Middlesbrough and Leicester City. Before the match Richard refereed an all stars game featuring legendary rock star Rod Stewart. For the final itself Richard was the fourth official.
On that experience Richard said: “One of my final games was in the 1997 Coca-Cola League Cup Final. It was one of the final games to be played between the twin towers of the old Wembley. It was one of the worst finals in history and went to a replay at Hillsborough which was just as bad! I was never more thankful to see a game finish as that one!
“It was in my last season as a ref and the FA said I could be involved in the cup final which was an honour. I was only fourth official but I did referee the all star game which took place before the final. That was a really good highlight to my career.”
Richard’s love of football started at a young age and it was in 1964 where he got his big break when he got a trial at West Ham United. However his dream of being a footballer was short-lived.
On that time in his life he said: “I lived in Chadwell Heath in Essex and played for my school team and got offered trials at West Ham.
“I only lived 100 yards from their training ground. I played three or four games for them in the local league but I got a nasty break in my right ankle. Unfortunately that finished my career before it really started.
“Ron Greenwood was the manager at West Ham and he pulled me into his office and he told me the doctor had said my ankle would never be strong enough to withstand the pressures of football at this level.
“I met the likes of Bobby Moore and some of the other great West Ham players at that time. I was only 16 so whilst a disappointment it’s a small part in a bigger picture of my career in the sport. In a sense it’s better knowing I went out because of an injury not because I was let go and not good enough.”
Richard would eventually go into refereeing and he was involved in an important moment for the town of Huddersfield when he refereed the first ever game to be held at the McAlpine Stadium, a friendly between Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn and Neil Warnock’s Town.
Richard said: “When there is a friendly between two football league sides you need a qualified referee to be the person in the middle and since I was closest they gave the game to me.
“Kenny Dalglish was manager of Blackburn back then and they had Chris Sutton on the pitch who I had to have words with. He was being a bit naughty and I suggested to Kenny to take him off before I sent him off and, to be fair to Kenny, that’s what he did.
“Believe it or not I actually got on well with Neil Warnock despite the fact he usually didn’t like referees. I got on well with him at Town and afterwards when he went to other clubs. A football man through and through who spoke common sense.”
Richard officiated until the age of 48 and in 1996 he became Emley FC’s club secretary with the previous incumbent retiring. One of the most memorable games not just under Richard’s stewardship but in the club’s history was when the non-league Yorkshire minnows took on top flight West Ham United in the 3rd round of the FA Cup.
Richard said: “I knew the previous Emley secretary very well as they used to ask me to referee various friendly games. It was the season before I retired from officiating when I got involved at the club, you couldn’t be a ref past 48 years old at that time.
“When I was speaking to the Emley secretary I told him I wanted to stay in football in some capacity. It so happened he wanted to retire and so he said would I like to take his role on. It was as simple as that really.
“It did feel full circle for me going back to West Ham. We stayed in a hotel by Tower Bridge in London. I have a twin brother who was, and still is, a West Ham season ticket holder and he stopped in the hotel with us.
“Thames TV did an interview with us both and, as both West Ham and Emley play in claret and blue, he wore his scarf and I had my Emley jacket on. Despite us going 1-0 down early on we then equalised and for the majority of the game we were well in the match.
“We could have gone 2-1 up at one stage but missed a chance. Then John Hartson scored in the last 10 minutes to break our hearts.
“The other thing about that day was that Huddersfield Town should have been playing Bournemouth in the cup the same day but it had been called off. So instead of them going straight back to Huddersfield we had lots of their fans come to our game meaning we had a big following that day.”
Richard left his secretary role in 2003 to look after his wife Christine. At the time he was doing a number of jobs around the club. Whilst it was a difficult decision Richard still stayed in touch with the club looking out for their results.
Richard is now back at Emley as a volunteer and was asked to become matchday announcer after chairman Andrew Painten found out he had previous experience at the John Smith’s Stadium with Town and Huddersfield Giants.
Richard added: “As well as being secretary at Emley I was working for Stotts Coaches at the time too. So I used to drive the team to games. I also produced the club programme in that period as well. Emley was really part of me and I loved it.
“You don’t just leave a club and forget about it, but I had to leave the role due to Christine’s health. I stayed in touch with the club but I didn’t get to many matches in that time until four years ago. When I went back it was great as all the old faces were still there from when I left which was nice.”
In the year Richard and Christine are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, Richard has been told he can’t retire yet, despite threatening to do so!
He said: “I’ve worked for Stotts for 25 years and I’m still here, I look after the office and do odd jobs. I’ve threatened to retire seven times haha. Christine says I have to keep doing something so I suppose volunteering at Emley it is.
“At Emley as well as doing the PA I help in the car park and help tidy up after the games. It’s a brilliant atmosphere between the volunteers and we all get on. We do it for the love of the club and really work as a big team.
“When you stand in the cold and rain it’s freezing doing the voice stuff. We are having a new PA room kitted out at the ground so I can stay warm which will be nice.
“My wife is permanently in a mobility scooter/wheelchair and the club has really worked hard at making the ground more disability friendly and that’s something we are proud of. She doesn’t get to many games but now she has the option if she wants to go and knows she can sit in comfort while I do my bit.”