THE Welsh National League wouldn’t have enjoyed the success it did without the men in black.

In the late Seventies and early Eighties the top whistle-blowers, John Walter Lloyd, Neville Jones and Terry Hewitt, were moving on to pastures new, leaving Ken Hughes, Arthur Pritchard and Cliff Evans to take centre stage alongside those who stepped up from playing to take up refereeing like Brian Roberts and Chicky Maddocks, while Tony ’Bla Bla’ Davies without doubt was one of the sternest match officials of the time.

One of the most popular has to be Martin Colloby - a perfect gentleman, respected by all and, at the tender age of 71, still officiating today.

Brian Bevan burst onto the scene and everyone immediately realised ‘you don’t mess with Bevan’, and it was no surprise he was promoted to the top of the pyramid.

Neale Atkinson was the first referee who made his career so successful by adopting a zero tolerance to foul and abusive language and he earned so much respect for such a stance while Mike Horsfall made it to the Football League list.

Barry Rondell and Mark Stokes come into the category of being amongst the most colourful characters. In fact, I think Mark’s favourite colour is red as I recall one match in particular when my sons Paul and Rob were playing for Gresford Athletic at Coedpoeth, Stokesy booked all 10 Gresford outfield players.

Talking of no-nonsense match officials, I would add Gareth Randles, Martyn Williams, Ray Picken, Gerald Davies and Alan Alexander to this list.

If there was an award for the biggest smile, winning such an award would be Arthur ‘Posh’ Williams from Cefn.

Mike Jones from Penycae, Phil Rosowski and John Spender all get a mention while Barry Wilding will be best remembered for his part as a Sky Sports panel analyst for a live Liverpool FC game.

Also earning the label of ‘WNL stalwarts’ were Elly Thomas, Gary Collins, who only this season has retired, Keith Ottley, Chris Noble, Arthur Smallman, Matt Oddie and Steve Wilday.

Making the biggest impression, however, is Cheryl Foster.

A woman in a trade dominated by men for so long, our paths first crossed in the 2014 season in a derby clash between Gresford and Llay Welfare.

Red Cards and numerous yellows was par for the course but on this occasion, it proved to be a benchmark ‘Fozzy’ performance.

I spoke at length after the game and I was totally unaware she was Liverpool FC’s longest serving player and won 63 international caps for Wales.

She explained rather than totally walk away from the game she wanted to give refereeing a go.

She commanded total respect that day and her career really took off.

There were one or two very dark days and non more so than the untimely death of Bobby Williams (pictured above) 21 years ago.

The league rules dictate all clubs have to ring me with the scores but on this occasion and one hour late, Brian Johnson, who was Llay Welfare secretary, called me apologising for the delay and I remember his words vividly: “I am so sorry for the late call but I think you need to sit down Phil as I have some really bad news to share. At the end of the game, the referee Bob Williams who I know is a friend of yours collapsed and died after suffering a massive heart attack.”

Gladly, Bob’s name lives on in the annual Bob Williams awards ceremony recognising the contribution of local sportsmen in the area.

Ian Evans, who enjoyed his nickname of ‘Topman’ left this world whilst still in his prime and only recently a dear friend, Dave Lloyd, lost his battle with cancer.

As we look ahead we can thank the Welsh National League for providing the platform for several local referees recently to earn their stripes and I am referring in particular to Alex Livesey, John Jones and Tom Owen.

After a career break, it is refreshing to see Richard Wright taking up the mantle again. He took time out to manage and play for Johnstown, otherwise by now, rest assured he would be refereeing in the top flight.