The Gloucestershire footballing community is mourning the death of Dave Watts at the age of 72.
One of the county’s best known and respected officials, he spent more than 50 years as a referee.
The former Naunton Park school pupil was the longest serving Gloucestershire Football Association (GFA) council member and founded the Cheltenham Sunday League in 1968, leaving an indelible mark on sport in the area.
GFA chairman Roger Burden was among those to pay tribute, saying it was: “a great loss to local football.”
The Stroud and District Football League described Dave as: “a tremendous servant and supporter of the Cheltenham League and Gloucestershire County Cups, plus local grassroots football in general.”
Dave played for Bishop’s Cleeve as a teenager and then set up his own club, Holbeck Rangers, for whom he was club secretary.
He was forced to stop playing at the age of 20 on doctor’s advice due to an ankle problem, but he was determined to remain involved in the sport he loved and he responded to a call for new referees published in the Gloucestershire Echo.
England were champions of the world and there were no such thing as yellow or red cards.
He completed a training course at the Victory Club in Cheltenham and his first match in the middle was Spirax Sarco versus Collins Brothers Evesham.
The engineers beat the pie and sausage manufacturers 2-0 at Burrows Playing Field in Leckhampton.
Three years later, Watts was promoted from class three to class two, allowing him to referee at County League level, with Worrall Hill against Thornbury his first appearance at the higher standard.
Alongside working at his father’s shop, Charles Watts gentleman’s outfitters on Clarence Parade, then ICI Fibres and the Job Centre, Dave established himself as one of the most instantly recognisable whistle blowers on the Cheltenham League circuit.
He was known for his no-nonsense approach, earning the respect of countless players on both Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings.
Speaking in 2018, Dave said “I’d like to be remembered as a referee who was firm, but fair. I get on well with most teams and have a laugh and a joke with a lot of familiar faces.
“Some of them like to take the mick and ask me when I am going to pack it in and some like to shout things at me in town, but I just tend to smile and say ‘I’ll see you on Saturday!’ I think teams know what they are getting with me.”
Dave also felt first impressions were all-important when a referee arrives ahead of kick-off.
“You have to look the part, with the appropriate kit and clean boots of course,” he said.
“The first thing the players notice is your appearance and it’s no good turning up looking scruffy.”
Dave was a dedicated supporter of Tottenham Hotspur and Cheltenham Town and he would watch the Robins at every available opportunity around his refereeing commitments.
He was fourth official for a handful of matches at Whaddon Road, including Cheltenham’s 2-1 home win over Doncaster Rovers in 1998 which saw current boss Michael Duff net the first goal of his senior career.
He took great pride in running the line for Jack Taylor (1974 World Cup final referee) and Welshman Clive Thomas, who appeared at both the 1974 and 1978 World Cups and the 1976 European Championships.
Dave was also widely known for attending every FA Cup final from 1967 (when the ticket cost seven shillings and sixpence) to the present day, with the exception of last year’s showpiece, which was played behind closed doors.
He even travelled to the 2002 edition in a limousine with several of his refereeing colleagues.
Dave was at Wembley last month to witness Leicester City’s 1-0 victory over Chelsea and being at the final for the 54th time meant as much to him in 2021 as it had more than five decades earlier.
He travelled around Europe to attend several European Cup finals and was also passionate about live music.
While football dominated so much of his time along with many hours of meticulous work at his prize-winning allotment plot, Dave was first a foremost a family man and he leaves behind wife Lynn, daughter Lucy and grandson Jack.
His beloved spaniel Charlie passed away three days before he did.
Lynn said: “Dave was a legend of the local football community, who lived for football, family and our dog.”