The Malta Independent 12 November 2019, Tuesday

First Maltese Referee to have controlled a FIFA World Cup preliminary round match

Malta Independent Tuesday, 6 December 2005, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

PAUL BONETT is one of those few referees who had an outstanding career both at home and abroad during the 1960s and 1970s, considering that at that time not many international matches and club matches were played, compared to the number staged these days. He is probably the only Maltese referee to have ever reached a FIFA shortlist for an appointment in the finals proper – in 1978 in Argentina – though eventually he was not selected. In a career spanning 20 years, he controlled over 700 matches, among them 14 full internationals. He also controlled matches in three successive World Cups. Here he tells his story to Henry Brincat

During the time Paul Bonett was a football referee in Malta, the game was not going full blast as it does now. Locally, there were fewer teams in the top division and only a few international matches were played during a season.

And yet Bonett managed to make a name for himself – and the country – by getting his name on the FIFA list and even became the first Maltese official to be shortlisted to take part in the World Cup finals – in 1978 in Argentina – after having controlled matches in the same competition (qualifying rounds) three consecutive times.

He took up a refereeing career in 1952, when he was only 22 years old, and was promoted to Class One just six years later, in 1958.

In a career that spanned over 22 years, he controlled well over 700 matches, including local and international games.

One of his most cherished moments came in 1961 when he was named a FIFA referee. He was 30 years old and was then the youngest referee on the FIFA list. “Later, in 1966, I also received the FIFA badge, having controlled two matches in two days in a tournament in Libya. In those days, to be awarded the FIFA badge, one was required to control two full international matches in two years, so few international matches were played,” he said.

Another memorable moment for Bonett was the day he became a top class referee. “It was a big honour for me, especially after having gone up the classes quite rapidly,” he added.

Bonett recalled that it was former referee and former Referees Association president Joe Cassar Naudi who lured him to refereeing. “We lived in Msida (where Joe still lives) just after the War. Had it not been for him, I might not have entered the refereeing world,” he said.

Bonett’s refereeing career gave him a great deal of satisfaction. “I have travelled extensively around Europe and Africa. I have controlled some of Europe’s top clubs, not to mention full international matches involving Scotland, (West) Germany, (East) Germany, Spain (twice), Denmark and England.” He also controlled matches in Libya and Algeria at top international level.

At club level he had many more opportunities. His baptism of fire was the Champions Cup match between Fenerbahce and Linfield on 13 November 1963. Then from 1969 onwards, he was called to control matches on a regular basis every year, sometimes, even more than once in a season. “There were many clubs involved, but among them were Carl Zeiss Jena of East Germany, Benfica of Portugal, Barcelona of Spain, Dinamo Moscow of Russia, Hajduk Split of Croatia, Vitoria Setubal of Portugal, Inter, Lazio, Milan, Napoli and Roma of Italy, Bayern Munich of Germany and Rapid Wien of Austria,” he remarked.

Apart from such matches, he was also appointed to control matches in the Greek league, the Libyan league, a testimonial in Tunis involving Bayern Munich, amateur and friendly internationals and a youth international match between Malta and Switzerland.

It is also significant to note that these matches were played at such renowned stadiums as Wembley (England), Nou Camp (Barcelona), San Siro (Milan), Olimpico (Rome), San Paolo (Naples), Olimpia Stadion (Munich) and the Algiers Olympic Stadium.

Locally, he controlled all types of matches, except those involving Floriana. “I have controlled several FA Trophy finals as well as top matches, especially those between Sliema and Valletta

He added: “Of course, thanks to all these matches, I have met some of the top people in the game of football, among them Sir Stanley Rous, FIFA president Sepp Blatter and players like Maier, Keegan, Eusebio, Rivera, Mazzola, Facchetti, Boninsegna and many others who ruled the roost those days.”

I also asked Paul to mention a difficult moment during his career. “Once I was in charge of a Sliema-Valletta final and there were strong protests by Valletta. They wanted a penalty for a handling infringement. But I saw nothing untoward. On another occasion, in Algiers, I was refereeing an important World Cup match between Algeria and Tunisia. President Boumedienne was also present among the crowd of 100,000. There was a lot of tension as the Tunisians had not agreed to a request to have the match moved back by one hour as the president had another commitment. I had been selected by FIFA to control that match, as no other Europeans would have been appointed. The match ended in a draw and Tunisia qualified. There were several riots after the game, especially outside the stadium and in the city, even if it was not my control or that of my linesmen that was in question,” he said.

Bonett says that the game today is different from that played in his era. “Technically, there has been an improvement but those who remember my day will certainly agree that players in the 1960s and 1970s were classier than those available today, though the game is now played at a faster pace. As for refereeing, I can say I am pleased with the standard of today’s referees. They have a lot more pressure. All the matches are assessed by match inspectors and there is continuous supervision.”

Bonett’s advice to youngsters who wish to take up a career in football refereeing is: “Do not be afraid. Refereeing not only gives you satisfaction, it provides those who are successful with a sense of leadership, encourages self-confidence, personality, physical fitness and courage and enables anyone to show integrity, although it is important for any referee not to try to be a protagonist on the field of play. It is important for any referee to respect the players so that he can then earn their respect.”

Date of birth: 25 March, 1930

Education: De la Salle College and Dockyard Technical College.

Work career: For 29 years was employed as a safety officer at Malta Drydocks.

Sporting career: In his younger days, he played football with Msida Minors and in the Third Division. He also played table-tennis, billiards, hockey and tennis as well as being a swimmer. He was later lured to a most successful career in football refereeing by Joe Cassar Naudi, becoming one of the most successful and respected local referees in the game, apart from controlling several international and club matches abroad.

Hobbies: He used to enjoy reading a lot and together with his late wife he used to go fishing.

Administrative career: In 1972, he was named a member of the National Sports Board. He served as a member of the Malta Football Referees Associa-tion committee from 1950 to 1958, when he was elected vice-president. He became president of the association in 1974 and occupied that post for an entire 11 years. Now that he is retired, he is an honorary president of the association. Between 1978 and 1991, he was also president of the Drydocks Sports and Social Club, after having served the same committee as its secretary for a number of years from when it was set up. He was also a member of the Malta Sports Association and is still a member of the Malta Football Association’s Referees Board, and acts as an instructor, examiner and match inspector. Until a few years ago he was also a UEFA match delegate but had to retire due to his age. He also attended the first UEFA seminar for top class referees in Coverciano, Italy, in 1969 and another in Macolin, Switzerland, in 1973.

Awards: He has never been nominated for any national award, but was named four times as the Referee of the Year, by the Maltese newspaper Il-Mument.

Family: Paul’s wife was the late Grace née Attard Bezzina. They have two sons, Pierre and Adrian.

  • don't miss