The death has been announced of Paul Alcock. The 64 year old football referee has died after suffering from cancer.
Despite taking charge of almost 100 Premier League fixtures, it is only one for which he will be remembered.
It was September 1998 and Sheffield Wednesday star Paolo Di Canio pushed Alcock to the floor after the ref had shown the fiery Italian a red card in a home match against Arsenal. It was the last time Di Canio would play for the Owls.
Paul Alcock never voiced any animosity towards the difficult to handle footballer. Some accused the ref of exaggerating his fall, but he refuted such an accusation. Friends and former colleagues have paid tribute to Paul and have drawn attention to his long career and good character.
Mark Clattenburg said: “Sorry to hear about Paul Alcock. Top guy who I always respected when I was a young referee.”
Former ref Jeff Winter concurred: “Saddened to hear the news about my former colleague. Fond memories of our time together in Canada.”
Ten months ago reporter Neil Ashton sat down with Paul Alcock and the former ref spoke candidly of his illness.
He said: “The first time they told me I had cancer I broke down in tears. The second time was exactly the same. The third time I just expected it. My life fell apart in September 2015. They ended up cutting my face back, peeling the skin right back to take my jaw bone out.
“Football has been my whole life since I was 15. Everyone knows me for the Di Canio incident but I got through that somehow.”
I remember where I was the day Di Canio lost the plot, writes Vernon Grant. As a Sheffield Wednesday supporter since 1968, I wanted to be at Hillsborough. But I was working my usual Saturday/Sunday shift at Sky Sports, preparing programmes I was producing over that weekend.
Soccer Saturday was on air at the time and was broadcast from our studio that was effectively part of the office. All us hard workers were in shot behind the likes of presenter Jeff Stelling and Rodney Marsh. Indeed it was Rodney, an idol of mine when I was a boy, who had the job of watching the game from Hillsborough on his monitor and alerting Jeff to any highlights.
At the moment Di Canio pushed Paul Alcock to the floor, Rodney Marsh and I were watching the same pictures. Rodney reacted in an excited fashion and the camera immediately cut to his astonished and amused face.
I confess that my reaction could also be heard on air. Very unprofessional from someone who had worked in television since 1980. Friend and colleague Jeff Stelling gave me a “you should know better” look. Quite rightly.
I knew there and then that Wednesday would be in big trouble that season and that Paolo Di Canio would never again be seen in a Sheffield Wednesday shirt. And so it proved.
Later the following week a Sky Sports colleague was put on a plane to Italy to track down the runaway star. He found him riding his scooter and tried to persuade Di Canio to record an exclusive interview. He refused.
Owls manager Danny Wilson didn’t want him back at Sheffield 6. Di Canio didn’t want to return to an area of England he and fellow Italian player Benito Carbone had previously called “boring.” The two men had complained there was nothing to do on a day off other than to go to the Meadowhall shopping centre. Many men in Sheffield nodded and said: “Welcome to my world.”
Danny Wilson was not the first Wednesday manager to have trouble controlling Paolo Di Canio. Ron Atkinson has also regaled me with stories of how difficult Di Canio could be.
Ultimately West Ham were the beneficiaries of the infamous Di Canio push. The Sheffield Wednesday board handled the situation so badly that, in the end, they had to sell the mercurial player to the Hammers for a transfer fee of only £1 million.
He went on to score some great goals at Upton Park while also giving manager Harry Redknapp headaches. West Ham fans loved the player for ever more. Di Canioo to West Ham was one of the bargain buys in the history of the Premier League.
I have no idea why anyone wants to referee football matches. I never will understand that. It doesn’t matter if you are the man in black over the local park or being paid to referee matches at the highest level and deal with highly paid, cheating footballers. You will end up on the receiving end of abuse. Or be pushed to the ground.
It is a shame that Paul Alcock will largely be remembered, in the world of football at least, for being the man who fell to earth at the hands of an irate Italian.