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Catching Up: Steve Baines

27 May 2020

We spoke to former Iron defender and referee Steve Baines for our matchday programme.

Baines remains the only former footballer to go through an extended professional career in the game before taking up the whistle and working his way up to the Football League.


When initially asked whether he would be open to a move to the Iron, it appeared like a negative – especially considering the side had been threatened with their Football League status and had shipped over a century of goals in the previous campaign. That said, the arrival to the Old Show Ground would be seen as a stepping stone to a managerial role, as he explains.

He said: “We had the success in one year at Scunthorpe when we got promotion. David Wraith, who was the Chairman at that stage, effectively put that success down to me. I was player-coach, used to take the training and was captain. There was a clash of personalities between him and John Duncan and he got the sack, and I thought I was going to get the job. That was the dream. Going to Scunthorpe was primarily my route into management, but that was scuppered.

“I later had my wings clipped when I was at Chesterfield and it spoiled my chance of being a manager.”

His solitary campaign at the club saw the side go from 23rd to promotion with only a few additions and – certainly from the outset – it appeared as though things seemed to drop into place.

“We were well-organised. Cammy (Steve Cammack) had a purple patch, Chris Cowling was a handful, Oggy (Steve Ogg) and all these lads had great seasons,” he continued. 

“The season before I arrived, the side had finished second bottom of the Football League and conceded 114 goals. Then, the following year, we got promotion and there were only a few fresh faces - mine being one of them.

“We had a do at the end of the season and Beefy (Sir Ian Botham) was there. I have a lot of good memories. The Old Show Ground surface was first class and very well-presented. They play on carpets nowadays, but it was a brilliant surface when I was there.” 


Chesterfield would be the final call as a player for Baines and with a potential career in management seemingly out of the question, the new challenge was to be refereeing and first working his way back up to the Football League. Once there, he would enjoy eight seasons, but looks back in disappointment in being denied his chance to get to the top. 

“I don’t think anyone will ever do it again - to have a full career and then get back into the Football League as a referee,” he stated. 

“They won’t go through the process to get there. It’s unfortunate. I had the wrong people in charge when I was around. I knew before I even refereed a game in the Football League that I wouldn’t get any higher. It was a challenge.”

Having a referee who has “been there and done that” on the pitch alongside 22 current professionals has its obvious benefits – a bit more common sense perhaps being quite high on the list. A lot of TV pundits often claim that referees don’t know what it’s like to play the game and in the majority of cases that is true, but no one could say that about Baines, who enjoyed over 400 senior appearances.

“You can empathise (with the players),” he said. 

“You can see what is going to happen. Some of the referees don’t understand what is going on, a lot have never played the game. I had eight years in the middle in the Football League and I never had one caution for dissent. It’s about managing people. There are the laws of the game, but then it’s about learning to manage the game. When I was doing it, those red and yellow cards were there to aid control and I gave out less than one per game on average.

“Apparently on the betting odds, I was pretty warm on that. I didn’t realise that, but they used to offer odds on how many cautions I’d give out. Throughout my whole refereeing career, I showed just four red cards.”

Then there was revisiting his former clubs, which was allowed by the FA. With that comes obvious added pressure and a connection to one club and not the other. 

“It was a double-edged sword in some ways, because I knew a lot of the managers and obviously players that I’d played with. In the main, I refereed as I liked to be treated as a player by a referee. I really enjoyed it,” he stated.

“It put extra pressure on you for sure (to referee a team I’d played for). Chesterfield was the only team I didn’t referee competitively, as I lived there. I had a bit of an issue with Tony Pulis when he was manager at Gillingham. It was at Scunthorpe and he wanted me to go into the dressing room and explain that there was going to be no bias.

“What you see is what you get with me. Sky wanted to put a microphone on me for my first game and I said, “you can forget that, I wouldn’t last two minutes with the amount of swearing I do”. It was an experience and a challenge, and I got as far as I could get. 

“In my third season, my coordinator was Peter Foulkes. If my club and assessment marks were good, there would be an opportunity to move up to the Premier League. I seriously set my stall out, but at the end of September, Foulkes told me that I couldn’t do any more. He told me Clive Wilkes from Worcester was slightly higher than me and Matt Messias from York is a bit below me. We were the top three, and they decided to take them two and I didn’t get a sniff. 

“I feel I had all the attributes to get to the top and I used to rant and rave on the phone to Jim Ashworth who was head of referees and he must’ve put the phone down on the desk and walked off for ten minutes. It’s just how it went.”

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