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Football: I reffed Brazil and Inter but Alloa v Caley tops the lot.

JIM McCLUSKEY will blow the final whistle on his refereeing career at Hampden today.

The SFA handed him the Hampden showpiece between Rangers and Aberdeen in recognition of his 16 years at the top.

The Stewarton whistler will handle the first Tennents Scottish Cup Final of the new millennium as he brings the curtain down on his glittering career.

And the sprightly 49-year-old who used to train on the sand at Troon admits he is pleased to be making way for young guns.

McCluskey - who's 50 in November - said: "I am absolutely delighted to get this chance to go out on a high by officiating at the first Scottish Cup Final of the new millennium.

"It is a great and fitting way for me to end my 16 years as a Grade One official and I'm thoroughly looking forward to the match.

"The SFA deem that you have to retire from being a referee at the age of 50 although I feel fit enough to go on for a few more years. But it is time to give younger referees their chance.

"I'd like to think myself, Hugh Dallas and Willie Young are three of the more respected referees in this country and hopefully we have paved the way for a younger breed of refs."

McCluskey, a partner in a civil engineering firm in Lugton, will today take charge of his second Scottish Cup Final. Ironically the last time was at Celtic Park in 1993 when Rangers beat Aberdeen 2-1 to win the treble.

McCluskey has been the man in the middle in four League Cup finals and the 1994 UEFA Cup Final between Inter Milan and Salzburg but did not get to a World Cup.

He has made three Wembley appearances - including an England v Brazil international match in 1992 - and has taken charge of 50 UEFA and FIFA appointments.

Real Madrid marked that milestone when the Spanish giants presented him with a commemorative plaque.

Surprisingly, McCluskey rates last year's Challenge Cup final between Alloa Athletic and Inverness Caley Thistle at the Shyberry as one of his highlights.

He said: "One highlight that stands out in my mind is the 4-4 draw between Alloa and Caley Thistle in the Challenge Cup last year.

"It was an unbelievable game of football between two teams who were appearing in their first major cup final and they both just went for it. I was proud to have refereed it.

"I never ever got the chance to officiate at a World Cup which would have been nice. That is probably my only regret as a referee."

McCluskey has been no stranger to controversy and felt the wrath of Celtic fans more than once. In 1990, they accused him of favouring Rangers and hired a private detective to follow him after their 2-1 Skol Cup Final defeat.

And in 1997, Parkhead boss Tommy Burns had a go at McCluskey and linesman Gordon McBride for controversially disallowing a Jorge Cadete goal against Rangers at Ibrox which TV replays confirmed was legitimate.

He said: "Those were hairy days but there was no grain of truth to any of the reports or findings. I tended to look upon it as being an occupational hazard, particularly where the Old Firm were concerned.

"Thankfully, those days are behind me."

McCluskey still suffers from nerves on big match days. He said: "Referees are not robots and my stomach will churn just as much as the players' will. It is my job to hide that as best I can.

"You have to be a man-manager when you take the field and that is why I am reluctant to show cards.

"I am a great believer in watching players' eyes and their intent and giving them the benefit of the doubt before I issue cautions. Players are on edge, especially on cup final day, and are naturally over-enthusiastic.

"It is important for me not to spoil their day by over-reacting. But the players can also help me out by working with the ref, not against him."

Not many people know that one of McCluskey's refereeing quirks is to study the team lines and call players by their christian names. He has called every player he officiated by his christian name except one - the late, great Davie Cooper.

The Clydebank, Rangers, Motherwell and Scotland genius was so incensed by the whistler's words that he summoned McCluskey to him and said: "Don't patronise me by calling me David, call me Mister."

McCluskey has coached referees in Ayrshire for nine years and has been linked with a refereeing supervisor's job at the SFA - but he knows exactly what he won't do at weekends.

He said: "I don't know what the future holds and if the SFA were to offer me some kind of refereeing supervisory role then I would seriously consider it.

"I still derive a lot of pleasure from putting young people through their paces for their referee's badge. I will continue to do that and offer my services in an advisory capacity to any referee out there who needs my help.

"I'd love the chance to put something back into the game as football has been good to me.

"I'll miss refereeing so much but I'll tell you something - I won't be one of those guys who goes shopping on a Saturday!"
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Haggerty, Anthony
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 27, 2000
Words:889
Previous Article:Football: COUNTDOWN FOR JIM'S LAST GAME.
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