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World Class Official Classy at All Levels : Courtney Here for Clinics, Prep Games

July 31, 1986|STEVE LOWERY | Times Staff Writer

As a small army of fans, reporters and well wishers sought him out, George Courtney simply sought out a shady tree to shield himself from the Wednesday afternoon sun. Maybe what's been sung about mad dogs, Englishmen and the midday sun is a little bit off.

Courtney, English subject and soccer referee extraordinaire, was preparing to officiate the championship game of the Orange County Cup Final between Foothill and Marina high schools at Brea Junior High School.

He carefully taped up his black and white socks, slipped his black shirt over his head and accepted handshakes and various questions from his gallery gathered. The handshakes usually were accompanied by a "Happy to have you here," and the questions usually centered on, "What are you doing here?"

Courtney, 45, is England's leading soccer referee. He was that nation's sole referee representative at this year's World Cup. He has worked games in Egypt, Australia, Singapore and India. He has done European Cup finals and national finals all over the world.

So, ah, hey George, what's a top-notch soccer ref like you doing at a high school summer league game like this?

"I want to stay in game shape, and I like to keep in touch with the game at all levels," he said.

This isn't unusual for Courtney. As one soccer official at Brea said, "He has no pride. He'll do any game."

Once, after working a professional game, Courtney's flight home to Spennymoor was snowed in, so he called the local parks officials and asked if there were any games he could work. They were surprised that an official of his caliber would ask, but they said yes. He ended up working what amounted to a pick-up game.

"He loves to work, he's addicted," Bill Lahney of Fountain Valley said. Lahney is an American Youth Soccer Organization official and Courtney is staying at his house during his 45-day stay in California. "Some men get the idea they're too big. Not him."

He is big enough to autograph a magazine. The magazine is opened to a page of photographs highlighting the World Cup, one of which features Courtney and Mexican star Hugo Sanchez. The photo was transmitted all over the world. It shows Courtney lording over a kneeling Sanchez, giving the Mexican star a yellow card before a capacity crowd at Mexico City's Azteca Stadium.

The picture is impressive for more than its composition. It shows a man in total control. Neither a soccer superstar nor a crowd of 115,000 mostly unhappy soccer fans can change his mind or his method of calling a game.

"Once he's made a call there's no way he'll change it," his wife, Margaret, said. "I think one of his strongest points is his strength of mind."

And so Orange County's soccer faithful came to pay homage and learn from him.

"I think the greatest lesson some of these people will learn is that a great soccer official is never noticed," Lahney said.

During his stay in California, Courtney will be concerned mainly with addressing and teaching at soccer official clinics. What he'll have to tell them will basically come down to his motto, "Enjoy it."

"I try always to interject a little humor into whatever game I'm doing," he said. "Even when you're dealing with non-English speaking players, you'd be surprised what a smile or a bulbous eye will do."

Courtney, an administrator in what is the English equivalent of an elementary school, is in excellent shape. These days he does his daily running around Fountain Valley's Mile Square Park.

"I really love it here," he said. "The weather is great, isn't it? And my son, Matthew, has already said he wants to stay. It's going to be very hard to leave."

This isn't Courtney's first trip to the United States. He worked two seasons--1978 and 1980--for the North American Soccer League.

"That was great for me," he said. "It really helped me come World Cup time. It helped me deal with players from all over the world."

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