Eric Kirby, referee

Eric Kirby
Eric Kirby
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Eric Kirby, who has died at 82, was a football referee who devoted his life to his beloved Sheffield Wednesday, establishing a supporters’ organisation for the over-50s called the Wise Old Owls.

His love for the game began as a child in wartime Sheffield, when not even the sound of an air raid siren would be allowed to interrupt a kickabout on Minna Road. He began to visit Hillsborough in the company of his father, who was not averse to sneaking him through the barriers.

He trained as a class one referee for the Football League, and his son, Philip, recalled opening the door of the family home one day to Brian Clough, who had arrived to pick him up.

Electing to stay with his family rather than turn professional, he formed the Wise Old Owls in 2001, with an original membership of only a dozen, meeting on the first Wednesday of the month in the 1867 Lounge at Hillsborough. It soon grew in size.

He was also active politically, chairing the Brightside Conservatives, working closely with the city council and, with his second wife, Marjorie, twice attending the Queen’s birthday garden party and going for Christmas Eve drinks at Downing Street.

He had two children with his first wife, Dorothy Elaine, who died in 1978.