IF you’re going to bow out, you may as well bow out in style and at the top.
It doesn’t get much better than working at your last game at the Nou Camp in a Champions League second-leg tie between Barcelona and Manchester United.
And while there, getting the chance to meet Alex Ferguson, Lionel Messi, Rivaldo, Patrick Kluivert and Henrik Larsson to name just a few that FIFA referee assessor Pat Kelly rubbed shoulders with, last week.
Although the 70-year-old Blackrock man will still continue to assess games throughout the league of Ireland and locally in Cork, he was thrilled to finished off his career as a UEFA assessor in such a high profile game as the one in Nou Camp last week.
“It was a great evening. I have had 21 amazing years as a UEFA observer good innings and I look back with no regrets,” said Kelly.
“I always knew that this was going to be my last season because unfortunately when you reach the magical age of 70, it’s time to go.
“The first game I did as a referee observer was 21 years ago in the quarter-final of the Champions League between Real Madrid and Inter Milan.
“The game was played in Sevilla and although it was 21 years ago, it sure doesn’t seem that long ago.
“I have had many highlights over the years but at the end of the day, they are all the same to me. It’s a game and my job as an assessor was to assess each game with the same importance.
“To coach referees was my job and I absolutely loved it.
“I always loved the mini underage tournaments as opposed to bigger games such as the Champions League, and simply because I felt I could educate young referees much more at this level and I felt I was able to pass on my experience.
“The satisfaction I get as an observer is when I see young referees move through the ranks and go from refereeing in the underage tournaments all the way up to Champions League level.
“It’s like coaching young players and when they reach the top level, it’s satisfying to feel you played some part in their progress and that’s exactly how I felt over the years.
“Over the years I did numerous of games and tournaments and apart from doing champions league games, I also observed at the Women’s U19 finals in England in 2014 was one of the highlights of my time as an observer.
“Trying to help referees improve for their next game was my main aim and I would like to think that I managed to help a lot of young aspiring referees.”
Two referees who certainly can vouch for receiving massive help throughout their careers were Pat’s sons Alan and Graham.
Both had some lovely words to say about their father and his career.
“I am immensely proud of my dad who in 1998 became a UEFA and FIFA Referee Assessor after a stellar refereeing career,” said Alan.
“His first game was Real Madrid v Inter Milan in the Champions League. He finished his International career last night as the Referee Assessor for Barcelona v Manchester United also in the Champions League.
“He’s given a lifetime of service to refereeing at all levels from grassroots to the top (still continues as an Observer in the League of Ireland and at grassroots levels) and has continued to learn throughout and pass on that refereeing knowledge to any referee who he works with.
“There’s a real touch of irony that on the day that the people that made life difficult for him at the FAI reached the lowest of lows, dad ends his international career on the highest of highs.
“You have given your whole life to refereeing both on and off the pitch,” said Graham.
“Having started out as a Uefa/Fifa referee assessor at Real Madrid v Inter Milan in the Champions league in 1998, it’s fantastic to see you finishing it 21 years later in the Nou Camp at Barcelona v Man Utd.
“You have assessed a lot of the Elite officials around Europe and you’ll be back this weekend assessing the officials in the League of Ireland and grassroots level, helping and encouraging as always.
“It’s because of you I took up the whistle and I’m sure, many others the same. Congratulations on an amazing career Dad.”
Kelly spent 10 years working for the FAI as the referees' manager and although he enjoyed his time there, he was sad to be let go in 2011, when he knew he still had so much to offer to the aspiring referees coming through.
“I was sad to leave the FAI after 10 years, however, my time there was made difficult by certain individuals.
“Even the government can’t interfere with referee appointments, however, at the time John Delaney thought he was above the government and everybody else.
“He then wanted me to appoint my son Alan to the first cup final in the Aviva Stadium.
“I refused as Alan had refereed a cup final two years previously, and I felt Tomas Connolly was in favour of the appointment.
“From then on things weren’t great between us and I was eventually told that there was no money available for the referees' department and I was let go from the FAI in 2011.
“Packie Bonner was let go from the organisation on the same day.
“I knew in my own heart that the FAI couldn’t do without a referee’s department being run properly.
“Not long after, there was an elite referees committee formed and basically six people ended up replacing me,” laughs Kelly.
In 21 years Kelly observed in just over 220 games, a remarkable achievement. And although he may have retired from the bigger games, I have no doubt we will see a lot more of this true gent at local and grassroots games.