Bill Maxwell awards a yellow card to Chicago’s Arno Steffenhagen. (Photo courtesy of Bill Maxwell’s Facebook page)
By Michael Lewis
Bill Maxwell, a personable referee who officiated games in the original North American Soccer League, including the final Soccer Bowl in the league’s first incarnation in 1984, and the Major Indoor Soccer League, has passed away.
He was 87.
Maxwel’s son, Ray, announced his passing on his Facebook page. “It is with profound sadness that I announce the passing of Bill Maxwell (87), Scottish soldier, FIFA referee, and wonderful father,” he wrote.
A native of Scotland, Maxwell emigrated to the United States in 1970 and worked as computer operations manager at Central Trust Bank for eight years while working the middle of many NASL matches and as a linesman as well. He lived in Geneseo, N.Y. for many years.
Maxwell was one of the leading referees in North America — outdoor or indoors. He was the backup game official in Soccer Bowl ’80, officiated at the 1981 MISL finals in 1981 and worked the 1981 American Soccer League all-star game.
In 1978, he talked about his passion for the game. At the time, NASL’s premier referees — the league’s highest classification — earned $120 from working the middle. Linesmen were paid $40 or $60 a game.
“I ref because I love this game,” Maxwell said. “I’ve stuck with it since I was five. I’m certainly not in it for the financial rewards.”
In 1981, he decided to pursue his first love and became one of six fulltime game officials in MISL.
“It was a big gamble,” Maxwell told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle at the time. “It was a good contract. The money was good. It wasn’t as good as the bank. And, it was a chance to do something fulltime that I really enjoyed.”
When he worked the middle, Maxwell showed his personality.
While some game officials don’t like talking to players, Maxwell wasn’t afraid to share his thoughts and opinion.
In 1984, he said he had been accused of talking too much. Maxwell countered that he said things when they were appropriate. Sometimes he would banter with Baltimore Blast (MISL) goalkeeper Scott Manning.
“It’s good-natured,” Maxwell said. “On a goal kick, he gives advice to me and I give it back.”
And he wasn’t afraid to give it back after some criticism.
Kansas City Comets (MISL) standout Gordon Hill came up to Maxwell after goal by the opposition and told the referee, “You’re an amateur.”
Maxwell quickly quipped, “That’s two of us.”
“Another referee would have put him in the [penalty] box,” Maxwell said. “Sometimes a good answer is better than a yellow card. He didn’t say a thing to me the rest of the game.”
Outdoors, there were some scary non-verbal moments on the field, especially with the sometimes-hostile fans at Holleder Stadium in Rochester, N.Y.
In 1970, he was chased into the locker room after an international friendly between the Rochester Lancers and Hapoel of Israel. He also was stoned by fans after making several controversial calls at the Lancers-Los Angeles Aztecs game in 1974.
“I was more scared at the Hapoel game,” Maxwell said. “I was a linesman and I signaled offside. The referee didn’t see me, and the Lancers scored. He ignored me as play went on for several minutes.
“Finally, he went over to me and found out that I had signaled offside. He then signaled offside. The goal didn’t count and the stands emptied.”
Maxwell reached the referee’s locker room with a police escort. Fans were trying to force their way in and some lit newspapers in an attempt to smoke him out, Maxwell said.
“I tell people that story and they laugh at me,” he said.
A couple of games that involved the Cosmos were no laughing matters.
In a game at RFK Stadium in 1976, Maxwell called back one New York goal after a forward elbowed the goalkeeper in a fight for the ball. He later allowed a goal by Washington Diplomats forward Paul Cannell despite vehement protests by the Cosmos that the ball had touched Cannell’s hand.
“They had two replays of the game,” Maxwell said. “They showed the first incident and it proved me right. The goalkeeper was elbowed. Then the announcer said, ‘Let’s see the interesting Diplomats’ goal.’
“They showed Cannell jumping. But, instead of heading it in, he punched it in. It was unbelievable. … I lost more sweat in my hotel room than I did on the field that night.”
As it turned out, Maxwell was on the wrong side of Cannell to make the call and neither linesman could help him.
In 1980, Maxwell was hoping to be the referee for Giorgio Chinaglia’s 100th NASL goal in what turned into a 2-0 Cosmos victory. Only one other NASL player — San Jose Earthquakes standout Ilija Mitic had more (101). He had planned to retrieve the ball from the Dallas Tornado goal at Giants Stadium and present it to Chinaglia, but even the best laid plans of referee often go awry.
“It was a great disappointment for me,” Maxwell said. “He was a great player who has scored some great goals. But it fell flat.”
Chinaglia scored No. 100 for the Cosmos on a penalty kick. Not surprisingly, it was a controversial call as Maxwell ruled that defender Tony Bellinger knocked down in the penalty area. Dallas coach al Miller called the penalty “a bad decision at a very bad time … a mystery call.”
The Tornado protested and defender Steve Pecher was so adamant about it that he was awarded a yellow card. Maxwell was more concerned with keeping the game under control than he was with a possible ceremony.
“I had to take off,” Maxwell said. “I took too much abuse after the penalty. I had no interest in the ball. In view of the type of goal, it was no situation for me to make a big ceremony out of it. I was hoping for a real good goal and that the fans would be behind him I got the impression they couldn’t care less. They booed him for 90 minutes. I was looking forward to the goal. Chinaglia has scored some super goals. But the penalty kick, it put a damper on it.”
Maxwell is survived by his family and grandchildren. His son Ray Maxwell directed Livonia High School to the New York State Class B championship in 2012.