Talking Shop: The Vinyl Whistle
Premier League ref Jon Moss felt that opening his record shop, The Vinyl Whistle, would be less stressful than officiating for 90 minutes on the weekend. He tells John Earls about his new store and why VAR might actually stand for Vinyl Addicted Referee…
One of football fans’ most common complaints about referees is how unapproachable they seem: they rarely explain controversial decisions and can come across as equally aloof as the multi-million-pound players whose careers they’re in charge of for 90 minutes a week. Yet, if veteran Premier League ref Jon Moss is anything to go by, away from the pitch the man in the middle is actually a normal bloke.
In July, Moss and his wife Julie opened The Vinyl Whistle, a small but welcoming second-hand shop in Leeds’ student district Headingley. Its stock is testament to Moss’ passion for indie – he’s such an Oasis fan that The Vinyl Whistle must be the only record shop with a section devoted to Proud Mary, the long-forgotten Oldham rockers briefly signed to Noel Gallagher’s Sour Mash label.
It’s not just indie big hitters Moss admires. He names newcomers Dylan John Thomas and Yellow Daze as current favourites, while his most recent gig was fast-rising local trio Working Men’s Club (“They’re from Todmorden, where I used to teach, so I was naturally drawn to them,” notes Moss, a former headmaster).
The idea of opening a record shop came while on holiday in February, partially as a relief from the pressures of refereeing. “I’ve got quite a stressful job, and it’s nice to have a chilled-out place away from that,” Moss admits. He’s only semi-joking when saying the shop is a chance to expand on his own collection, insisting “You can never have too many records.”
But he’s evidently serious about wanting The Vinyl Whistle to succeed, detailing how he wants it to become “a destination point”. Julie runs the shop’s café, with coffee sourced from local ethical suppliers Leodis and cakes from a baker in nearby Pudsey. Leeds has a thriving record shop community already, but other shops are either in different suburbs or don’t have the same type of stock. “I don’t want to tread on anyone’s turf,” says Moss. “I ran the idea by my friend who runs Vinyl Fixx in Leeds and he said we’d be fine.”
He’s also keenly aware his own impressive indie credentials are too narrow for a whole shop. “We need to get the balance right,” he admits. “Jazz is way out of my comfort zone, but people are asking about it. I want us to be a shop where, whatever you’re obsessed by, we’ll hopefully have something for you. That’s helping to expand my own taste. I’ve never been into prog, but after some customers enquired about it, I’ve done my research. It turns out I really like Porcupine Tree.”
The Man In Black
With The Vinyl Whistle in Leeds’ student community, Moss hopes “We’ll be somewhere students can come with a hangover on Sunday and try to find the big tune they heard the night before.” Of course, there’s a problem with that: on many Sundays, Moss will be in charge of the big match on Sky Sports. And if not, he’ll have reffed a game on Saturday. He’s been training up staff “younger than me with different tastes” to run the shop when he’s not there.
He’s also been spotted via his day job. On the first Saturday the shop opened, a group of lads on a pub crawl saw Moss through the display window. “They came in and started chanting, but it was all good-natured,” he emphasises. “I’ve deliberately not mentioned football in advertising the shop, but the connection is out there. And it’s fine, away from the 90 minutes of a match, you can talk to people like any normal fan. You explain decisions and people are totally fine. If people want to come here to talk about football or music, that’s great.” It’s an experience Long Live Vinyl can recommend. Moss has an air of calm authority, but he’s surprisingly open and funny, quick to share his enthusiasm about all areas of football and music. On learning LLV’s writer is a Luton Town fan, Moss praises recent signing Callum McManaman, who previously played for his beloved Sunderland.
Moss’ love of football and music are inextricably linked. The 48-year-old grew up in Sunderland and won a football scholarship to Connecticut, but quit after a year to instead study at Leeds uni, largely because he missed British music culture. Having become a New Model Army and The Mission fan at sixth-form college, he didn’t enjoy how “students in America just don’t talk about music over a pint like we do here – in general, they just go out to get smashed.”
Moss had qualified as a referee as part of his PE A-Level, keeping his hand in by occasionally officiating at kids’ games, before he pursued it seriously after quitting semi-professional football at 29. “I was a central midfielder, and any of my teammates will tell you I was the least likely player to ever become a referee,” he laughs. “I was always in trouble with referees! I was drifting down the ranks, not playing as well as I should, and I got sent off for kicking out at someone. In fairness, he kicked me first, but when I protested my red card the ref said, ‘If you think you can do better, go ahead’.” That comment led to the most successful career possible for a referee.
One of the few downsides of Moss’ career is that he often has to cancel gigs at short notice. To help avoid being targeted by betting syndicates, referees only find out at 4pm on Monday which games they’ll be officiating that week. Moss currently has tickets to see Pixies, Shed Seven and Gerry Cinnamon, but might not be able to make any of them. “Your social life is havoc during the season,” Moss shrugs. “Thursdays are kind-of OK, but I can almost guarantee I’ll get assigned a Europa League game when I’d been looking forward to a decent Thursday night gig!”
Who’s Your Father?
For obvious reasons, refs are banned from having any personal social media accounts, so Moss has had to learn about advertising The Vinyl Whistle there, talking about possibly hiring a specialist marketeer. The shop’s fantastic name helps. It’s endearing to learn “The Vinyl Whistle” was dreamed up on a night out with fellow refs Kevin Friend, Graham Scott and Michael Oliver. “We’d been talking about something to do with 45 or 90 minutes, like Café 45,” Moss recalls. “All the good names seemed taken, but once we thought about ‘Vinyl… something’, I think Graham suggested The Vinyl Whistle. It was obviously spot-on.”
As well as steering clear of Twitter and Facebook, refs are encouraged not to socialise with players. But, after refereeing a pre-season friendly, Moss learned Burnley defender Ben Mee is a fellow indie head. “You’ll mainly hear hip-hop and grime from the dressing room before a game,” Moss reveals. “There’s not many indie classics. I spoke to Ben Mee about records, and how he’d seen Blossoms recently. Ben knows about venues around Manchester and had been to Castleford Bowl a few times.”
In that case, what if Mee had committed a second bookable offence but told Moss: “Look, I can get you a good deal on first pressings of Oasis vinyl?” Moss responds: “I’d 100% send him off. As a football fan, people want me to do my job professionally. Referees are football fans too, and we don’t want mistakes to happen. But we can maybe negotiate those records after the game.”
He’s such an enthusiast, it’s hard not to wish The Vinyl Whistle well, even if Moss has wrongly sent off your team’s centre-half. As LLV hands over £55 for an array of Courteeners, Foals and Beautiful South albums, Moss fixes the glare of a man used to commanding international superstars. “You’re not allowed to slag off referees when you go to a match anymore. You’re one of us now.” For learning about the human side of refs, it’s a price worth paying.