He made the journey from refereeing in Sheffield’s tough Sunday leagues all the way to becoming one of the Premier League’s most recognisable men in black – and now Uriah Rennie is trying to ensure everyone in the city has a sporting chance for success in their own lives.
The 53-year-old is now a community liaison manager for Sheffield City Trust, having refereed his last top-flight match in 2011 when Tottenham played Liverpool.
After growing up on Wybourn, Uriah Rennie is passionate about the benefits sport can bring to everyone and is on a mission to encourage people from disadvantaged areas and those with disabilities to get access to the city’s top sporting facilities such as the English Institute of Sport, where Olympic heptathlete champion Jessica Ennis-Hill and world champion boxer Kell Brook have trained.
Now living in Stannington with his family, one of Uriah’s many latest projects involves offering support to three Sheffield athletes due to compete in the Special Olympics in Los Angeles this summer.
He was in charge of hundreds of Premier League games and says his grounding in the Sheffield amateur leagues was invaluable.
He said: “I can remember refereeing the local pub’s games – you had to get it right. When you get to the Premier League after that, there is very little that you can be shocked by!
“If you got things wrong and your social skills are not as they should be, there is more danger there than at Old Trafford.”
He said he was never intimidated by crowds into changing his decision.
“You have got to do what you have got to do – if you know it is right, it is about doing the right things,” he said.
Uriah said part of his interest in becoming a referee sprung from a belief in fair play.
He said: “I wanted to make sure fairness was done.
“In the early days, the late ’80s, it was about inspiration and aspiration and I wanted to get out there and I wanted to make sure I achieved something.”
That interest for fairness has now continued in his latest work away from refereeing.
Having been involved with Sheffield City Trust’s charity work for around 15 years, Uriah wants as many people as possible to have the opportunities to participate in sport – ranging from groups of young people involved in anti-social behaviour to those with disabilities who do not have the same funding opportunities as other athletes.
He said: “I’m hopefully trying to break down the barriers, perceived or otherwise.
“It is about ensuring people have the confidence, resources and support, as well as the inspiration and aspiration.
“You wouldn’t say to your children, you don’t need to worry about Maths or English – people should put the same emphasis on sport.”
Uriah, who is a patron for Disability Sport England and president of the Sheffield Federation for School Sports, has been able to offer use of the EIS facilities to Les Morgan, Alexander Thompson and Niall Guite, three people from Sheffield who are all due to compete in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles next month.
Alexander and Niall are in the Great Britain Basketball Team, while Les is representing the country in athletics events.
Uriah said the trio’s hard work to prepare for the Games is inspirational, particularly as they have had to fund raise to pay for their trips to the US.
“They have worked harder than many professional athletes because of where they are coming from to battle and overcome their challenges,” he said.
One of the initiatives he is promoting in Sheffield is the Plus One scheme, which allows disabled people using Sheffield International Venues facilities such as EIS to bring a carer for free.
He said: “We have to open doors.
“You are not going to win hearts and minds if you encourage separatism. We have to encourage people to come in.”
Uriah also recently featured in the Bafta award-winning BBC Two drama Marvellous, which was based on the life of his friend Neil Baldwin, a man who refused to accept the label of learning difficulties and in an extraordinary life befriended many celebrities while serving as kitman for his beloved Stoke City.
Uriah first met Neil in 1998 when he was training at Keele University, where Neil has been greeting new students since 1960.
He said Neil once managed to persuade him to fly back from Germany where he had been refereeing a European match on a Tuesday night to take charge of a game for Neil Baldwin FC the following day.
Uriah is also a patron of St Luke’s Hospice and Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity. He said the impressive work of volunteers and staff at both organisations acts as an inspiration to him.
“It is about ‘What can I do to make someone’s life better?’” he said.
“You have got to do what you can do.”