The Men In Black from Wales

Published on 21 December, 2012 
By: Mark Williams

The History Of  Refereeing From The FAW

Whilst the history of playing for Wales is reasonably well documented, not too much has been written about the ‘Men in Black.’ The referees and officials who have given so much of their time to ensure that players can flourish on the field of play. Everyone will be aware that the path to international recognition takes many years of commitment and skill – that is true both for players and officials alike.

In the very early years of international football, referees and umpires (not linesmen) were drawn from the associations and tended to be administrators or current players (Including Llewelyn Kenrick, A.O.Davies, Tom Gough, Edward ‘Ted’ Phennan and Humphrey Jones). Of the nine international referees used from Wales in the 19th Century, no fewer than six of them had been capped by Wales. Several of them were, or were to go-on to be, secretaries of the FAW too (John Cooper, Llewelyn Kenrick - again, Alex Hunter and John Taylor).

The first Welsh referee of note was William Nunnerley from Wrexham who had a long and successful career from the turn of the 20th Century onwards. A sign of his ability must be the fact that for four consecutive years (1903-1906) he was chosen to referee the annual clash between England and Scotland. No doubt he would have been called-on for many more had his career not been halted by five years of the 1st World War. He also became secretary of the FAW during part of this time.

The inter-war years were not a great time for Welsh officials as far as international appointments were concerned. Charles Sambrook from Swansea had a couple of internationals in the late 1920’s and Alf Attwood from Newport was given the plum Scotland v England tie in 1930-31, but otherwise it was a barren period for the Welsh whistlers. This was made even more obvious by the FAW's decision to invite the English referee from the FA Cup Final to also take charge of the FAW version each season from the mid 1930’s onwards.

Mervyn Griffiths

One man was to change the way that the rest of the world saw Welsh Football Referees after the 2nd World War, and that was Mervyn Griffiths, a schoolteacher from Newport. From those immediate post-war years he was to become the foremost referee of his time and was in huge demand for First Division and international matches, as well as countless ‘glamour’ friendly games at home and abroad – though he still found time to do his job as a teacher as well as refereeing local games – in his spare time! He was ref in more than 20 major internationals, including nine home England games, including their match v The Rest of Europe in 1953-54, coming on the back of his appointment as the first Welsh official to an FA Cup Final in 1953 – and what a final that was: ‘The Matthews Final’ in Coronation year between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers.

Griffiths was selected by FIFA for the World Cups of 1950, 54 and 58 and in the 1954 tournament in Switzerland, he was one of the linesmen in the actual final between West Germany and Hungary. Later he acted as a referee assessor when his active days were over.

Leo Callaghan

As Griffiths was winding-down, a worthy successor emerged from Merthyr Tydfil in the shape of Leo Callaghan. His first major international came with the Scotland – England clash in 1955-56 and he became a regular for Home International games for the next fifteen years. He was selected for the 1966 World Cup in England and became the second Welshman to be given an FA Cup final.

Callaghan was not on his own at this time as a group of other officials had also come along who gained FIFA recognition – Clive Kingston, John Lowry, George Powell

John Gow

and John Gow. The Swansea whistler, Gow was to become another major figure in Welsh refereeing circles over the next fifty years – becoming a regular in the First Division, in Europe, at Welsh Cup Finals and then later as an assessor and mentor to young Welsh Referees in his area.

Two other refs deserve a mention from the late 60’s into the 70’s, Iorrie Jones and Tom Reynolds who were both accorded high-profile international and European ties as well as a regular diet of top quality domestic fixtures.

Clive Thomas

Around the same time, a referee emerged who was to change the way people perceived match officials. Clive Thomas from Treorchy was a top-class official who had complete confidence in himself and his abilities. His ‘ flamboyant’ style often caused much criticism from more conservative quarters, but he was soon in demand for top-line appointments in England and then with UEFA and FIFA all-over Europe and beyond. For more than ten years he was regular on our TV screens for 1st Division and European Cup games and the call came from FIFA for the World Cups of 1974 and 78.

In West Germany in 1974 he was given two games that involved Argentina and Brazil. Four years later in a vital match between Brazil and Sweden, he was to be caught in controversy as he blew for full time with the ball in the air from a corner kick that was subsequently converted. The goal was not allowed and a storm ensued that certainly went-against Thomas’s chances of refereeing the final of the tournament.

Clive’s high profile in the media meant that he was always the first port of call for journalists looking for an opinion on a refereeing issue and he was usually willing to oblige. He also joined the short list of Welsh officials who were given an FA Cup final appointment before pursuing a successful career in business.

Ron Bridges

During the late 70’s and 80’s Wales continued to produce officials who gained international recognition: from the North came Gwyn Pierce Owen (Bangor) and Ron Bridges (Deeside), then Howard King (Merthyr Tydfil), Rodger Gifford (Llanbradach) and Keith Cooper (Pontypridd) from the south. All flew the flag of Wales with pride in World Cup and European Championship qualifiers as well as regular European club tournaments.

Referee’s who came along to replace Bridges, King and Cooper continued to be used on friendly internationals and qualifying matches. The honour was still just as hard-won, but the landscape was changing as the European map changed. Now, trips to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Azerbaijan and Bosnia-Herzegovina were becoming the norm, as well as the more regular trips across the Irish Sea for Frrangcon Roberts (Prestatyn), John Lloyd (Wrexham), Keith Burge (Tonypandy), Alan Howells (Port Talbot) and John Ashman (Swansea).

Ceri Richards

One man who has more than ‘done his bit’ in the last twenty years is Llanelli’s Ceri Richards. During his spell on the FIFA and UEFA lists he took charge of five international championship games as well as many friendly games.

Mark Whitby

Other more recent referees who have travelled are Brian Lawlor (Holyhead), Simon Jones (Swansea) and Huw Jones (Llanrhaeadre), leaving us with our final two experienced officials: Swansea’s Mark Whitby and Lee Evans from Bethesda. Both have had good opportunities to represent Wales in World Cup and European Championship ties as well as friendly matches.

The challenge now is to see Welsh women referees coming through and taking their place in the ranks of those above. If anyone wants more information on refereeing in Wales, contact Rodger Gifford at the FAW:

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