Shropshire Star

How Wolverhampton butcher turned referee Jack Taylor went on to rule the world

If the referee for Sunday’s World Cup Final takes the monumental decision to award a penalty inside the first minute of the game, they will do so with the comfort blanket of knowing the decision will be checked.

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Officials of yesteryear were not afforded that luxury.

In particular, Wolverhampton’s own, Jack Taylor, who awarded the first ever spot kick in a World Cup Final back in 1974.

There were only 52 seconds on the clock in Munich’s Olympiastadion when Holland legend Johan Cruyff was upended by West Germany’s Uli Hoeness, just inside the penalty area.

Referee Taylor was perfectly placed to point to the spot and, just 25 seconds later, Johan Neeskens fired home from 12 yards to put the Dutch in front.

“You are an Englishman,” disgruntled German skipper Franz Beckenbauer moaned in Taylor’s direction, but those words, heard above a raucous crowd of 75,200, were never going to dissuade or even slightly influence the mind of the experienced Wulfrunian official.

He was confident in his decision, repeatedly waving Beckenbauer’s protests away, and, in any case, one of his former colleagues and close friends Alex Hamil doesn’t believe his good mate would have been a fan of the checking process of modern technology.

Even in such big and crucial moments as that.

Jack Taylor who was the last English referee to officiate a FIFA world cup final. He was the referee in the 1974 FIFA World Cup Final. Nick Wilkinson/ 09/07/2010

“There was nothing complicated about Jack, he was very down to earth and just made his decisions,” says Hamil.

“If it was a penalty it was a penalty, offside was offside, and that was it.

“He was also always a firm believer that English referees were the best in the world.”

Taylor was certainly one of those.

As attention turns towards Sunday’s big finale in Qatar, it is well worth noting that Taylor – who passed away at the age of 82 a decade ago – is one of only 22 referees to have been in the middle for international football’s biggest showpiece.

It is the pinnacle of the sport, for referees as well as managers and players, but, for Taylor, was far from the only highlight of an illustrious career.

In 1962, aged just 31, he refereed the FA Amateur Cup final between Crook Town and Hounslow Town, his first assignment at Wembley, having overseen the Irish Cup Final two years previously.

Other games presided over among more than 1,000 in his 30-year career include the 1966 FA Cup Final between Everton and Sheffield Wednesday, and the 1971 European Cup Final as Ajax beat Panathinaikos, not to mention a South American Championships Final between Brazil and Argentina in front of a crowd of 170,000. All in a refereeing day’s work!

And yet all these accolades, and many more besides, were met and chalked off with a certain amount of nervousness, but also ruthless efficiency and unparalleled professionalism, along with a healthy dose of modesty.

“I remember I went out with him to run the line in a fixture in Milan a couple of years after the World Cup Final,” Hamil adds.

“A chap from FIFA came into the dressing room before the game and told Jack that they showed that final to up-and-coming referees as a guide to how to do the job.

“As ever Jack just played it all down – he would say things like ‘it’s only a game’ – there was never the chance he would get the slightest bit carried away.”

Maybe such a grounded personality stemmed from a humble and unassuming upbringing and sense of hard work and graft which underpinned Taylor’s formative years.

Born and brought up in Wolverhampton, after leaving school at 14 Taylor worked in his Dad’s butcher’s shop on Staveley Road, almost right underneath the Molineux floodlights.

A keen footballer, he played for his school as well as Wolverhampton Under-14s although always felt his place in the team at full back owed more to his strength and stature than any natural ability.

Moving through his teenage years and soon realising dreams of a playing career would be left unfulfilled, Taylor also indulged a passion for horses by combining work at the butchers – where hours were still limited because of World War Two rationing – with time working at a stables, even owning a few horses at one point and later working as a steward at Wolverhampton Racecourse.

It was a local man called Jim Lock, who had been secretary of the Local Referees Association before the War, who first suggested Taylor should try his hand out in the middle.

There was a major shortage of referees at the time, so almost immediately, without any sort of training, the 17-year-old Taylor was handed his first appointment, a fixture between Bristol and Jenks in the local Works League.

One team had ten men, and the other turned up with nine, and Taylor hated the whole experience.

But with Lock’s encouragement, advice and guidance, the young protegee stuck with it, and not only were the seeds sown for a fantastic and globe-trotting career, Taylor’s officiating also gave fresh impetus to the life of his refereeing mentor, who had suffered with illness after being captured and spending three-and-a-half years as a prisoner during the War.

Writing in his autobiography, penned with journalist David Jones, Taylor wrote: ‘Jim became everything to me – coach, advisor and critic. They talk about having assessors, but I had my own assessor for years. We were good for each other and his friendship had a great effect on my refereeing. To a large extent, he is responsible for making me the man that I am.’

As Lock was an advisor and effective refereeing father figure to the young and developing Taylor, so too Taylor would go on to pass on his own words of wisdom and encouragement to others coming through the ranks.

Life as a referee can be a lonely existence, a small group of matchday officials opening themselves up to derision from thousands in the stands, and always far more likely to receive torrents of criticism than shouts of praise.

Sticking together was hugely important.

Hamil was another who became a firm friend of Taylor, and embarked on his own journey to becoming a very successful Football League referee, also running the line in the 1982 FA Cup Final between QPR and Tottenham.

“I met Jack because his Dad had the butcher’s shop on the corner of Staveley Road, and I was brought up in Bright Street, also just down the road from Molineux,” Hamil explains.

“So, I knew him growing up – he was a bit older than me and someone I looked up to.

“When I first started refereeing and going to meetings I bumped into him and, from then on, we were part of a group who would train at West Park and Molineux together a couple of times a week.

“We used to go to meetings and dinner together, and also the dogs – he loved the greyhounds – and he was always very supportive.

“I still remember when I’d been promoted from Level 3 to Level 2, refereeing a game at Manders on the Cannock Road, and there Jack was, on the touchline.

“He did that quite a lot, I’d be refereeing a Sunday League game on the Racecourse and who would be stood watching on the side? Jack Taylor.

“He’d always be on hand to pass on a few tips.

“I remember as soon as he came back from Germany and the final he rang me up and I popped to see him at the butchers’ shop – he was really over the moon with how well it had all gone.”

That early penalty wasn’t the only one Taylor awarded in that 1974 final.

Referee Jack Taylor (r) tries to keep control as West Germany's Gerd Muller (l) and Wolfgang Overath (second r), and Holland's Wim van Hanegem (l, hidden), try to do the ref's job for him.

Dutch midfielder Wim Jansen was later adjudged to have felled German forward Bernd Hoelzenbein and, while Taylor was completely confident in his first decision, he later admitted the second was not quite as clearcut.

Paul Breitner converted the spot kick to equalise and Gerd Muller added a decisive second just before half time, during which Cruyff became one of several booked on the day for a sustained show of dissent as the players left the pitch.

Only four Englishmen have so far refereed a World Cup final.

George Reader officiated the 1950 final between Uruguay and Brazil, William Ling the 1954 showdown between West Germany and Hungary, and, more recently, Howard Webb the 2010 final when Spain defeated Holland.

Webb, the recently appointed first chief refereeing officer with the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Board), received a surprise visit from Taylor the day before that final.

“No meeting I had with Jack stands out or meant more than the one in Johannesburg on the eve of the 2010 World Cup final,” Webb recalls.

“Despite being no spring chicken, Jack flew all the way to South Africa to support me, and we met for coffee the evening before the game - it was such an amazing gesture, and I was thrilled to see him.

“We chatted about the World Cup final he refereed in 1974, played in Munich’s Olympic Stadium between West Germany and Netherlands.

“I asked him about his courageous call to award a penalty to Netherlands in the first minute of the game, before West Germany had even touched the ball.

“In his usual understated, modest way, Jack played it down, telling me it was such a clear penalty he could have awarded it from the car park!

“I was honoured to be following in Jack’s footsteps by becoming the next English referee to be appointed to a World Cup final, and what big shoes they were to fill.”

The emotional energy expended for such an occasion in such an unforgiving spotlight must be immense, even for a figure like Taylor whose strong and burly physique always seemed to give him an extra air of authority.

Phil Reade, now Chairman of the thriving Wolverhampton Referees’ Association, was always a fascinated listener when his Dad Harry and Uncle Frank regaled him with stories around Taylor’s approach to his craft.

“My Dad and Uncle would always chat about Jack, as a referee who took no nonsense from the players,” says Reade.

“He’d be wagging his finger in their direction and shout, ‘come here’, and the crowd would start up with words like, ‘book him, Jack!’

“He had the players’ respect and, as a referee myself, I could have listened to my Dad and Uncle all night talking about Jack Taylor, the butcher from Wolverhampton!”

Wolves’ legendary striker John Richards shares that view of Taylor’s refereeing because, whilst he wasn’t allowed to officiate at Wolves games, other players would mention it.

“Jack was very unassuming and quiet, a down-to-earth person who everyone got on with,” Richards says.

“He wasn’t the sort who would want the limelight, he just got on with his life and his refereeing, he was a lovely man.

“And on the pitch, he was honest but he was commanding, he made his decision and that was it, and all the players respected him for it.

“We couldn’t have him for Wolves games – although he very kindly did a lot of our testimonials – but you could see how much respect he had from watching games he refereed, and players from other clubs would tell us that as well.

“There were other referees at the time who were known for their notoriety, but Jack was known for his very good and straightforward refereeing of a football match.”

There was certainly an appetite for fairness and justice in Taylor, who served as a magistrate in Wolverhampton from 1971 to 1993.

He once helped diffuse a tinderbox of a South African cup final between the all-White Cape Town Hellenic and all-black Kaiser Chiefs during apartheid, approaching the disgruntled black supporters and shaking them by the and after a near-riot had unfolded.

He had previously been struck by a bottle thrown by the crowd, but being something of a target as a referee wasn’t just confined to foreign soil.

After being struck by a coin while refereeing at Kenilworth Road, Taylor received a visit and apology from Luton director and renowned comedian Eric Morecambe.

“Are you going to report us,” said Morecambe. “No,” replied Taylor.

“Good,” responded Morecambe. “Now can I have my penny back!”

Jack Taylor refereed several big games during his illustrious career

Taylor received far more accolades than pennies however, adding over 100 international fixtures to his overall CV and being inducted into the FIFA Hall of Fame in 1999, having been awarded an OBE for Services to Football the year after that ‘74 World Cup final. He also received a special award from the Football League in 2007 and, six years later, became the first referee inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.

And yet, for all the accolades, as justified and well-deserved as they were, his heart never left Wolverhampton, nor indeed Wolves.

Of all the appointments fulfilled during his incredible career, you can imagine the ‘Colours against Whites’ pre-season fixture at Molineux in 1959 – effectively Wolves’ first team against reserves marking Billy Wright’s final ever appearance - was among Taylor’s proudest.

He would also referee those testimonial fixtures for Wolves players at the time, as well as attending matches as a fan when the opportunity arose.

He did actually work for the club as Wolves’ first ever Commercial Manager between 1978 and 1982, his employment ending in not the most pleasant of circumstances as the club changed hands and the Bhatti Brothers moved in.

“I remember, as a player, working with Jack on promoting the commercial side of the club with initiatives like the Wolves Lottery,” Richards recalls.

“You couldn’t have asked for anyone better for that role because he was the most honest and straight-forward person you could wish to meet.”

Taylor also excelled in the following chapter in his life which involved working for the Football League and sponsors Nationwide, including presenting awards such as Man of the Match or Groundsman of the Year, working with referees and sitting on their committee.

“My first personal encounter was when Jack was working for the Football League and presented the medal to me after I’d refereed the 2007 League Cup final at the Millennium Stadium,” adds Webb.

“The game, between Chelsea and Arsenal, had been exciting but the latter stages resulted in me showing three red cards.

“Jack gave me a huge boost as he handed over my medal, telling me - in his broad Black Country accent - how well he thought I’d done.

“That meant the world, especially coming from a man of his standing.”

For all his operating in those lofty footballing circles after retirement, Taylor would however never forget his home city, even when later moving out to Shifnal in Shropshire, forever taking a keen interest in the progress of local referees.

“I bumped into Jack once in the Jeff Bonser Suite at Walsall, and we chatted for about 20 minutes about the Wolverhampton Referees Association,” adds Reade.

“He was really pleased to hear we had managed to galvanise the organisation and had built up to over 200 or so members.

“He was always very interested in the organisation, which was great, because his story inspires our own referees as they set off on their own journey.

“For young referees, the ambition is to reach the Football League, then the Premier League and then be like Michael Oliver and Anthony Taylor who are out at the World Cup.

“And who knows? Maybe one day we’ll have another Wolverhampton referee at a World Cup final, just like Jack Taylor – that is always the dream.”

Hamil, still so fiercely committed to the art of refereeing and grass roots football even now in his Eighties, still attends the Wolverhampton RA meetings and is President of the JW Hunt Cup, the long-running charity competition of which Taylor was Vice-President for over 40 years.

“Jack was such a genuine fella, he would help anybody,” says Hamil.

“Through all his successes, he always maintained an interest in local sport and local referees, and would come along to the presentation nights.

“Not long before he died, I was privileged to hear I was going to receive an MBE, which came at a time when Jack was quite poorly.

“I would go and see him regularly at Telford Hospital, and remember his wife Sue, who passed away a few years ago, calling me to tell me Jack wanted to see me.

“When I got there, he had heard the news and said he wanted to make sure he congratulated me on getting the MBE and told me he was very pleased for me.

“He hadn’t got long left, and I thought that was such a lovely touch, but it was typical of Jack, always thinking about other people.”

That feeling was mutual.

“As players, we were always very proud of him,” says Richards.

Soccer referee John "Jack" Taylor of Wolverhampton, who was made an OBE in the New Years Honours List, leaving Buckingham Palace after receiving the insignia from the Queen at an investiture..

“We had won the League Cup in ’74, and then Jack refereed the World Cup Final in the summer, and it was really putting Wolverhampton on the global map, which was absolutely fantastic.

“There was a time when Jack was probably the most well-known Wulfrunian in the world, and the best referee as well.”

For Webb too, having followed in Taylor’s footsteps, he believes he left an example for others to follow but also always maintained a keen interest in modern football.

“Jack Taylor was a giant of a man in every way,” he concludes.

“I’m too young to remember him refereeing but it wasn’t long after I picked up the whistle at the age of 18 that I became aware of this legendary figure, with film-star good looks and a wonderful reputation amongst everyone in the game, and everywhere in the world.

“And after he had finished, Jack always stayed up-to-date, understanding the new and different challenges that the modern game presented.

“He was not the type of guy to say ‘it was better in my day’ and as such his advice and wisdom always remained very relevant.

“Wherever I go in the world, people talk fondly of Jack, usually referring to him as ‘the great Jack Taylor’.

“That’s not only because he was a great referee but also because he was a great man, and I am blessed to have known him.”

Powerful words, and there remains another lasting legacy to Taylor with the referees’ room named after him at Molineux, and similar at England’s training base at St George’s Park.

A fitting tribute to a man whom, setting out from modest roots in the family butcher’s shop a stone’s throw from Molineux, maintained that modesty all the way through even when reaching the very pinnacle of his profession, and hitting heights others can only aspire to.

Another name will be added to the elite club on Sunday, as the World Cup reaches its conclusion, but for his role as part of true refereeing history, the 1974 whistleblower will always be so warmly remembered in this part of the country.

Jack Taylor was, for Wolverhampton, – as the modern day song goes – “one of our own.”