Obituary: Arthur Ellis

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The Independent Culture
BOB PAISLEY was one of sport's quiet men, yet an incident involving one of his rare rages offers telling illustration of how Arthur Ellis elevated soccer-refereeing into an art form.

The man who would go on to become the most successful manager in English football with Liverpool was playing one of his last matches for the Anfield club when he was clattered by a Middlesbrough opponent. Paisley rounded on his tormentor, threatening darkly to part his hair if it happened again, and it is fair to speculate that violence was contemplated. Ellis, scenting trouble and anxious to defuse it, reacted instantly by whipping a comb from his pocket and offering it to the aggrieved north-easterner with the words: "There you are Bob, do it now if you like."

Everyone laughed, a potential crisis was averted and the game continued peacefully. It was brilliant refereeing and it epitomised Arthur Ellis, the stern but cheerful Yorkshireman who, in his 1950s prime, was the world's most famous whistleblower.

He had turned to officiating after realising as a youngster that he would not make the top grade as a player and by 22 he was a Yorkshire League referee. Displaying characteristic authority and a natural flair for interpreting the game's finer points, he progressed rapidly and was a Football League linesman within two years.

After moving into the middle, Ellis was soon noticed for his fairness and his man-management skills, and was rewarded with his first high-profile task in 1948 when he took charge of an FA Cup semi-final between Tottenham Hotspur and Blackpool.

Thereafter the credits piled up in quick succession. In 1950 he refereed West Germany's first international, against Switzerland in Stuttgart, and that same year took part in the World Cup finals in Brazil. He wielded the whistle in several games and then ran the line in what was effectively the final - the competition being run on a league basis - between Uruguay and Brazil. Then came the 1952 FA Cup final, in which Newcastle United defeated Arsenal, for which he was offered the choice of a medal or a pounds 10 fee. Predictably for a fellow who gloried in football's tradition, he opted for the gong.

But it was for his composed handling of one of the most ill-tempered of all international contests that Ellis won deathless renown. That was the 1954 World Cup quarter-final clash between Brazil and Hungary, the so-called "Battle of Berne", in which he dismissed Brazil's Nilton Santos and Joseph Bozsik, a Hungarian MP, for fighting. Later he issued another Magyar with his marching orders and a Brazilian was struck on the head by a bottle thrown from the Hungarian bench, allegedly by the great Ferenc Puskas.

Recently Ellis recalled: "I thought it was going to be the greatest game I'd ever seen. I was on top of the world at the prospect. But it turned out to be a disgrace. In today's climate so many players would have been sent off that the game would have been abandoned. My only thought was that I was determined to finish it."

So he did, and it was a major achievement which ensured that Ellis would preside over a succession of showpiece occasions. Thus he officiated at the first European Cup final in which Real Madrid beat Reims in 1956, and the first European Nations final when the Soviet Union overcame Yugoslavia four years later in Paris.

Compulsory retirement from refereeing followed at the age of 47 but Ellis, who had served in three World Cups and taken charge of more than 40 internationals, did not disappear from the limelight.

Indeed, the celebrity of the former traveller for a Yorkshire brewery increased immensely as he enforced the rules in BBC Television's It's a Knockout for 18 years, effectively playing straight man to the ebullient Stewart Hall and Eddy Waring.

In addition, for many years he chaired the Pools Panel, which pronounces on matches postponed due to bad weather. Roger Hunt, who succeeded him in that role, spoke of Ellis as a zestful optimist who was wonderful to work with. "As a referee he always had a smile on his face, but there was never any point in arguing with Arthur. He was strong and he had the total respect of the players."

A revealing token of that regard came at the end of the 1952 FA Cup final, when he was invited to the post-match celebrations of both Newcastle and Arsenal. Arthur Ellis resolved his dilemma with typical decision: "I didn't want to show any favouritism - so I went to both," he grinned.

Arthur Ellis, football referee and television presenter: born Halifax, Yorkshire 8 July 1914; married (two sons); died 23 May 1999.