Jack Taylor: Referee best known for awarding the first penalty in a World Cup final


If the football authorities could have drawn up their ideal prototype for a referee – tall, burly and darkly forbidding, oozing authority and charisma in equal measure, steely enough to keep even the most fractious of temperamental stars in order – then surely they would have come up with something very close to Jack Taylor.

The Football League described him as "perhaps the finest English referee of all time" and that remains a widespread perception throughout the game.

It was recognised that he understood his work in all its myriad aspects, a compliment that has never been paid lightly by professionals to the men in black from any era. Like every official who ever stepped on to a pitch, Taylor made his mistakes, but they were remarkably few in number and they were made honestly.

To strength, integrity and knowledge could be added courage and decisiveness, as the Wolverhampton butcher – even his employment away from football somehow underlined his no-nonsense status, conjuring as it did the image of a large man wielding a meat cleaver – demonstrated vividly in the most high-profile contest of his 33-year career.

There had never been a penalty in the history of World Cup finals when Taylor blew his whistle to start the 1974 encounter between West Germany and the Netherlands in Munich, but only a minute into the action, before the hosts had even touched the ball, he pointed to the spot after the Dutch maestro Johan Cruyff was downed illegally by Uli Hoeness.

To Taylor there was simply no issue. An obvious foul had been committed, and whether it was in a Sunday morning kickabout in his local park or in the early stirrings of the global game's gala occasion, he was going to enforce the rules. As Johan Neeskens prepared to convert the kick, the Germans' most famous player, Franz Beckenbauer, confronted him angrily. "Taylor, you're an Englishman," "Der Kaiser" practically spat.

The referee was unmoved, as he was in the 26th minute when he awarded a second penalty, punishing the Dutchman Wim Jansen for an infringement against Bernd Holzenbein, enabling Paul Breitner to equalise. Though this time the offence was not quite as clear-cut, Taylor remained adamant, and he was livid at Cruyff's strongly worded half-time suggestion that he was merely balancing his earlier decision. The outcome was inevitable – Cruyff was booked for dissent.

Another distinguished name to find himself in trouble with Taylor was George Best, who knocked the ball out of the referee's hands as they walked off at the end of Manchester United's League Cup semi-final against Manchester City at Maine Road in December 1969 in which the Irishman had been booked, unreasonably he contended, and City had been awarded a controversial penalty. Duly the official reported Best for his petulance and the player was banned for a month.

Not that Taylor didn't possess a sense of humour, as he demonstrated after being badly cut in the face by a penny thrown from a bank of Luton Town fans at Kenilworth Road. When Eric Morecambe, the comedian and national treasure who also happened to be a Luton director, asked him if he was going to report the incident, the referee said he wasn't, and Morecambe replied: "Good, now can I have my penny back?" Taylor roared with laughter, and recounted the story for the rest of his life.

Born close to Molineux, the home of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Taylor wanted to be a footballer but didn't make the grade, gravitating instead towards officiating in the 1940s. He proved a natural and went on to take charge of more than 1,000 professional games, including 100 internationals, in some 60 countries, with highlights including the 1966 FA Cup final between Everton and Sheffield Wednesday, and the European Cup final of 1971, in which Ajax met Panathinaikos, both at Wembley.

After retiring in the late 1970s, Taylor worked for Wolves as commercial director for three years, then travelled the world coaching young referees, served on the Football League's referees committee and became involved with the League's sponsor management. Taylor, who remained the only Englishman to take charge of a World Cup final until Howard Webb officiated in Spain's victory over the Netherlands in 2010, received the OBE for services to football in 1975 and was awarded a place in Fifa's Hall of Fame in 1999.

Wherever he went, whatever he did, he commanded respect. As the renowned Israeli referee Abraham Klein once remarked: "He's a tall man, and when he looks at players they run away!" The former Manchester United manager Wilf McGuinness put it another way: "He was fair and he was fearless. You didn't mess with Jack Taylor."

John Keith Taylor, football referee: born Wolverhampton 21 April 1930; OBE 1975; died Shropshire 27 July 2012.

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