History changer - Mervyn 'Sandy' Griffiths.

Mervyn Griffiths . . . The Welsh World Cup Ref Who Flagged Up A European Uprising

Want to know about the Welshman who changed the course of European history with his controversial decision in World Cup Final? Then read on, because Owen Morgan has the story that makes Clive Thomas’s call that angered the Brazilians look like small beer.

When the World Cup kicks of in Russia on June 14 there will be something missing which has been an ever present since the 1938 tournament.

For the first time in 80 years, there will be no British referee officiating at football’s greatest showpiece.

Mark Clattenburg was the only British ref named when FIFA published their long list for the 2018 tournament two years ago, but he forfeited his place when he moved to Saudia Arabia in 2017.

As a result, Britain’s proud run of supplying officials for the tournament has been halted.

Four English referees have officiated in the final . . . and they haven’t been afraid to shy away from tough decisions.

Most recently, Howard Webb took charge in 2010 when he issued 14 yellow cards and one red during the Spain v Holland match – a record for the final.

In 1974, Jack Taylor awarded two penalties in the first half-an-hour of the West Germany v Holland final.

But the British official who arguably played the biggest part in a World Cup final was, in fact, a Welshman.

In 1954, Mervyn “Sandy” Griffiths, of Abertillery, ran the line in the most historically significant final of them all.

Known as the “Miracle of Berne”, the match saw the apparently unbeatable “Mighty Magyars” of Hungary facing a massively unfancied West German team making their way back into the global game following the Second World War.

Mervyn Griffiths pictured with legendary England captain Billy Wright and Scotland skipper George Young before the 1949 England v Scotland game at Wembley.

Despite being a full-time schoolteacher in Newport, Griffiths was acknowledged as being one of the best referees in the world.

Such was his standing and popularity within the game he wrote an autobiography “The Man in the Middle” – a rare occurrence for a football official at the time.

In 1953 he had refereed the legendary “Mathews Final” between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup at Wembley and he had already been to the 1950 World Cup finals in Brazil and would go on to officiate at the 1958 finals in Sweden.

Now, he was stepping out on the biggest stage of all in Switzerland.

And the man of Gwent played possibly the biggest role of all in that momentous final; a role that would arguably help shape the future of Germany and Hungary as nations, not just as football teams.

Although I am a huge football fan, I never knew the story of Griffiths’ hand in this final until a few years ago, and I would guess many others didn’t either.

But the part he played in the match, and indeed the economic and political future of the two competing nations, is enormous.

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At the time Hungary were the best international team on the planet, enjoying a world record 30-match unbeaten run stretching back to May 1950.

This was the Hungarian side which had famously thumped England 6-3 at Wembley the previous year in the so-called “Match of the Century” and then 7-1 in Hungary in May of 1954.

On the way to the final they had hammered the West Germans 8-3 in the group stages.

The Germans, on the other hand, had only returned to playing international football four years earlier because of the Second World War and had been barred from playing in the 1950 tournament.

Such was the confidence back home in Budapest, commemorative stamps celebrating Hungary’s victory had apparently been printed and the foundations of 17 life-sized statues of the squad had been laid.

True to form the Hungarians raced into a 2-0 lead after just eight minutes of the final. But, incredibly, the Germans fought back, partly thanks to the fact the warm morning sun in Berne had been replaced by heavy rain.

Germany’s talismanic captain Fritz Walter had a reputation for playing poorly in warm weather due to a bout of malaria he suffered as a prisoner of war.

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But in the rain, he seemed inspired. This, coupled with the fact the Germans were wearing innovative long screw-in studs created by Adi Dassler – later of Adidas fame – saw them take a 3-2 lead on the sodden pitch with just six minutes remaining.

Then, with time almost up, the legendary Hungarian Ferenc Puskas scored what he thought would be the equalising goal.

But English referee William Ling ruled the score out when Griffiths flagged Puskas offside.

The effect Griffiths’ decision had on the final is obvious as the Germans held out to record a 3-2 victory to win the World Cup against all expectations.

But the wider consequences of the result are immeasurable.

The fairytale win was a huge boost to German national confidence following the Second World War and was seen as a foundation for rebuilding the nation.

Meanwhile, rioting in the streets of Budapest after the final was seen as one of the sparks for the 1956 uprising in Hungary.

All this on the wave of a Welshman’s flag.

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In his autobiography, Griffiths recalls Puskas’ immediate reaction to the decision and the verdict of the British press, including respected football writers of the time Charles Buchan and Roy Peskett.

Griffiths wrote: “Puskas came over to me and gave me a dirty look, but it was good to know that the British sports writers agreed with me, Charles Buchan writing ‘I thought the decision was right’ and Roy Peskett, Daily Mail, ‘a very good decision’.”

Although Puskas was clearly unhappy with the Welshman’s decision, which has been hotly debated ever since, the footballing authorities obviously didn’t share the Hungarian’s view.

The controversy surrounding his call had no adverse effect on the Welshman’s career; he continued to be appointed for high profile domestic and international matches at home and abroad.

Four years later he was back at the World Cup, this time in Sweden, where he officiated in four matches, including taking charge of the semi-final between France and Brazil, which saw a 17-year-old Pele score his first hat-trick.

Fellow Welsh referee Clive Thomas, who along with Griffiths and Leo Callaghan, are the only Welshmen to officiate at the World Cup Finals, was inspired by Griffiths’ achievements in the game.

Thomas, who was no stranger to World Cup controversy having famously blown for half-time a split second before Brazil “scored” against Sweden in 1978, is quoted as saying: “I held Mervyn in immense respect because he was a very strict referee and knowing that he, a fellow Welshman, had got to the very top, fuelled my ambition.

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“For me, the 1953 FA Cup final will always be the Mervyn Griffiths final not the Stanley Matthews final as it was the first time a Welshman refereed the FA Cup final.”

Griffiths died aged 65 in 1974, but his career as one of British football’s finest ever referees was commemorated in 2014 with the unveiling of a plaque at his childhood home in Six Bells.

There may not be any British officials on the pitch in Russia this time around but plenty have made their mark in World Cup history, none more so than proud Welshman Mervyn “Sandy” Griffiths.


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