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4 August 2012

In Memoriam Jack Taylor OBE

Tag(s): In Memoriam, Sport, People

On 7th July 1974 the World Cup Final was played between two great teams, the hosts, West Germany, and the Netherlands. The match was refereed by Jack Taylor, a 44 year old butcher from Wolverhampton. As he stood in the centre circle with the two captains, Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany and Johann Cruyff of the Netherlands, both legends in the game, out of long habit he glanced at the corner flags and to his astonishment saw they were missing. The game was delayed while "some old guy ran around banging them in” and then Taylor whistled for the final to kick off. Less than a minute later Cruyff, after one of his dazzling dribbles, was brought down in the penalty area by Uli Hoeness and Jack Taylor immediately whistled for a penalty. It was the first penalty ever given in a Word Cup final and many referees would have bottled out of such a crucial decision so early in the game but for the no-nonsense Taylor it was simply a question of making the correct decision whatever the level of the match. If you see photographs of the incident you can see how perfectly placed he was as well. Beckenbauer strode over to him and said “Taylor, you’re an Englishman”. Taylor would always resent the implied assertion of nationalist bias.

Twenty minutes later there was a similar incident at the other end. This time the Dutchman Wim Jansen tripped Bernd Hölzenbein and again Taylor had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Some thought he had been conned by a dive but Taylor said “what really does annoy me is the suggestion that I gave it to even things up. It was a trip or an attempted trip and the laws of the game are that it’s a penalty.” This time Cruyff confronted Taylor with allegations to that effect and the referee wasted no time in booking him for dissent.

Jack Taylor died last week at the age of 82. After his distinguished career in which he refereed for more than 33 years controlling more than 1000 matches of which over 100 were internationals he worked as the commercial director of Wolverhampton Wanderers, served on the Football League’s referees committee and assisted its commercial department with its sponsor management. It was in that capacity that I got to know Jack. I was then Managing Director of Sony Consumer Products Company UK and I had been approached by Bill Cosgrove, the Buying Director of Rumbelows, then one of our largest retailers, to sponsor the Man of the Match in every one of the games in the Rumbelows League Cup. This was a terrific idea as for limited cost we could organise a great deal of local press exposure at every one of the games played throughout England and Wales.

In the later stages of the competition my team, Manchester United, went on a wonderful run beating Liverpool 3-1, Arsenal 6-2 and Leeds 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-final. At the Leeds home leg I sat next to Jack in the Director’s Box and chatted to him about the great games he had refereed and the great players he had seen. Lee Sharpe scored an excellent goal but appeared offside and all the Leeds directors were up in arms about it. I thought it was good and Jack confirmed it. In the board room at half time TV replays showed that Sharpe was 10 yards inside his own half when the ball had been played to him but his speed was such that to some spectators he had looked offside. Jack said “You do feel sorry for officials these days- there are so many replays. That didn’t happen in 1974. There’s a lot of pressure on officials to get every decision right.”

I once used a brilliant motivational speaker at a Sony sales conference called Christine Harvey. Christine wrote the best-selling books Your Pursuit of Profit and Secrets of the World’s Top Sales Performers. She has started several successful companies of her own and has travelled the world teaching top flight executives how to sell, how to manage and how to motivate. She tells the story of how dolphins are trained. Apparently the trainers use a whistle to show approval of when a dolphin has successfully completed the desired manoeuvre such as soaring out of the water to a certain height. This reinforces positive behaviour. After the conference I asked Jack which whistle he used. The ACME Thunderer was the answer. I then ordered an ACME Thunderer whistle for each of the delegates to the conference. The sound of whistles went on for days.

Jack’s fellow referees regarded him as among the most authoritative to take the field. Abraham Klein, the highly regarded Israeli official, said that Taylor was “like a rock”. “He’s a tall man, and when he looks at players they run away! He has it, you know. Jack Taylor was the best referee I ever saw in my life. I learned a lot from him. Even if he makes mistakes, the players respect him, everybody respects him.” The former Manchester United player and manager Wilf McGuiness put it another way: “He was fair and he was fearless. You didn’t mess with Jack Taylor.” In 1999 he became one of the few referees to be inducted into the FIFA hall of fame and in 2007 his service to the game was recognized with a Football League Award. In 1975, the year after that famous World Cup final, he received the OBE for services to football.

But he also had a sense of humour. He told me of the time when he was badly cut in the face by a coin thrown from the terraces at Luton Town’s home ground of Kenilworth Road. When Eric Morecambe, the great comedian who also happened to be a director of the club, asked him if he was going to report the incident to the FA, Jack said he wasn’t. Morecambe rejoined: “Good, now can I have my penny back?” Jack roared with laughter.

As the Olympics progress with their 30 separate sports the importance of good honest impartial judges is increasingly obvious. The motto of the Olympics is Faster, Higher, Stronger implying that it will always be clear who has won but in many of the events a degree of subjective judgment is required. The five fighting events, boxing, fencing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling can be decided by a knockout or ippon or equivalent but are more often decided by judges. We have already had one boxing match awarded to one fighter who was knocked down five times recalling the famous match in Seoul in 1988 when the home nation boxer Park Si-Hun ‘defeated’ American Roy Jones Jr. despite Jones landing 86 punches to Park’s 32. On investigation it was found that the three judges had been wined and dined by the South Korean boxing association but the IOC upholds the decision to this day. Several events are judged on style including synchronised swimming, diving, dressage and the three gymnastic disciplines of artistic, rhythmic and trampoline. This strikes me as giving out medals for ballet.

In retirement Jack Taylor travelled the world coaching referees. It’s a pity he couldn’t have cloned himself.

Copyright David C Pearson 2012 All rights reserved

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