The Man in the Middle – Mervyn Griffiths


Benjamin Mervyn Griffiths was a contemporary of Arthur Ellis, whose Refereeing round the World I reviewed here some time ago. While Ellis became something of a celebrity due to his mannerisms and thirst for recognition, the modest Welshman Griffiths depended solely on his fairness and exceptional fitness, and it took him right to the top of his profession. In 1953 he was appointed to ref the FA Cup Final, the Welsh version of which he reffed no fewer than six times! He was also the first referee who was given dispensation to continue his career at top level when he reached the retirement age of 47, all owing to his extreme fitness. He also participated in the 1950 and 1954 World Cups as a referee and linesman, even taking a decisive – and controversial – decision in the last minute of the 1954 final, when he flagged down Puskas for off-side, the Hungarian just having scored a goal that would have levelled his team with West-Germany, who went on to win their first World Cup. The pedigree is there.

Unfortunately, his outstanding career performance contrasts starkly with his personality. Having always been a teacher and led an uneventful life, Griffiths managed to scrape 143 pages together (plus an index) for this book. In it, he essentially tells his life story and many tales from his refereeing days, but his account fails to enthrall. It makes for an interesting portrait of an era, a profile of life when times and people were more easy-going, yet at the same time society was less flexible and much more hierarchical. Indeed, the state of refereeing was a good reflection of the real world of the day…


Value for active referees

Close to zero.

It is only in the closing chapters that Griffiths turns his attention to refereeing issues. There is a chapter about dealing with criticism (his message essentially being: don’t be afraid to look into the mirror, but ill-founded critique can simply be dismissed), and one in which he calls upon managers, players and fans to muster some understanding, less partisanship and a greater willingness to learn about the laws of the game. From the early days of his career Griffiths recalls several instances of players trying to trick him into awarding a penalty by diving, which he thought should be punishable. Here he was 50 years ahead of his time! He also discusses referees’ conduct in general. Referees, in his view, should be more supportive of one another, offering constructive criticism rather than placing blame. Anyone wanting to climb the ladder to the top can only achieve that goal by staying true to himself, listen to well-founded views of fellow-referees and others, and – most importantly – by staying in shape, physically as well as mentally. And be careful with your reputation; it is easily lost. A further chapter is devoted to working with linesmen, as they were still called at the time. He once took part in an experiment with regular teams of officials, which he liked very much. However, when the experiment was abandoned after only a few weeks, he was sensitive to the FA’s argument that it was too costly. As was wont in those days, Mervyn Griffiths did not defy his superiors.

Merv Griffiths

Melvyn Griffiths (right) linesman World Cup final 1954

Final say

A not particularly riveting biography of an otherwise highly respected and creditable referee. The Man in the Middle paints a fair portrait of an era, and becomes slightly more interesting for the fact that Griffiths crossed the path of a more colourful referee, Arthur Ellis. In addition, there is little practical use to be gained from this book.

Title The Man in the Middle
Author Mervyn Griffiths
Year 1958
Pages 152
Publisher Soccer Book Club
3 / 5     

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