Mervyn Griffiths

Tŷ Ebbw Fach, Chapel Road, Six Bells, Abertillery

Mervyn Griffiths was born in Blaina on 17th January 1909, the family moving to Six Bells near Abertillery four years later. He was the eldest of the family of 4 sons and 2 daughters. It

is reputed that Mervyn followed his father by playing rugby and never played football at school. However it was with the round ball that Mervyn was to make his mark.

In common with thousands of young people who reached adulthood in depression-hit Blaenau Gwent during the 1920s and 30s,  Mervyn embarked on a teaching career, firstly in Devon before moving back to Wales.

He took up refereeing schoolboy matches in 1934 and made the Football League’s list of referees in 1939 on the eve of World War II. Following the interlude of the war, by 1948, Mervyn appeared on the ‘select list’ of referees. In 1949, he took charge of his first international match which was played at Wembley where Scotland beat England 3-1. The following year he was on his way to Brazil for his first World Cup.

In 1953, Mervyn Griffiths became the first Welshman to referee a FA Cup final – the famous ‘Stanley Matthews Final’ – when Blackpool came from 1-3 down against Bolton with only 20 minutes left to win the game 4-3.

The following year, Mervyn was off to Switzerland to officiate in the 1954 World Cup. He was referee in one of the semi-finals where hot favourites for the title, Hungary beat World Cup holders, Uruguay, 4-2. In the World Cup final played at Berne between West Germany and the Mighty Magyars of Hungary, Mervyn officiated as linesman. Hungary took an expected lead 2-0 in the game but against the form book, underdogs West Germany, fought back to take a 3-2 lead. With minutes left, Puskas appeared to equalise for the Hungarians only to have the goal ruled offside by Mervyn. West Germany clung on for an unlikely victory – “Puskas came over to me and gave me a dirty look”, Mervyn later recalled.

“The Miracle of Berne”, as the Germans saw it, was credited with boosting the morale of a war-battered, defeated country, contributing to the recovery of Germany as Europe’s largest and most important post-war economy. Thanks to Mervyn Griffiths, of course.

Mervyn was one of the leading referees of his time, being in demand for both league and international matches taking charge of 22 internationals and refereeing in 3 world cup finals.

Mervyn was well-known for his aversion to air travel. Indeed, for his first World Cup in Brazil in 1950, he shunned air transport in favour of a ship that took 16 days to travel from Tilbury to Rio de Janeiro. The reason for Mervyn’s anxiety was due to the fact that 3 of his relatives were amongst the 80 rugby fans killed in the Llandow air crash as they returned from Ireland after watching the Welsh team win the Triple Crown in March 1950 – at that time the worst civil disaster in the history of aviation.

Sadly, Mervyn’s family were beset by tragedy again, ten years later. His brother, Vernon Alexander Griffiths and his nephew, Clive Alan Griffiths, were both killed in the Six Bells Colliery disaster on 28th June 1960. Their names are commemorated on the ‘Guardian’ memorial at Six Bells.

On Friday 24th January 2014 the Blue Plaque to honour Mervyn was unveiled by by fellow Welsh Referee, Clive Thomas. Like Mervyn, Clive was a world class referee, appearing in the 1974 and 1978 World cup finals and countless international and top European matches.  Clive said, ’I am highly honored to be asked to unveil this plaque. 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. ’

‘For me the 1953 FA Cup Final, will always be the Mervyn Griffiths final not the Stanley Mathews final as it was the first time a Welshman refereed the F A Cup Final. I was a seventeen year old at the time and had just started refereeing; I was the youngest ref in the league. That weekend I had refereed a match in Pontypridd. During the game the ball became lodged in the branch of a tree – the tree was off the field of play but the branch was overhanging it. A player was encouraged to go and retrieve the ball but his team mates said don’t touch it or he’ll give hand ball. To cut a long story short, we got the ball back and I restarted the game with a drop ball. The following week in ‘the Pink One’ (Football Echo), there was a story about the incident and the journalist called on Mervyn for his view of the decision. Mervyn commented that not only was it the right decision but common sense had prevailed, this young ref will go a long way!’

Also present was 88 year old Gerrard Lewis from Port Talbot , a former linesman who officiated with Mervyn Griffiths.

The erection of the plaque was initiated by Cllr Hedley McCarthy, Leader of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, recognizing the importance of celebrating local heroes he said, ‘Anyone who is mentioned alongside Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortensen and Ferenc Puskas is touched by greatness. It is overdue that this is recognised and it is fitting that the plaque is being unveiled by the other great Welsh World Class Referee, Clive Thomas.

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Gerrard,Hedley, Mostyn & Clive (1)