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Leo Callaghan

Merthyr Tydfil Football Referee


Merthyr has produced many great football players, both professional and amateur, playing in the borough or further afield. But it has also produced its share of administrators, coaches and referees. None achieved greater success than Leo Callaghan (1924-1987).


An Ynysgau boy, Leo was educated at St Mary’s RC School, leaving at 14 and undertaking a variety of jobs in and around the town.


His football career really took off after he was called up to the RAF in 1942. Stationed in the Far East, he got roped into organising sports for the troops as a recreational and morale-boosting exercise, and naturally ‘sport’ meant ’football’. And equally naturally, the organiser ended up with the whistle. And so a sporting career was born.


After being demobbed, Leo began working his way up the domestic pyramid, and made the Football League referees list in 1954 at the age of 30, and went on to have a seventeen year career at this level. By the end of his career, he was both a Welsh FIFA referee and an English Football League ref – with probably the highlight of his career coming in 1968 when he controlled the FA Cup Final between West Bromwich Albion and Everton. West Brom won 1-0, with a Jeff Astles goal. (It was also the first Cup Final to be broadcast in colour, and the first Cup Final where a substitute was used.)


One curious incident in his career came in 1971, when Leo was reffing a Second Division match between Millwall and Sheffield United on an afternoon when London was engulfed by torrential rain. He abandoned the game after 25 minutes.


His international career saw him take charge of six Home Internationals matches and a host of European competitions, including games in the 1968 UEFA European Football Championship’s qualifying rounds. He was the man in the middle in the 1956 Scotland v England match, played before a crowd of 132,817 at Hampden Park – Leo always insisted Hampden was the biggest crowd he’d seen (the stadium actually had a 180,000-fan capacity, but safety regulations and redevelopments mean it now holds just 52,063).


Leo was also involved in the 1966 World Cup, hosted by England, and he ran the line in two matches and also refereed the Group C Portugal v Hungary game (Portugal won 1-0). Leo also reffed in club competitions like the European Cup.


After his retirement in 1974, Leo served for some years as a referee assessor and was a good friend and mentor to a host of younger Merthyr refs such as Roger Cooper, Howard King, Dai Delaney and Gerald Morgan to name but a few. He was also involved in running summer football schools with Liverpool and Wales star Ian Rush.


His passion for football was reflected in his off-field life, and he was often found to be the subject of sporting trivia quizzes not for any of his on-the-field activities but because of the curious yet apt name he gave his house: Offside.

(Courtesy of Sian Roderick & Jeremy Flye)








Referee Leo Callaghan with Alan Williams and Paul Thomas - 1968

(Photograph Courtesy of Alan Williams)


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