Mervyn Griffiths – international referee, deliverer of the ‘Miracle of Berne’, touched by tragedy
It’s not often that someone from Blaenau Gwent is credited with reversing the fortunes and lifting the spirit of a nation beyond our own shores. However, a Blaina-born man who moved to Six Bells as a young boy and was educated in Abertillery can lay claim to this distinction!
Mervyn Griffiths was born at 69 Alexandra Street, Blaina on 17th January 1909 – the eldest child of Blodwen May and Llewellyn Griffiths, a collier who also played rugby for Blaina Stars as a young man. By January 1913, the family had moved to 16 Bryngwyn Road, Six Bells near Abertillery where younger brothers, William Henry and Vernon were born.
In 1922, the family moved to 11 Harcourt Terrace, Warm Turn, Aberbeeg where two daughters, Eileen and Marian, were both born. 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 left this area for a teaching job in Devon. 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 1954 World Cup final played at Berne between West Germany and the Mighty Magyars, 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 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.
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