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.