Obituary: Pat Partridge, football referee

Born: 30 June 1933, Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees, Co Durham. Died: 31 October 2014, Cockfield, Co Durham, aged 81

Pat Partridge was one of the country’s leading and most high-profile football referees domestically and internationally during the tempestuous 1960s and 1970s, not least because of his readily identifiable thick sideburns but also his demonstrative style and talkative man-management approach which served to keep players in check.

He later recalled: “I’ve many a time run past a player and told him that if he did something again I’d kick him over the stand. They’d look at me but it worked. I got respect.”

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The irony was that Partridge had never been interested in becoming a referee. He recalled: “I took up this refereeing malarkey to get two guys off my back. I wasn’t interested in any way, shape or form.” He went on to officiate in more than 80 countries and was a Fifa referee for 10 years, and only once brandished a red card, to Schalke’s captain Klaus Fichtel in a match against FC Brussels in 1976.

Partridge refereed many top domestic, European and international matches but was never too far away from the drama. He was among the first generation of referees whose decisions were subjected to the now-routine scrutiny by TV and criticism from pundits. He remarked regularly: “With a surname like mine, I’m there to be shot at.” However, far from hindering his progress, his tendency to let games flow was met with widespread approval and so he rose rapidly through the ranks.

One such incident occurred in the 1978 League Cup Final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool, when he controversially awarded a penalty to Forest’s John O’Hare following a foul by Phil Thompson when through on goal. The resultant penalty, which was confirmed as outside the penalty area, was converted by John Robertson. Another refereeing decision caused further dispute when an equalising goal from Terry McDermott was ruled out for handball, despite TV replays again confirming that the decision was wrong. The contentious 1-0 score-line was enough to win the cup for Forest, who thus became the first club to achieve a League and League Cup double and secured the first major trophy of Brian Clough’s reign.

Afterwards, Thompson is attributed with calling the tackle a “professional foul”, and thus the phrase was born.

The result, however, left Liverpool midfield enforcer, Tommy “Gun” Smith, to say that “the referee [Partridge] should be shot”.

The same year, Partridge led Burnley and Celtic off at Turf Moor during an Anglo-Scottish Cup tie after violence erupted on the terraces with Celtic fans throwing cans and bottles and invading the “no man’s land” piece of terracing separating the rival fans, tearing up 6ft iron railings to use as missiles. Police with dogs intervened and order was restored after Partridge persuaded Celtic manager Billy McNeill to appeal for calm. Burnley won 1-0, and also won the return leg at Celtic Park, 2-1.

Earlier that summer, Partridge had been selected by FIFA to officiate at the World Cup Finals in Argentina and was England’s sole representative. He ran the line for Hungary’s two games against Argentina and France but it was in the match he refereed, a second-round fixture between Poland and Peru that Partridge was involved in one of the tournament’s comical incidents.

On two occasions, goalkeeper Ramon “El Loco” Quiroga advanced to the halfway line and executed two perfect tackles, but on the third occasion he rugby-tackled Polish striker Grzegorz Lato, who threatened to break away, and conceded a free-kick. Whilst being shown a yellow card by Partridge for his misdemeanour, Quiroga bowed flamboyantly in front of the English official in a gesture of apology.

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Born in Billingham, Teeside, in 1933, Patrick Partridge was the son of a sergeant major in the Airborne Division, who received an MBE. He left school at 15 and trained as an electrician at Head Wrightson, where eventually he met and married Margaret, the boss’s daughter. An avid Middlesboro fan, it was thought he had a bright future as a footballer but, aged 18, this was curtailed after an injury, and after some cajoling from work mates he turned to refereeing instead. Initially, he was a senior water polo and basketball referee before concentrating on football. He qualified in 1953.

During his National Service (1954-56) Partridge registered as an army referee. While posted in Hong Kong, he was allowed to officiate in its Third and Fourth Divisions. On his return home, he refereed games in the Northern League and was promoted to the Football League as a linesman for the 1965-66 season, before becoming the first Northern League man to become a Football League referee the following season.

One colleague later described Partridge as a pioneer because, “In those days NE didn’t stand for North-East, it referred to your chances and stood for non-existent. Where Pat went, a lot of us followed. He was a tremendous referee.”

Partridge’s first top-flight fixture was in March 1967 between Manchester City and Leicester City, when he awarded three penalties, but later admitted he failed to caution the then Leicester and England goalkeeper Gordon Banks for kicking the ball away from the penalty spot before Johnny Crossan was about to shoot.

Later in the season, he was in charge of Manchester Utd versus Stoke City, which led to a major change in the International Laws of Association Football. Paddy Crerand of United had an altercation with Peter Dobing of Stoke, which was dealt with by Partridge holding Crerand close, such that Crerand’s head was over his shoulder.

Unbeknown to Partridge, but picked up by the TV cameras, Crerand spat at Stoke’s Tony Allen. Following a public outcry, the FA investigated. Eventually, the International Board changed the Laws of the Game and made spitting a dismissible offence, on a par with violent conduct.

His greatest domestic honour was being awarded the 1975 FA Cup Final between West Ham and Fulham, which West Ham won 2-0.

In 1971 Partridge was promoted to the Fifa list of referees, and his first job was to run the line for Jack Taylor in the 1971 European Cup Final at Wembley, won by Ajax 2-0 over Panathinaikos.

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His last official international fixture was Austria against Bulgaria in 1981 in which he received a presentation before the match and the Bulgarian team offered him the ball after the game.

Former Premier League referee Jeff Winter described his friend, Partridge, as an inspiration: “Pat was from a long line of whistlers from the North-East who became top domestic and senior international referees… and helped inspire younger refs like myself.”

Over his career, referees were unpaid amateurs and Partridge worked as an electrical sales rep until 1974 when he and his wife moved to help run his father-in-law’s farm, which he called Law One – football’s first law is headed “Field of Play.” His car registration was REF 1.

Partridge later found some of the changes in football upsetting, saying: “I am disappointed in as much as the guys in my time got on with the game; now they are bending over backwards to get another player into trouble. It goes against the grain, I was taught to enjoy the game.”

In 2010, former Premier League and World Cup referee Graham Poll named Partridge in his all-time top 50 world referees list.

He joined the celebrity golf tour, raising money for charity and enjoyed cruises with Margaret but, most of all, loved life on the farm.

Partridge died at home, six months after receiving the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. He is survived by his wife Margaret.