English referee Jack Taylor died today, aged 82. He lived a remarkable life as an official in a sport in which referees are despised and ill-treated by fans, players, and the wider press. To be sure, and will go down as one of the greatest English referees in history, by those who care about such things.
Among regular football fans however, he will primarily be remembered as the English referee in the final of the 1974 World Cup between West Germany and the Netherlands, the first referee to award a penalty in a final (he awarded two).
Taylor’s decisions that day were remarkable for a number of reasons. To this day, penalties awarded in major finals are enormously controversial. These games are generally picked apart for decades after, down the very minutiae of every decision, moment, turn of the run of play.
That Taylor crossed that unpleasant and reputation-threatening Rubicon is one thing (and in the second minute of play, no less, a moment in the match when many contemporary refs would rather send three players off), but the manner of the decisions was another thing entirely. Because you’ll be hard-pressed to find two penalty decisions as relatively uncontroversial as these, far removed from the usual asterisks that get tossed around by the usual cadre of idiots.
Not that that the two penalties haven’t escaped critical scrutiny over the years, but this scrutiny falls mostly along partisan lines. Some believe Johan Cruyff for example was fouled outside the 18-yard-box, which visual evidence rubbishes in a matter of seconds:
The decision to award a penalty for a foul on Bernd Hölzenbein in the 25th minute is only slightly more controversial, but even the reverse angles available in ’74 reveal there was contact, if embellished by the player:
If this were awarded in the average Bundesliga match, no one would bat an eye.
In the end, it was the performance that defined a career, and set the perhaps impossible standard for those that followed—the perfect game. For that alone, Taylor should be honoured.