From Abertillery to a World Cup Final.

Who is the only Welshman to appear in a football World Cup final?

Well, the women’s World Cup is well and truly underway in France. The Welsh women currently ranked 33rd in the world narrowly failed in their attempt to qualify, and it is tremendous to see the progress being made under Jane Ludlow. In fact, whether male or female, Wales have only qualified for one World Cup back in 1958, With the Welsh men’s team making it to Sweden. But we left a lasting impression, managing to make the quarter-finals before eventually being knocked out by Brazil featuring a certain Pele. However, did you know that a Welshman has in fact played in a world cup final?

For those, that follow the fortunes of the national team it is often enough to send you to an early grave, hope and optimism at the start of every qualifying campaign has more often than not led to non-qualification. The Euro 2016 campaign, of course under Chris Coleman, however, did go some way to making up for years of heartache and misery. We all hope of course that one day Gareth Bale will lead Wales to a world cup final. However back in 1954 one Welshman did make it to a world cup final, and helped change the course of history.

Mervyn Griffiths from Abertillery was the linesman, during the 1954 World Cup final between West Germany & Hungary. Few people would have predicted, that on a rainy day in Berne a school teacher from Abertillery would have played a hand in one of the most startling upsets in modern sporting history. Sadly he did not actually referee the final, that honour fell to Englishman William Ling, however, Mervyn ended up running the line at the game, which of course was still a fantastic achievement. Hungary had smashed West Germany 8-3 in the earlier rounds and many experts predicted a similar story.

However in a pulsating the game, the Germans were leading 3-2 heading into the closing stages, then in the last minute it seemed Puskas had equalised for the Hungarians, only for Griffiths, clad in black, soaked to the skin and with the Welsh Football Association crest on his breast to flag the barrel-chested striker offside. English referee William Ling agreed and ruled out the goal. As the Hungarian players prematurely rejoiced, Griffith’s raised flag denied the favourites their equaliser. A controversial decision that is debated to this day.

He died in 1974 aged 65 and there is a tribute to him now in Six Belles, Abertillery, in the museum opposite the giant statue that pays tribute to the terrible mining tragedy there in 1960 which killed 45 men. A statue to Helmut Rahn, the man that scored the winning goal for West Germany now stands in the striker’s hometown of Essen. And there can be no doubt, that across Germany even to this day there has been many a toast raised in memory of the man from Abertillery.

Footnote: Mervyn, of course, did also referee at the 1954 World Cup in conjunction to appearing in the final,  and here he is pictured on the 16th June 1954 looking on as the French and Yugoslavian captains shake hands. Incidentally, did you know that Mervyn was also the first Welshman to referee an FA Cup Final, the famous game in 1953 when Stanley Matthews helped Blackpool come from behind to beat Bolton 4-3.
Picture Image courtesy of Getty Images
Article: Andrew Evans @therovingsheep