Arthur Ellis and Lincoln City

Famous in later life for his dipstick, he was once described as “the world’s greatest referee” and even started a fashion trend amongst his fellow officials but what small part did Arthur Ellis, who died twenty-one years ago today, play in the history of Lincoln City? Gary Parle explains all

Arthur Ellis was born on July 8th 1914 in Halifax and, after being told by the committee running the Warley based team he joined that he was no good, took up refereeing in 1931 working his way up through local Leagues until in 1937/38 he was placed on the referees’ list for the Yorkshire League and on the lineman’s list for the Football League. His first Football League appointment was York v Darlington that September and it was a role he continued in until the outbreak of the war.

Until his call up to the RAF, where he became a physical training instructor, in 1941 he became a regular referee for Halifax Town’s war League games and throughout his service, he officiated at numerous games (as well as Rugby Union games) and was involved in the setting up of a special RAF training school for referees such was the demand for them also assisting in a similar scheme for the Army.

After the war, he made his Football League debut in charge of Southport v Hull in September 1946 followed a week later by Manchester United against Middlesbrough!   Of course, these day’s there is the “elite” group of referees who once they reach that group are rarely seen officiating at Lincoln games. When they do such as Mike Dean against Grimsby in 2019 (the first League 2 game he had officiated in since 2012) it does generate interest but in days gone by referees appeared at all levels of the Football League. Another example of how times have changed is that Howard Webb was in charge of several Lincoln Football League games pre 2004 but none after then in a career which included the 2010 World Cup Final yet Jack Taylor awarded the first-ever penalty in a World Cup Final in 1974 and little over a year later he was in charge of Lincoln v Rochdale in Division 4 but back then the referees were assigned games in all Divisions, a point approved of by Ellis who said when asked why “the Third Division is part of the Football League and is just as important as any other division, so there is no case for grading referees into First, Second or Third Division referees once they are on the full Football League list. It is just a job of work, a job to be done conscientiously and well.”

His third game was a Monday evening fixture at Sheffield Wednesday and he took his wife along to see the game and afterwards he asked if she had enjoyed it to which the reply was “not so bad but I couldn’t see you in the gloom. I’ll have to do something to make you stand out and look smarter” so she came up with the idea of lengthening the sleeves of a white cricket shirt so it could be worn underneath the refereeing shirt and then the cuffs turned back up over the dark shirt. It was instantly picked up by the press with one scribe writing “Mr.Ellis..set a new sartorial fashion. At the bottom of the cuffs of his dyed R.A.F. battledress he wore white cuffs” and very soon most of his fellow officials were sporting white cuffs.

He progressed to be in charge of an FA Cup Semi Final in 1948, the Amateur Cup Final in 1951 and became the youngest, at the time, to referee the FA Cup Final in 1952 whilst 1948 also saw him take charge of his first International, France v Italy, before being involved in three World Cups.

In 1950 he took charge of two games and was a linesman in the deciding game between Brazil and Uruguay whilst in 1954 where he was in charge of one of football’s most notorious games when he sent three players off in the game between Brazil and Hungary and took charge of the 3rd place play off and in 1958 he ran the line in the 3rd place play off. In the very first European Cup competition in 1955/56 he referred several games involving Hibernian and then the Final between Rhiems and Real Madrid. Bizarrely up until the Final when the FA stepped in to appoint linesmen, he was allowed to choose his own partners and his younger brother Frank ran the line for him! In 1952 he was a referee at the Olympics, in charge of the Hungary v Yugoslavia Final whilst in 1960 he referred the first European Nations Final in Paris when the Soviet Union beat Yugoslavia.

Compulsory retirement followed at the age of 47 and at his final game at Goodison Park in May 1961 he was applauded onto the pitch at the start by the crowd and both Everton and Arsenal players lined up to applaud him off at the end with one reporter noting “his control was as perfect as ever and we’ll be lucky to see as good an official again”. He remained involved in football as a member and then chairman of the Pools Panel set up in the winter of 1963 to decide on results in postponed games to enable the Football Pools companies to still operate and between 1969 and 1982 he took on the role most people will perhaps best remember him for as the referee on the TV show It’s A Knockout alongside Stuart Hall and Eddie Waring where as well as a whistle he was famed for his dipstick!

Alongside all of the above it shouldn’t be forgotten that unlike today’s top officials Ellis had to work for a living, until 1952 in a textile works and from then until retirement in 1982 as a brewery representative for Thomas Ramsden. Married in 1937 to Kathleen (who died in 1986) they had two sons and having lived in Halifax all his life he later moved to nearby Brighouse where he died in 1999.

What though was Arthur Ellis’s contribution to the history of Lincoln City?

There is no easy to search database of referees prior to 2000 so identifying which City games Arthur Ellis officiated at has meant trawling through the British Newspaper Archives and hoping the referee was recorded in match reports but on numerous occasions he wasn’t. After narrowing the list down it became a case of looking through the programmes for the remaining games and my grateful thanks go to Phil Skayman and Gary Parkin who used their collections to check those missing games (The caveat that has to be added with taking the referee from the programme only though is that there will be very odd occasions when the official changed so 100% accuracy cannot be verified) and in the end the referee for all but seven City away Football League games played between 1946 and 1962 has been identified.

Arthur Ellis’ first known City Football League match came at Tranmere in October 1947 and he is listed as the official for nine away games in total with his final appointment coming at Sunderland in 1960 when he had to receive treatment from City trainer Bill McGlen after a City player accidently elbowed him as he ran past.

His first Football League appointment at Sincil Bank was in March 1948, also against Tranmere and he appeared here on a further ten occasions with the last one coming in November 1960 against Scunthorpe.

He was involved in a humorous incident prior to kick off of the match against Wrexham on Christmas Eve 1949 when the teams were led onto the pitch by a supporter dressed as Father Christmas who, before kick-off, insisted both captains and the match officials dipped into his sack and took out a present much to the crowd’s delight. What the present was wasn’t recorded but Ellis, after consulting his linesman, upset the visitors by allowing John Robinson’s goal to stand after 36 minutes despite the Wrexham defenders (and those in the press box agreeing) claims that he had used his arm to put the ball in the net. Robinson scored a second after the break but later broke his leg and never played again. By coincidence Ellis was also in charge of the match in February 1953 when former Imp Derek Dooley, then playing for Sheffield Wednesday, broke his leg and later had to have it amputated due to gangrene.

He was in charge when we beat Workington 7-0 on their first ever visit to Sincil Bank in the Football League thus gaining revenge for them knocking us out of the FA Cup in 1947 whilst they were still a non-League side but that became the last time we won at Sincil Bank with him in charge as his final six games all saw home defeats!

His contribution to City’s history occurred in September 1957 when City met Grimsby with 17342 crammed into Sincil Bank.

City had started the season reasonably well and after beating Ipswich earlier in the month had sat 5th in the Division 2 table but had lost the last two games to slip back to 11th whilst the Mariners had also started well and arrived at Sincil Bank in 5th place. The Ipswich game had seen George Hannah make his Imps debut and his class quickly became apparent with one report saying “no greater compliment could be paid than to sat that not since Lincoln signed Douglas Wright from Newcastle in 1948 has any new player brought such an improvement to the Lincoln team” and it appeared to be Grimsby’s intention to nullify his threat by any means possible as within ten minutes a tackle by Ron Rafferty injured Hannah so badly that he was a passenger on the wing for the remainder of the game and went on to be absent for the next five weeks.

It was Rafferty who opened the scoring with future Imp Jimmy Fell adding a second before half time and he made it 3-0 within two minutes of the restart.   After 51 minutes Joe Buick clashed with Johnny Scott and, having both been cautioned in the first half, both were sent off. Alan Withers pulled a goal back for City but Tony Reeson added a fourth for Grimsby as they eased home 4-1.

City’s season imploded from then on although ended spectacularly when the last six games were won to avoid relegation whilst Grimsby also struggled eventually finishing 13th.

The sending off of Buick was Ellis’s small part in Imps history as he was the first City player to be sent off post war ending a near twenty year period in the Football League ( two were dismissed in war time games) without a sending off since Jack Hartshorne was dismissed at home to Chester in March 1938.

Finally, look closely at the photo of Ellis in action and the background. The photo is in his book and whilst no mention is made of where it was taken it looks very familiar!

Sources: Arthur Ellis’s book “Refereeing Round The World” published in 1954, various newspapers via mainly the Lincolnshire Echo and The Nottingham Football Post, match programmes 1946-1962 from my, Phil Skayman and Gary Parkin’s collections,