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Ellis, Arthur Edwardfree

  • Jeffrey Hill

Ellis, Arthur Edward (1914–1999), football referee, was born on 8 July 1914 at 6 New Street, Pellon, Halifax, the elder of two sons of William Ellis (1888–1965), picture frame maker, and his wife, Zylpha Binns (1888–1976). He received his only formal education at Christ Church School, Pellon, from the age of six until he left in 1928 to work in a local textile mill. His passion was football and this led, with his father's encouragement, to refereeing. At the age of sixteen he officiated at his first match. He made a rapid rise in junior and amateur football and was placed on the Football League list of referees and linesmen at the age of twenty-two. He remained on it until, as league rules required, he retired at the age of forty-seven in 1961.

On 7 August 1937 Ellis married Kathleen Robertshaw (1914–1986) of Newstead, Halifax, and they continued to live in the area throughout their married life. They had two sons. During the war Ellis joined the RAF as a physical training instructor, spending most of his time in Yorkshire and continuing to referee in regional football. On returning to civilian life he resumed work as a warehouseman in the textile industry until, in 1952, he was appointed a representative of a local brewery company, Thomas Ramsden, subsequently part of Allied Breweries.

From 1946, when he was chosen as linesman for an international fixture, Ellis rose within a few years to the highest level of refereeing. His first major domestic match was the Football Association (FA) cup semi-final of 1948, and in 1950 he was appointed by the Fédération Internationale de Football Associations (FIFA) as a referee for the world cup finals in Brazil, the first of three such competitions in which he officiated. He was awarded the FA cup final in 1952, but the match for which Ellis was most remembered was that between Hungary and Brazil played at Bern, Switzerland, in the world cup finals of 1954. What should have been an outstanding match between two excellent teams quickly degenerated into an ill-tempered contest described by the British press as 'the battle of Berne'. 'Never in my life', observed the Times correspondent, 'have I seen such cruel tackling' (The Times, 28 June 1954). In attempting to control players determined to do violence to each other Ellis was forced to dismiss three from the field, a decision that drew criticism from some sections of the foreign press. The fact that the match was completed and that Ellis continued to be offered FIFA matches for the remainder of the decade nevertheless testifies to the confidence that the football authorities had in him, reflected later in FIFA's awarding him its gold badge and certificate in 1967. Indeed, together with a group of his contemporaries which included George Reader, Ken Aston, and Mervyn Griffiths, he brought to refereeing a skill which has rarely been surpassed and made an important contribution to the development of the modern game. The respect in which Ellis was held by both players and spectators resulted from his combining good humour and unequivocal authority. Players knew that it was pointless to argue with Ellis, yet his relations with them were jovial. He knew how to defuse confrontations, and to the delight of spectators he took every opportunity within reason to keep the game flowing.

Ellis's renown, enhanced by two books of reminiscences (Refereeing Round the World, 1954, and The Final Whistle, 1962) ensured that he remained in the public eye after his refereeing days. He joined the pools panel, a body formed by the football pools promoters in 1963 to predict the results of matches postponed through bad weather, and remained a member until 1995. An invitation from the BBC in 1966 to join its commentary team in the world cup finals led to Ellis taking the role of referee in the BBC's innovative and popular competition It's a Knockout, launched in that year. He remained with the programme until it was wound up in 1982, when he also retired from brewery work.

In retirement Arthur Ellis lived in Brighouse, playing golf and bowls and maintaining a close interest in football. His wife, Kathleen, died in 1986, and in his last years he enjoyed the companionship of Vera Culpan. Having enjoyed excellent health throughout his life, he died of prostate cancer at Halifax General Hospital on 23 May 1999, aged eighty-four.


  • private information (2004) [Ian Ellis]
  • A. Ellis, Refereeing round the world (1954)
  • A. Ellis, The final whistle (1962)
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.
  • The Guardian (5 June 1999)
  • Halifax Courier (24 May 1999)
  • Halifax Evening Courier (24 May 1999)
  • The Independent (8 June 1999)
  • The Times (28 June 1954)
  • The Times (2 June 1999)
  • G. Green, Soccer in the fifties (1974)
  • A. H. Fabian and G. Green, eds., Association football, 4 (1960)


  • priv. coll., private papers


  • photograph, 1951, Hult. Arch.
  • group portraits, photographs, 1966, Hult. Arch.
  • photograph, repro. in The Guardian
  • photograph, repro. in The Independent
  • photograph, repro. in The Times (2 June 1999)
  • photographs, repro. in Ellis, Refereeing round the world
  • photographs, repro. in Ellis, Final whistle, facing p. 85