With his demonstrative style, talkative manner and substantial sideburns, Pat Partridge was a highly recognisable figure in English and world football from 1966 to '81, during which time the Teesside referee became involved in a number of high-profile incidents which resonate to this day. Drama was seldom far away when Partridge, who has died aged 81, was in charge. Even in his formative years as a match official, in the Northern League in 1962, he abandoned a game at Whitley Bay when a ferocious storm – which claimed nine lives in a lifeboat disaster at nearby Seaham – threatened to blow players off their feet and uproot stands. In his first top-flight fixture as a referee, at Manchester City in 1967, he awarded three penalties and was criticised for failing to book Gordon Banks after the Leicester goalkeeper kicked the ball off the spot while Johnny Crossan prepared to take aim. Patridge's next appointment in Manchester, for United against Stoke City, saw him embroiled in an episode which led to a change in the Laws of the Game. An altercation between United's Pat Crerand and Peter Dobing seemed to have been defused when Partridge – deploying the man-management skills for which he became renowned – pulled Crerand close so that the Scot's head looked over his shoulder. Out of Partridge's sight, but picked up by the television cameras, Crerand spat at Stoke's Tony Allen. Amid the ensuing furore, the International Board made spitting a dismissable offence, on a par with violent conduct.
Today the top 15 Premier League referees are full-time, £70,000-a-year employees. Partridge, who was an apprentice electrician on leaving school and began refereeing in 1953 after injury curtailed his playing ambitions, was a sales rep until 1973. He and his wife then moved into and managed her father's dairy farm, which he renamed "Law One" (the first part of the Laws of the Game is titled "Field of Play").
Partridge was among the first referees whose decisions were subjected to the now-routine scrutiny by TV and criticism from pundits. "With a surname like mine," he quipped, "I'm there to be shot at." Far from the Crerand controversy hindering his progress, his tendency to let a game flow gained widespread approval. By 1971 he was promoted to Fifa's international list; four years later he took charge of the FA Cup final between Fulham and West Ham; in 1976 he was appointed to the World Club Championship between Cruzeiro and Bayern Munich in Brazil; and 12 months later he refereed Hamburg versus Anderlecht in the European Cup-Winners' Cup final. The replay of the 1978 Football League Cup final, between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, led him into a fresh rumpus at Old Trafford. With the score 0-0, Forest's John O'Hare was felled by Phil Thompson when through on goal. The challenge was outside the 18-yard area, but Partridge gave the penalty from which John Robertson secured the first major trophy of Brian Clough's reign. Afterwards, Thompson termed the tackle a "professional foul", giving a new, now universal, euphemism to the football lexicon.
In the same year, Partridge was England's sole representative at the World Cup in Argentina. He ran the line in two matches and refereed Peru against Poland, during which he cautioned the South Americans' goalkeeper, Ramon "El Loco" Quiroga, after he twice dashed towards the halfway line to commit fouls. Quiroga bowed in a theatrical apology on being booked.Within months Partridge led off the teams during an Anglo-Scottish Cup tie between Burnley and Celtic after violence on the terraces. Order was restored after he persuaded Celtic manager Billy McNeill to appeal for calm. All of which provided material for Partridge's autobiography, Oh, Ref!, published in 1979 in which he admitted "all referees are egotistical" and said "I hate Saturdays off – I'd rather take a village game than stay at home". The following year he took one match in the European Championship finals, but 1980-81 proved to be his last season, with Austria-Bulgaria his swansong.
Refereeing was in his blood: he oversaw water polo and basketball fixtures before concentrating on football, had the personalised number-plate REF 1, and was "whistling" in the Redcar Sunday League the day after the Crerand-Allen fracas. After retiring he was chairman of the Referees' Association and president of the Association of Football League Referees and Linesmen.
At 70, after he became a magistrate and chairman of the board of prison visitors in Stockton-on-Tees, Partridge stepped out of the stand to take a linesman's flag after an official was injured at Bishop Auckland. The incident was an echo of 1972, when he was refereeing Arsenal against Liverpool and Jimmy Hill replaced an incapacitated linesman.
His death came six months after he was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to football.
Source: The Independent