Resistance Fighter & Referee: The Life & Times Of Leo Horn – Part 2

BTLM guest contributor David AJ Reynolds returns with the concluding part of his long-form article about the remarkable life and times of the Dutch resistance fighter and referee Leo Horn. We pick up Leo’s story following the conclusion of WW2. Part One can be read here

By the time the country was fully liberated on May the 5th, 1945, over 75 percent of the Netherlands’ pre-war Jewish population had perished. At Wilhelmina Vooruit, Leo’s old football club, forty-nine of the club’s seventy-three members did not survive the Final Solution. Of the more than one hundred thousand Jews who had been sent eastwards from the Netherlands by the Nazi occupation regime, 5200 eventually returned, including 2000 who were at Bergen-Belsen and 1150 from Auschwitz. Happily for Leo, one of those few was his sister Sophie, who was reunited with the children Leo had protected, and married a fellow Auschwitz survivor, Isidore (Dorus) Wolf.

Initially, Leo served with the Binnenlandse Strijdkrachten (Interior Armed Forces), which had been established in September 1944 from the three largest resistance organisations to keep order in the transition from occupation. He also characteristically hunted down his property that had been stolen, as most possessions of Jewish people had been, during the war.
Most of all, like many, he wanted to return to life. In his 1962 autobiography, the chapter on his resistance exploits is written by someone else, so reluctant was he to dwell on it. Having operated a textile business under the hardest circumstances during the occupation’s early days, he once more began his own textile company, turning it into a successful and expanding firm. After being separated from Ina for most of the war, the couple divorced soon after, but Leo remarried Antoinette Ott in 1949. And, having risen through the refereeing ranks as a young man, he returned with a whistle to the football fields of Holland.

Considering all he had experienced and done during the occupation of his city and country, before even turning thirty, it is no wonder that Leo was a no-nonsense referee who became known and admired for his natural authority on the pitch. As Horn freely admitted, he was also a showman, who enjoyed and cultivated the limelight that his success in business and refereeing brought him. In the fifties and sixties, he was rarely out of the Dutch news, while also authoring his own long-running column. A serious showman seems like a contradiction, especially in a referee.

In one of his few comments about the resistance, he further complicates the picture by self-effacingly explaining his war-time bravery as bravura—as well as a desire not to let down his friends—rather than courage. But bravura or not, he risked his life daily and led others in doing so. In the end, his authority on the pitch was effective because it was earned and genuine. And therefore, unclouded by the shallow pretentions of lesser referees, he could enjoy it.

Fisticuffs at Elland Road

While most football people could appreciate this authority and bravura, one who did not, twenty years after the war and in Leo’s last year of refereeing, was Don Revie. His Leeds United team were playing Valencia at home in the first leg of the 1965/66 Fairs Cup third round. After taking an early lead, the Spanish visitors sat deep and muscularly protected their advantage. This resistance became yet more resolute after Lorimer equalised in the second half and Leeds pushed for a winner. With fifteen minutes to go, Jack Charlton came up for a corner and, by his account, had both a kick and punch directed at him. “Right there and then my anger boiled over,” Charlton later recalled. “I chased around that penalty area, intent upon only one thing – getting my own back. I had completely lost control of myself . . . and neither the Spaniards nor the restraining hands of my team mates could prevent my pursuit for vengeance.”

Leo Horn grabs Jack Charlton during the onfield brawl against Valencia.

“It was as incredible as it was furious,” The Times reported the next day, “for 60 awful seconds last night at Elland Road fists and feet flew with abandon . . . a mass of players heaved and struggled around the Spanish goal.” With policeman coming onto the pitch to pry the brawling players apart, Leo Horn pulled both teams into the dressing rooms. During the suspension, he sent off both Charlton and the Valencia left-back, Francisco Vidagany, before, after the game restarted, dismissing a second Valencia player, the Argentinian José Maria Sanchez-Lage.

Horn had restored order, sending off players for the first time in a decade, but, after the game, Leeds accused him of losing control, blaming a failure to sooner sanction the Valencia players for the eventual eruption of violence. Perhaps Horn’s authority did indeed fail to have its normal effect that night, but it is hard not to concur with his subsequent, still pertinent, conclusion: “It is no use clubs expecting referees to impose discipline. The referee is there to control a match. Players must be taught to control themselves.”

The outburst at Leeds, in Horn’s interpretation, was part of a trend that grew from the increasing financial rewards at stake. “Money was the cause of the trouble; you could see it in the nervousness and the excitement of the players. There was something in the air,” Horn observed, “…something unpleasant”. This diagnosis was particularly linked to his statement that the Leeds players were on a special win bonus; a charge that Revie vehemently denied. “My players were on no special bonus. Mr. Horn is guessing, or has been misinformed. I resent these allegations,” the Leeds boss told reporters, before adding, “The referee was a complete fool and an attention seeker. He had no control of the game at Elland Road.” While Horn may have admitted to the charge of being, at times, an attention-seeker, he was most certainly no fool. And it was foolish for Revie to take such umbrage at the suggestion of a special win bonus, since, in general, win bonuses were a tactic he favoured, introducing them at Leeds in the summer before his first fall season in charge (1961/62), as well as inaugurating them for England players when he took over the national team.

Either way, despite the conspicuous annoyance emanating from Yorkshire, the event did Leeds little harm. Charlton was not one of those lining up to critique Horn, who defended the defender both at his disciplinary hearing, which resulted in a ₤50 fine for Jack, and in the press: “I have always regarded Charlton as a fine man. He was the cleanest player on the field, until he lost all control.” Leeds won the second leg and the tie, thanks to a Mike O’Grady goal in Spain, and advanced to the semi-finals, before losing to Real Zaragoza in a May play-off that resolved a 2-2 aggregate in the initial two legs. But for Horn, the consequences were lasting. He had been expected to complete his career by officiating at the 1966 World Cup. But despite his stature, Horn was passed over for selection. Leo was convinced that now FIFA President Rous had used the Elland Road furore as an excuse, due to his annoyance at Horn’s insistence, during the 1962 World Cup in Chile, to forgo a shared hotel room and pay for his own single room. Either way, the Fairs Cup fisticuffs prevented a fitting finale to one of the great refereeing careers.

From Hilversum to Hampden

But this was all a long way off when Leo resumed refereeing after the war. His biggest football landmark so far came in 1948, when he travelled to Hilversum to officiate his first KNVB eerste klasse (first class) game, between HVV t’Gooi (now SC t’Gooi) and DOS. The visitors from Utrecht would ten years later become the second champions of the new Eredivisie, which united the regional sections of eerste klasse football into one top division. This period saw incredible flux and development, as the best Dutch teams became professional for the first time and others merged in the scramble to survive and compete. Despite their 1958 championship, even DOS would eventually combine with two other Utrecht clubs to form FC Utrecht. It was a prestigious era for Leo to be making a name for himself in the game.

Leo Horn before the kick-off, England v Hungary, November 25, 1953

After joining the FIFA list in 1951 and presiding at the Wembley epic two years later, Horn was soon in high demand for international and European fixtures across the continent, with both England and Hungary featuring frequently in his impressive résumé. When he refereed a Hungary-France international on October 6, 1957, Leo even stayed in Budapest at the request of the MLSZ (Hungarian FA) to preside over a domestic league match at the Népstadion between Ferencváros and Vasas (won 3-2 by Fradi)—a highly unusual occurrence. At the 1962 World Cup in Chile, England’s group stage match with Hungary was one of three tournament games refereed by Horn, the others being a 2-1 West German victory against Switzerland and the hosts’ quarter-final triumph over Russia. Hungary predictably beat England 2-1, with goals by Tichy Lajos and Albert Flórián sandwiching a Ron Flowers penalty. Horn closed the tournament as one of the linesman for the final in which, despite the great Masopust’s opening goal, Czechoslovakia lost their second World Cup Final, 3-1 to Brazil.

Perhaps Horn’s most remarkable connection with English football, outside of 1953, was his appointment to referee three consecutive England-Scotland matches in the British Championship between 1962 and 1964. This trio was remarkable in other ways too, as it comprised Scotland’s only hat-trick of wins over England outside the nineteenth century. They came on the heels of England’s 9-3 win at Wembley in 1961 and, of course, on the verge of England’s World Cup success, but Scotland could boast a formidable eleven featuring the likes of Denis Law, Ian St. John, and John White. Horn did play a significant role in the first two games, correctly awarding an ultimately decisive penalty to Scotland in each. In the third, at Hampden Park, a header from a fully-thatched Alan Gilzean sufficed. But Horn’s stature, and the respect he continued to garner in the game, were best exemplified by becoming the first (and to date the fourth) to referee two European Cup Finals, and the only one to combine that with a pair of the South American equivalent, the Copa Libertadores Final.

Bernabeu to Buenos Aires

The months of the 1956/57 football season were turbulent. Some will always believe that, were it not for the Soviet invasion of Hungary in the autumn of 1956, the great Honvéd side of Puskas would have become the continent’s second champions. But kept abroad and on the road for weeks on end while turmoil continued at home, the Hungarian champions had to play the home leg of their first round tie in Brussels, drawing 3-3 with Athletic Bilbao and exiting 6-5 on aggregate. The Basque eleven then lost to the Busby Babes in the last eight, setting up the first of many Real Madrid-Manchester United ties in the semi-finals.

Horn was given the first leg in the Spanish capital, experiencing the thrill of nearly 130,000 fans under the lights for the first time. Real were too much for United that night. In addition to a 3-1 victory, there was foreshadowing of the later Leeds complaints at Horn’s alleged leniency with an aggressive Spanish team. Reporting “the most squalid foul one remembers to have seen in either representative or cup football,” by Di Stéfano on Jackie Blanchflower (brother of Danny), the Manchester Guardian added that “the pretence of a reproof, conveyed to Di Stéfano at the referee’s instance by his captain almost made one vomit at its cynicism”. Back at Old Trafford, another goal from Tommy Taylor—one of six players in that United team who would perish just a few months later on the way home from another European match—could not prevent a 5-3 aggregate win for Real, who also hosted the final with Fiorentina at the end of May.

Back at the Bernabeu for the dénouement, Horn presided over a 2-0 Real Madrid victory, featuring late goals from Madrid legends Di Stéfano and Gento. It is the lot, however, of top referees to have their greatest moments intermingled with the murmurings of controversy, and the award of a penalty, which was converted to open the scoring, remains a sore spot in Tuscany. In a recent interview, Giuseppe Virgili, who played in midfield for the Viola that day, insisted that the foul in question was committed outside the area and that it was “a totally invented penalty”. Surviving footage does not permit such certainty, suggesting that if the foul which sent a galloping Enrique Mateos tumbling inside the area was initiated outside of it, the margin was a matter of inches.

But it was at Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium, in the vicinity of his wartime weapons heist seventeen years earlier, that Horn wielded the whistle for the 1962 classic. Reigning champions Benfica, managed by the mercurial and brilliant Hungarian, Béla Guttmann, had barely survived Spurs in the semi-finals, and faced the five-time champions from Madrid. The previous May, Benfica had beaten Barcelona despite goals from Honvéd émigrés, Bozsik and Czibor, and in Amsterdam the third part of that Hungarian triumvirate, Ferenc Puskas, scored an astonishing first-half hat-trick. Two years earlier in Glasgow, Puskas had scored four in a one-sided European Cup Final, but this time, as with his compatriots, Puskas’ efforts could not overcome the Lisboans and a second-half surge. It was another penalty, awarded with Horn’s usual flourish and buried by Eusebio, which put Benfica ahead for good at 4-3, before the Black Panther added a fifth.

Extraordinarily, when Horn refereed the Copa Libertadores Final a few months later in Buenos Aires, the winning manager in Amsterdam occupied one of the dugouts. When, after winning his second consecutive European Cup with Benfica, Guttmann’s request for a pay increase was rejected, the Hungarian maestro departed, legendarily issuing one of the most effective curses in sporting history on the way out. Having previously managed successfully in Sao Paulo, Guttmann returned to South America to take the helm at the reigning Copa Libertadores champions, Peñarol of Uruguay, who had beaten his Benfica side for the Intercontinental Cup in 1961.

Horn before the 1962 Copa Libertadores Final

Horn had good cause for trepidation heading into this match between Peñarol and the Brazilians of Santos, which was in fact a play-off made necessary when the two-legged final had earlier ended in an acrimonious 4-4 stalemate. The Chilean referee of those fixtures—as David Bolchover discusses in his forthcoming Guttmann biography, The Greatest Comeback—had been struck in the head with a missile from the Brazilian crowd when Peñarol made it 3-2 in the second-leg to level the tie. When the referee came round, he was persuaded to resume the tie after nearly an hour’s suspension. But a third Santos goal after that incident, which nominally secured the victory for Santos, and which was accompanied by a further missile hitting a linesman, was discounted when CONMEBOL voided the remainder of the match played after the outrage against the referee.

Along with his two Argentinian linesmen, Leo could at least be grateful that the game was played on neutral territory, although it is hard to imagine him taking a missile on the chin. But, in the end, Santos won the play-off without further incident, and with the help of Pele, missing from the first two games through injury, who scored two blistering goals. Horn was back in South America to referee the first leg of the 1964 final between eventual Argentine winners, Independiente, and Nacional from Uruguay. With these finals under his belt, the European Championship decider (which had occurred only twice before Horn retired) would be the only one of football’s great finals not officiated by the Dutchman.

In Retrospect

As he refereed for the last time—at fifty in the summer of 1966—Leo could look back on more than 1600 matches, including 133 internationals and club matches outside of the Netherlands. In the years to come he remained a businessman and stayed in the public eye through his newspaper columns and ebullient willingness to talk. His ongoing participation in football included hosting visiting referees for Ajax, which involved him in some memorable European football moments, including the decision of Antonio Sbardella to go ahead with the now legendary December 1966 mistwedstrid (Mist-match) in which Ajax thrashed Shankly’s Liverpool 5-1 amid the Amsterdam haze.

Horn holding a gift presented to him at his last match in May 1966

Refereeing was a hobby which made Horn famous in his native Netherlands and beyond. But it was his character, which was hewn in hard times far beyond football fields, which enabled him to become a referee worthy of that repute. “You tolerate no opposition,” an indignant Horn wrote to Rous after the 1966 World Cup omission, “but Leo Horn tolerates no injustice.” Unlike most, Horn had given more than lip service to that sentiment. But perhaps the headline in the Dutch daily, De Volkskrant, after Leo passed away in September 1995, put it even better: “Football referee Leo Horn tolerated no injustice or colourlessness.” This was the serious showman. A man, as De Volkskrant also pointed out, who disproved the adage that the best referees are the ones you do not notice.

David Reynolds is an editor and writer from Chesham in England, specialising in current affairs and history. Having lived and taught in Hungary and the Czech Republic, David is especially intrigued by the history of those nations.

His football fascination focuses in particular on the English, Dutch, and Central European game, as well as his love for Tottenham Hotspur, Ajax, and Heracles Almelo (the latter two through his Dutch family). He currently lives in Illinois (U.S.) and writes frequently for The Technoskeptic

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