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FEATURE: St George of Maracanã

George Reader at The Dell


11:00 9th July 2014

by Dave Juson

Club historian Dave Juson takes a look at the former Saints Chairman who was involved at the last World Cup finals held in Brazil

Amidst the heartbreak of Brazil’s incredible defeat by Germany on Tuesday night, here is a fun World Cup trivia question for you: name the ex-Saint who appeared in a FIFA World Cup Final? 

Answer: George Reader. 

George refereed the “final” of the 1950 World Cup – the last time it was held in Brazil. OK, the question is a bit of a cheat, because there was no actual final that year, the championship was decided by a four-team league and it was a coincidence that the last scheduled match, between the hosts and Uruguay at the Maracanã Stadium on Sunday 16 July, also happened to be the decider.  

Uruguay had defeated Sweden 3-2 and Spain 3-1, while Brazil had beaten the same opponents 7-1 and 6-1, so Brazil, the overwhelming favourites, needed only a draw to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy.  

reader medal and pass in-story
Reader's medal and pass from the final are housed in the trophy cabinet at St Mary's Stadium

George Reader’s association with Southampton began in 1920, when he was transferred from Exeter City for the grand sum of £50. A centre-forward, George made three appearances for Saints during the 1920/21 season before returning to his previous occupation as a school teacher. After a decade in non-League football he took up the whistle – with some success. He became prominent during World War Two, refereeing two ‘War Cup’ finals and, after the hostilities, took charge of a number of internationals in Europe, including a match between Great Britain and the Rest of Europe at Hampden Park in May 1947. 

George’s introduction to Brazil came when the Saints toured there in 1948.  The CBF (Brazilian Football Confederation) were concerned with the standard of refereeing in the country and when Southampton director Rex Stranger suggested bringing a match official of George’s eminence with the Saints’ party, they readily agreed.   

Southampton did not exactly set Brazil alight. They lost five and won two of their eight matches, but George was a conspicuous success. Following Saints’ second match, a 3-1 defeat to Rio de Janeiro club Botafogo, Rex Stranger noted in his correspondence with Southern Daily Echo sports editor George White: ‘Last night when George Reader walked on the ground the applause was terrific … in addition to [refereeing] all our matches, he has been asked to stay behind and referee the local derby. The Fla-Flu (Flamengo – Fluminense). Between ourselves, I have managed to make very good financial arrangements for him and he deserves it. He could make a fortune if he came out here …’ 

The job offered was to train referees as well as take charge of matches. As it happened, George preferred to return to his post as headmaster of Western School (now the premises of St Mark’s CofE Primary School in Shirley Road).               

In 1952 George became a director of Southampton FC and was Club chairman from 1963 until his death in 1978 – a particularly interesting time to be involved with the Saints. 

geroge reader queen elizabeth II peter rodrigues fa cup in-story
Reader (far left) watches on as Peter Rodrigues is handed the FA Cup by Queen Elizabeth II

Returning to the Maracanã on 16 July 1950, Uruguay stunned Brazil – not just the team, the entire nation – by winning 2-1. According to every account, it rates highly among the most traumatic events in Brazil’s history – Tuesday’s result may have trumped it?   

Naturally, scapegoats were sought. Blame was generously apportioned. However, no fingers were pointed in the direction of the Saintly George Reader. 

reader 1950 World Cup final in-story
Uruguay, in black shorts, repel Brazil’s last gasp corner kick as Southampton’s George Reader (bottom right), arms outstretched, calls time.  
[Photo credit: World Cup by Brian Glanville & Jerry Weinstein, The Sportsmans Book Club, 1960.]

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