By Paul Gardner
So another friend has gone. I can't say Stanley Lover was a close friend -- we didn't see enough of each other for that. But he was a dear friend, a
respected friend, and I am greatly saddened to hear of his passing.
I don’t remember the first time I met Stanley Lover. But that seems right. Because everything about Stanley was
low key. And that was how our friendship began, quietly, modestly, almost tentatively. But it grew quickly, even though we only met up maybe once a year.
Mostly we met at the Dallas Cup.
We talked soccer of course, and we talked a lot about refereeing. That was Stanley’s special interest.
In his youth in England, Stanley had shown promise as a player -- enough to
get him on to the youth team at Charlton Athletic, then a major first division club. But there was to be no athletic glory. Stanley was hit with a severe bout of tuberculosis -- which was, in the
1930s, a dangerous, often fatal disease.
Recovery was slow. A future without soccer loomed, but that was not to Stanley’s liking. He turned his thoughts to refereeing. As he studied
to become an engineer, he also trained as a referee. He succeeded at both, becoming a Chartered Mechanical Engineer (I think that’s what it was), and embarking on a refereeing career that
included 11 years of experience in the Football League, which, in those pre-Premier League days, was the top level of the English game.
It was eerie to find how close our lives had been.
As Stanley told me how he used to travel to East London for one of his first jobs, I butted in -- “Right next to where my mother and father once lived” -- and so it went. He mentioned his
first apartment in South London -- in Shooter’s Hill Road, bringing on another interruption as I recalled how, in 1953, I was barreling along that very road on my powerful new 650cc motorcycle,
and received a speeding ticket for my efforts (I still have that ticket -- now why on earth did I keep that?). Then there his early ventures into amateur theater with Gilbert & Sullivan operettas
-- I broke in again “But that was my mother’s forte -- she had trained at the Royal College of Music ... ”
And so it went -- much later, Stanley sent me a copy of his
autobiography (“Chronicles of A Timid Lover”) in which he set out the tale of a lucky escape. It was December 1957, Stanley was working in London (so too was I) -- and the city was in the
grips of what must have been one of the last of the thick London pea-souper fogs. Stanley made his way -- slowly groping through the fog-bound streets -- to Charing Cross Station to catch his evening
train home. He got there late, and missed his train. That was where luck shone on him. The train he missed got as far as Lewisham in South London, where it was involved in a deadly accident -- 92
deaths, 150 injured. I called Stanley -- he lived in Paris -- to announce yet another coincidence. My cousin was on that train, and had been severely injured in the crash.
We got off to a
flying start, Stan and I, we seemed to be tuned precisely to each other’s sensitivities. But we were soon having a colossal disagreement over the sending off of Antonio Rattin during the
England-Argentina quarter final of the 1966 World Cup. Stanley took the side of the German referee Rudolf Kreitlein and said that Rattin was to blame for everything. I insisted that Rattin had done
nothing wrong, and that Kreitlein had made an absurd and horrendous error.
That first Lover-Gardner disagreement was never resolved, and now it never will be. There were plenty to follow,
but somehow they were always just disagreements. Never heated arguments -- it never came to that. How could it -- how could one shout at this mild mannered man, who never raised his own voice?
Unthinkable. With Stanley, you were confronted with a man made of smiles. Of course his mouth smiled, modestly, agreeably -- but so too did his eyes, and his eyebrows and his voice -- and his whole
That is not to say that Stanley was a mild man. Because there was authority to his mildness. He needed that as a referee, and understood very clearly how to assert
himself without being a bully. Leadership was natural to him and he served for years as President of the Football League Referees Association and The London Referees Society.
But it was
through that seductive aura of smiles that Stanley taught me so much about referees and refereeing and the rules of the game. Laws, he said -- but he did acknowledge in an article
for FIFA News
that rules was probably a better, a more modern, word. That pleased me. I was less
enchanted with the fact that he’d written a number of refereeing books of the “how-to” genre. I said to him that I’d read such books, and never found them convincing. I got a
lovely smile in reply, and “That’s because you’ve never read one of mine.”
So I did read a couple of his books (both of them, as it happens used the word
“Rules” in their titles) and found what I should have known I would find: Refereeing with a smile. They were fun to read, never boring. You could learn
with this sympathetic
instructor, almost without realizing you were being taught.
There was definitely a didactic streak to Stanley’s personality. Evidently FIFA thought so too. After his retirement he
spent over 20 years as a FIFA instructor, conducting referee training courses all over the globe.
But it was the more intimate one-on-one courses that Stanley gave to me that mattered --
maybe in a corner of a bar (we sought the corners, we didn’t seek company), maybe sitting, or standing, together at a game (at games, Stanley was always telling me to watch the referee --
“Look at that, how he runs backwards, so light, like a feather almost, hardly touching the ground.”
You need to know: Stanley was not only a qualified engineer and a top
referee -- he was a splendid golfer, and he was an artist and a painter. Stanley had all the necessary background that would have made him a stuffy English bore. But he developed -- developed
, but no doubt with a lot of help from his charming French wife Gilberte -- into something utterly different. He became a modern Renaissance man, full of life, with a great love of
Yet, you know, such was my attachment to Stanley, that the soccer barely matters. I remember him as a wonderfully warm and pleasant and sympathetic gentleman, always a delight to
be with, an honor to have as a friend. Keep smiling, Stanley.