Leo Horn and the 1974 World Cup – Leo Horn


Just over 40 years ago the Orange Machine lit up the world, astounding it with “total football”. If people are wondering at the bickering, whining and extreme attention paid to football these days, especially in the run-up to a World Cup, they’d be surprised to learn it was not much different 40 years ago. The only difference is that there is so much (social) media coverage now that it appears to transcend everything before it. As it is, in the wake of the 1974 WC, former FIFA referee and general smart aleck Leo Horn was asked to commit his ideas about the tournament to paper. Never shying from the spotlights, Horn obliged with this book.

The subtitle “Yellow and red cards and free kicks and penalty kicks for players and officials” more or less sums up Horn’s angle: loads of criticism aimed at the Dutch FA bigwigs, who in Horn’s opinion were only self-aggrandizing nitwits, the odd exception being Jacques Hogewoning (president of the professional football section of the Dutch FA). All the rest Horn considered to be amateurs, particularly those that had been appointed to direct the Dutch marketing efforts. Carel Akemann’s appointment as the team’s liaison officer did not meet Horn’s approval either. Only one person was suitable to fill this position – which included communicating with FIFA and referees – and that was (wait for it…) Leo Horn! This says something about Horn’s arrogance, but then Horn had never made a secret of thinking he knew it better than other people.

He did, however, appreciate the appointment of Rinus Michels as the Dutch team manager, for Frantisek Fadhronc, who had managed Oranje through the qualifying rounds (they qualified on goal difference – just), had done little good in Horn’s view. As the tournament progressed, Horn started warming to the players, despite their many run-ins with management, press and each other (which, as legend has it, ultimately led to Holland not winning the final).

How about the referees at the 1974 World Cup? Horn found Arie van Gemert, the Dutch referee present in Germany, a disappointment. He would have preferred Charles Corver or Leo van der Kroft representing the Dutch refereeing corps. Most of the other refs picked by Stanley Rous and Ken Aston (for both of whom Horn had had few flattering words to spare over the years) did not pass Horn’s muster either. His main cause of distress was the use of “exotic” referees, who he believed to have too little experience to officiate matches at this level. He did have a point there, and FIFA appeared to have noticed too.

Jack Taylor, the referee assigned to the final between West-Germany and Holland, was one of the good ones in Horn’s eyes.

Horn Wembley 1953 England Hungary

Leo Horn before kick-off to the historic England-Hungary match at Wembley 1953

Value for active referees


As obviously outdated as Horn’s account is, it does make great reading for those who experienced this memorable World Cup edition. You get a behind-the-scenes look from a – very cocksure – man wearing very cocksure-tinted glasses. The book does not have any instructional value, although it does give a nice insight into refereeing politics of the day. Power was held by a few people only, who held the strings and played a strongly political puppet theatre. There’s still a lot of politics going around, but the way in which World Cup refereeing is organised has improved a lot since 1974.


Final say

There’s nothing much for modern-day referees to learn from this book, at least not in a practical sense. It may be of more use to football historians, although it will not contribute much to the pantheon of football literature. It’s nice to read how the football and refereeing world was run 40 years ago, but that’s about all there is to this book.


Title Leo Horn en het WK 1974
Author Leo Horn
Year 1974
Pages 128
Publisher De Gooise Uitgeverij


2.5 / 5     

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