The Mr Liverpool FC football referee is still handing out yellow cards at 82

An 82-year-old soccer referee maintains a strict fitness regime hoping to start his 49th season center on the pitch. Brian Purcell has embraced ‘living legend’ status at Deeside after officiating in more games than he cares to remember.

Every morning he hits the Quay 3G pitch, home of Connah’s Quay Nomads, and on Thursdays he undergoes a grueling training session. “Hopefully I’ll be fit enough to referee again next season,” said Brian. “The day I can’t keep up with the game to make a correct decision is the day I stop refereeing.”

On Tuesday night he oversaw a season-ending U12 game in Mold so he could focus on his other love of football. As chairman of fan club Deeside Liverpool FC, he will be cheering on the Reds as they battle for the treble in the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Paris on Saturday.

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Despite missing just two home games in 55 years – one for a wedding, the other for Ms Doreen’s 80th birthday – he has had no interest in traveling abroad since witnessing the tragedy at Heysel Stadium in Belgium in 1985 witnessed firsthand. Some 39 fans were killed, mostly Juventus supporters, and all English football clubs were banned from European football for four years (five for Liverpool FC).

“I used to travel abroad, but since I was scared of flying since I was a child, I’ve always traveled by road on the official fan bus and by boat,” he said. “But after what happened at Heysel, I’ve decided never to travel abroad again.”



Brian, who turns 83 in August, is already looking forward to next season.  As a token of his dedication to the game, friend Les Mellor gave him a framed photo.  It shows Brian (left) and two other umpires preparing for a Sunday League Cup final in the early 1980s
Brian, who turns 83 in August, is already looking forward to next season. As a token of his dedication to the game, friend Les Mellor gave him a framed photo. It shows Brian (left) and two other umpires preparing for a Sunday League Cup final in the early 1980s

He faced tragedy again after organizing fans’ bus to Hillsborough in 1989 when 97 Liverpool fans died. Among the victims was Ysgol Treffynnon’s senior, John McBrien. To honor his memory, Brian later established and has led an annual five-a-side tournament ever since.

This week, to celebrate his outstanding career, friend Les Mellor presented Brian with a framed photo of three officials preparing for a Sunday League Cup final in the early 1980s. Linesman on this occasion was Brian, having risen through the umpiring ranks from unlikely beginnings.

He was working in a gardening gang at the old Courtaulds rayon factory in Flint when he showed up to watch an interdepartmental match. “The referee didn’t show up,” he recalled. “Because I played a bit back then, they handed me the whistle. In muddy sneakers it was two steps forward, one step back – but I got through it and was later asked to referee a few more games.”

He preferred to play, but while working at the former British Steel works in Shotton, he suffered an accident at work, injuring his knee. “I was in my 30s and I knew that once I recovered I would never be able to play football again,” he said. “That’s why I was looking for referees to stay in the game.”

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He took his Class A Referee’s Badges at Deeside Leisure Centre. The Deeside Sunday Football League was relatively new and North Wales Coastal FA required their referees to be suitably qualified.

He has also led – and coached – several age groups. Former players remember him with affection. Taking to Facebook, one said: “Brilliant man. I used to get a few stick umpires but always came back with a big smile!”

Others opposed her praise. “Great man, great referee and a true gentleman,” said one ex-player. “You cost me a fortune to pay all the fines that grew up on the football field – a few were earned I suppose.”

Another agreed. “There were a few disagreements on the pitch but you just couldn’t argue with him because he was probably right most of the time,” he said. “I’ve never seen him lose his temper.”



Brian was in Hillsborough on the day of the tragedy
Brian was in Hillsborough on the day of the tragedy

Brian’s career highlights included a testimonial match with the cast of Channel 4’s Brookside soap opera. He has had a number of appearances as a fourth official – at a Liverpool FC fundraiser for Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park and again at a youth game between Wales and England at Wrexham. He is proud to have taken the lead in a women’s game between Wales and Ireland before the women’s game started.

As he was among the first Liverpool fans to buy a season ticket (‘it was only £5!’), the Flintshire football community nicknamed him ‘Mr. called Liverpool. Friend Les said: “If you cut him in half it would read Liverpool FC through him.”

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He’s seen all the greats, but Brian has seldom been as proud of his team as he was in the Klopp era. “What you see with him is what you get,” he said. “I was at a pre-season friendly and he chatted to everyone in the crowd – he even signed a shirt for my grandson.”

His grandson Harry is a young footballer and “one to watch out for,” said Brian, reluctant to swear at him by predicting a top football career. But if he follows his grandfather’s example, he will be fine.

Brian’s relentless dedication to the amateur sport has led to calls for greater recognition. There is a growing clamor for him to receive an MBE and fans are being urged to stand up for Delyn MP Rob Roberts.

#One person said: “Supporting the football world and teaching and reefing for over 60 years and still at the age of 82. That definitely deserves an honor.”

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