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Kiwi linesman offside in 1956 football final


Soviet and Yugoslav players in action during the 1956 Olympics gold-medal game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Morrie Swain in Melbourne

One of the features of the 2008 Beijing Games was the involvement for the first time of the New Zealand men's and women's football teams. But while this country's footballers had never competed at the Olympics before, New Zealand did have an earlier, and controversial, connection with football at the Games.

In 1956 two Kiwi referees, Wellington's Morrie Swain and Auckland's Reg Lund, were selected to officiate at the Melbourne Olympics. Lund refereed Australia's first-round encounter with Japan and the replayed USSR–Indonesia quarter-final. Swain took charge of Yugoslavia's 9-1 quarter-final win against the United States, and ran the line in the Yugoslavia–India semi-final.

The Wellingtonian impressed enough to be given a linesman's role in the gold-medal match between the favourites, the USSR, and Yugoslavia on 8 December. The Melbourne Olympics began just weeks after the brutal Soviet invasion of Hungary, and the 102,000-strong crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground was overwhelmingly hostile towards the Soviet side.

The USSR was leading 1-0 late in the match when Yugoslavia appeared to equalise. Swain, though, had his flag raised for offside and the goal didn't count. He later recalled how he was ‘the least popular man in the stadium' as the Soviets went on to claim the gold medal.

Swain was no stranger to the risks of refereeing. In 1954 he was involved in an infamous incident at Wellington's Miramar Park during a Chatham Cup match between the Apollon and Zealandia clubs. He was chased off the field by one of the teams and had to lock himself in a dressing room until he could escape from the ground. 

Image: FIFA website

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Kiwi linesman offside in 1956 football final, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated