When Norwich City appointed a referee... as their next manager!

PUBLISHED: 17:12 23 August 2019 | UPDATED: 17:13 23 August 2019

Jimmy Jewell commentating at the 1948 FA Cup final

Jimmy Jewell commentating at the 1948 FA Cup final


Radio Norfolk's Paul Hayes tells the bizarre story 80 years ago of Norwich City choosing a referee as their next manager

Three months before Jimmy Jewell was appointed, HRH King George VI me the Norwich City team at Carrow Road ahead of the Division Two games against Millwall, which Norwich lost 2-0Three months before Jimmy Jewell was appointed, HRH King George VI me the Norwich City team at Carrow Road ahead of the Division Two games against Millwall, which Norwich lost 2-0

Picture the scene.

Norwich City are about to reveal the identity of their new manager. The media are gathered, speculation is rife, and into the press conference walks… referee Mike Dean.

Sounds fanciful? Perhaps. But 80 years ago the Canaries appointed one of the best-known referees of his day, Arthur James "Jimmy" Jewell, as their new boss. The previous year he'd taken charge of the FA Cup final, awarding what turned out to be a winning penalty to Preston in the very last minute of extra time, and he'd handled the special FA 75th anniversary match between England and the Rest of Europe.

Now here he was, in charge at Carrow Road.

It's fair to say that the equivalent appointment today would lead to unprecedented levels of apoplexy on the Canary Call phone-ins and Pink 'Un message boards. But, while there was certainly a degree of surprise when the club announced Jewell's appointment in January 1939, there wasn't anything like the collective blowing of a gasket which would greet such news now.

Norwich were in a sticky situation at the time of Jewell's appointment, seeing the prospect of relegation from the Second Division looming large and without a home win all season. Jewell, however, was used to pressure - not simply from occasions such as the FA Cup final, but also during his wartime career flying planes from some of the very early aircraft carriers.

Jewell was a Londoner and a Victorian by birth, having been born in West Hampstead in 1898. He was a football fanatic from an early age, later writing in an article for Guide and Ideas magazine that: "Soccer was the consuming interest of my life. I had played football ever since I could walk, more or less."

In his teens he began work as an insurance clerk, but after turning eighteen during the First World War he joined the Royal Navy. He became a pilot with the Royal Naval Air Service, and then with the RAF when it was formed in 1918. After the war he played football for his works team, the Motor Union Insurance Company - which led to a turning point in his life, as he later explained in Guide and Ideas:

"I became a referee because I was angry. When in 1923 I was dropped from the first eleven of the Motor Union Club, my pride drove me to take up refereeing. It has provided me with amazing opportunities to meet the cream of the soccer world."

By the early 1930s Jewell was on the league list, and he quickly became one of the highest-profile referees of the decade. He was in demand for international matches abroad, and in 1936 was selected as one of the two British referees for the football tournament at the Berlin Olympics.

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Jewell was running the line when Germany took on Norway in front of a highly partisan crowd of 45,000 people - including Adolf Hitler. Jewell's fellow British referee at the Games, Dr Arthur Willoughby Barton, kept a diary of what he and Jimmy saw and did on their trip, which is now held by the National Football Museum. So we know that they marched in the opening ceremony, and were present as spectators to see Jesse Owens win the 100 metres.

Unlike most referees at the time, football was Jewell's full-time career: his day job since 1934 had been as secretary of two local football leagues in London. That is until January 1939, when Norwich came calling.

The EDP reported at the time that there had been "whispers" Jewell was interested in management, and these were heard by his old schoolfriend JF Wright - who just happened to be the Norwich City chairman. Although Jewell did oversee an improvement in form and the team's first away wins of the season, in the end it was too late and he couldn't keep them up.

At the start of the following season he was in charge for the Canaries' first ever Football League clash with Ipswich Town, a 1-1 draw at Portman Road. Or rather, he wasn't - for this was to become The Derby That Never Was, expunged from the record books when the season was abandoned after war was declared the very next day.

Jewell quickly left Norwich to re-join the RAF, where he became a Squadron Leader and served in Balloon Command. His football career continued as the man in charge of the RAF's teams, which were of international standard with players such as Stanley Matthews and Norfolk's own Alf Kirchen.

The war also gave rise to one of the most intriguing mysteries about Jewell - whether or not he may have managed the England team in at least one of their wartime games. In a 1949 letter, Jewell refers to having been "in charge of an England team" at Wembley. However, as the teams were only together for a day or so, were chosen by FA committee and had no substitutes, the manager doesn't seem to have been considered too important. It's rarely mentioned in newspapers of the time and not recorded in the FA minutes, so in which game - if any - Jewell did take charge of the Three Lions is lost to history.

He certainly managed some of the FA's Combined Services XIs, which were often England teams in all but name, and in 1946 was interviewed for the Dutch manager's job. The following year, however, he made another career move - into the commentary box, as the first regular voice of football on the BBC's fledgling television service.

Jewell commentated on five FA Cup finals in succession - as many in a row as David Coleman later did, and yet compared to Coleman he is all-but forgotten. This is perhaps due to how television was still an emerging force at this point, only gradually spreading out across the country and with sets an expensive luxury.

Jewell was at the microphone for the first ever TV appearance of a Norfolk team, when Great Yarmouth Town played Tooting and Mitcham away in November 1950. He was still the BBC's number one football commentator right up until his sudden death from a stroke in October 1952 - at which point he was succeeded by the man who had become his regular sidekick, a certain Kenneth Wolstenholme.

Jewell was married twice, on both occasions to women named Dorothy, but had no children. It seems unlikely that there are many people still alive who knew him at all, and for others the name "Jimmy Jewell" might at best conjure up vague memories of the similarly-named comedian.

But even though he may only be a footnote in Norwich City's history, Jewell's story is perhaps one of the most fascinating of any of those to have taken charge at Carrow Road - and one well worthy of being retold.

Jimmy Jewell: The Lost Voice of Football is on BBC Radio Norfolk on Bank Holiday Monday at 12pm, and available for 30 days afterwards via and the BBC Sounds app.

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