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George Courtney (born 4 June 1941) is an Englishmarker former football referee based in Spennymoormarker, County Durham.

He is said to be a freemason. His vocational career was spent as a primary school headteacher.

Ascent through English refereeing

George started refereeing in 1961, he firstly started refereeing school games in and around his area of Spennymoor. He later carried out both linesman and refereeing duties for the Northern League before becoming a Football League linesman in 1971. Just two years later he was appointed to the supplementary panel of referees and one year after that was included in the full list of referees at the age of only thirty three. In 1976, despite only being in his second year as a Football League referee, he was appointed to the decisive match for the League title in which Liverpool staged a dramatic recovery to beat Wolves and overtake QPR.

In 1977 he made the FIFAmarker panel of referees. He had achieved this feat in only three seasons which was, until the case of Martin Atkinson in 2006, the quickest in modern times. In 1979 he took charge of the Charity Shield and was back at Wembley the following May for the ultimate honour of the FA Cup Final between West Ham and Arsenal.

Years at the top

Pat Partridge's retirement in 1981 followed by the unexpected early departure of another World Cup referee, Clive White the following year led to Courtney becoming the dominant refereeing figure of the 1980s. He took charge of the 1983 League Cup Final, thus completing the hat trick of major Wembley matches. He went on to referee numerous FA Cup semi-finals as well as many top division games. He was due to retire in 1989 but in common with a number of other senior and respected officials at that time was granted an extension. He went on to serve three extra years on the list.

International experience

Courtney was a frequent figure in UEFA competitions and handled finals such as the 1989 Cup Winners Cup Final. He was England's representative at the 1984 European Championships, followed by the FIFA World Cups of 1986 and 1990. His appointment for the third place play-off in 1986 is the furthest any English referee has reached at the World Cup since Jack Taylor controlled the Final in 1974. The only competition he missed was the 1988 European Championships when Keith Hackett was selected.


Courtney retired from the FIFAmarker list at the end of 1991 at the age of fifty. He was one of the last referees to have that privilege, as they reduced the maximum age for their officials to forty five at that point. He served out the rest of that season in Englandmarker. He took charge of an unprecedented second League Cup Final in 1992. The final match of his eventful career was the play-off game between Blackburnmarker and Leicester for a place in the new Premier League. Although extensions were still possible for over-age referees he had decided to retire from League refereeing, a few weeks short of his fifty-first birthday.

Courtney is a past student of Chester University College. He later became Director of Community Projects at Middlesbrough F.C. He is now a UEFA delegate, charged with reporting on stadium and crowd control issues at UEFA matches, such as during the 1-0 UEFA Champions League win by F.C. Shakhtar Donetsk at S.L. Benfica on 3 October 2007.



  • Freddi, Cris (1998) The complete Book Of the World Cup, Collins Willow.
  • Football League handbooks
  • Rothmans Football Yearbooks


  1. Birthdate confirmation at Weltfuß website.
  2. Confirming his freemasonry: from an article at the MQMagazine website.
  3. Northern League officiating, mentioned: news article at the ThisIsTheNorthEast website.
  4. Past student of Chester University College: Student Guide Book website.
  5. Director at Middlesbrough F.C.: from an article at the MQ Magazine website.
  6. UEFA delegate - example match, S.L. Benfica v. F.C. Shakhtar Donetsk, UEFA Champions League, October 2007: PDF file at the website.

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