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Birthday remembrance – Tribute to a legend: Gwyn Pierce Owen (1935-2019)

Gwyn Pierce Owen at the opening of the stand named after him at Nantporth on his 80th birthday in 2014. He is pictured with close friend and former Bangor City secretary Gwynfor Jones

Today (April 18) would have marked the 86th birthday of the legendary Gwyn Pierce Owen, former president of Bangor City Football Club and highly respected Football League and international referee.

To commemorate the occasion, here is a tribute Grassroots North Wales paid to GPO after his death on July 31, 2019.

RIP dear friend

Gone but never forgotten. A man of strength, integrity, infectious humour and true compassion.

One could fire off every superlative in the English dictionary in an attempt to describe the late Gwyn Pierce Owen and it would never seem enough.

The world of football lost a true great when Gwyn passed away at the age of 85.

Best known in more recent years as ex-chairman and later club president of his beloved Bangor City Football Club, the Anglesey-based legend was also a Football League and international referee in the 1970 and 80s, as well as a former school headteacher.

Gwyn had time for everyone. Always ready with a kind word, he treated everyone the same.

Known affectionately as GPO, no doubt across Wales and far beyond, those who knew him will now be recalling and exchanging their favourite stories of the great man.

My fondest GPO memory goes back to December 27, 2011, and the last-ever match at Farrar Road between Bangor City and Prestatyn Town.

It was the final game before the much-loved stadium was demolished and no doubt an extremely emotional occasion for the Citizens president.

Yet he held himself together impeccably, giving countless interviews, engaging in numerous conversations with nostalgic fans and warmly welcoming the many ex-Bangor players in attendance.

He made sure after the match I was introduced to many Citizens stars of yesteryear, ensuring I had plenty to write about.

Quite a few names to remember, but he never called a single one wrong.

Another special personal GPO moment was the time a player from abroad called at Farrar Road with dreams of signing for Bangor. The young hopeful joined in a couple of training sessions, but didn’t quite come up to scratch.

From what I gathered, the visitor was far from a man of means, and before bidding him farewell to try his luck elsewhere, GPO handed him £100 out of the goodness of his heart.

Gwyn Pierce Owen presents Glantraeth’s Warren Gibbs with the Welsh Alliance Manager of the Month award in October 2014

In the years I covered Bangor City, Gwyn was not always in the best of health, but he so often came back fighting.

It was always heartwarming to see him return after an enforced break. I’d ask him how he was, and in return he would always enquire about my health if he hadn’t seen me for a while.

During difficult times, his kind words always meant the world. He would also tell me not to take on too much, make time to relax and enjoy life as much as I could – work isn’t everything, he would say.

He also was never frightened to tell me off if I’d written something he didn’t agree with! Never in a way that could be taken as offensive or condescending though.

One of the most pleasurable articles I ever wrote was on Gwyn’s 80th birthday on April 18, 2014.

Congratulatory quotes were provided by many, including Nigel Adkins, City’s player-manager in their League of Wales title-winning seasons of 1993-94 and 1994-95, and later to be boss of Southampton, Reading, Scunthorpe United, Sheffield United and Hull City.

The pair always remained close, and Nigel was one of countless football figures and followers to express their sadness over GPO’s passing on social media.

In connection with his 80th birthday, the main stand at Bangor City’s current ground Nantporth was named after the president.

Gwyn’s involvement with Bangor City had decreased considerably in recent times, which in light of recent events at the club is for the best.

The Bangor City who were triple Welsh Cup winners and Welsh Premier champions under Nev Powell, plus the heroes of famous European ties of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, will always be the times most synonymous with GPO.

Refereeing career

Referee Gwyn Pierce Owen pictured with Bangor City’s Phil Lunn and Liverpool skipper Emlyn Hughes. The teams met in a friendly at Farrar Road on January 27, 1979. Liverpool won 4-1 with goals from Kenny Dalglish (2), Terry McDermott (pen) and David Fairclough

As a Football League referee, Gwyn Pierce Owen was best known for one game – December 30, 1978, Old Trafford, Manchester United 3 West Bromwich Albion 5.

It was described at the time as the “Game of the Century” and even now is regarded as one of the greatest matches in English football history.

The West Brom team featured three black British players – Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson

They blazed a trail for black footballers in England and were frequently the subject of racist abuse, including “audible boos” from Manchester United fans in this game.

It was the trio who were smiling at the final whistle, though, as goals from Cunningham and Regis in the second half secured a 5-3 win for the Albion, the score having been 3-3 at the interval.

Extended highlights were shown on Granada TV, meaning viewers got to see plenty of GPO.

It later emerged that Gwyn was a West Bromwich Albion fan, although he could not say this at the time!

GPO was also in charge of two England v Northern Ireland internationals at Wembley, in 1980 and 1982, as well as a European Cup tie between Hvidovre of Denmark and Dutch side Feyenoord in 1980-81, plus UEFA Cup matches involving Borussia Monchengladbach and Newcastle United among others.

He also refereed countless North Wales matches.

In his autobiography ‘C’Mon Reff’, Gwyn recalled George Best as the greatest footballer he has ever seen.

Thank you for everything Gwyn Pierce Owen. The glowing tributes from far and wide say it all.

You will never be forgotten. Cysgwch yn dawel.

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