Obituary: former WWII RAF airman and football referee "thoroughly enjoyed life"

John McNabb: October 12th 1924 - August 22nd 2018
John McNabb: October 12th 1924 - August 22nd 2018

The family of a former RAF airman who served in the Second World War before going on to become a football referee at the highest level of the sport have paid tribute to a man who "thoroughly enjoyed life".

Born in Burnley on October 12th, 1924, John McNabb attended St Mary's Roman Catholic School, leaving at the age of 14 to join the RAF "as soon as he was old enough" according to his son, John, and going on to serve in the 911 squadron as an airman first class with the Lancaster Bombers during the Second World War.

John and Alice.

John and Alice.

"He never really spoke a lot about what went on [in the war]," said John (64) of his father, who died on August 22nd at the age of 93. "Occasionally he'd tell you bits like how they'd all be at a bar, singling around a piano one night then the next night half of them weren't there.

"He went deaf because bombs are fairly noisy things, but when somebody mentioned to him that he could get a war pension, he was having absolutely none of it; he said he came home, a lot of them didn't."

After the war, John joined the Burnley Youth Organisation, scheduling football matches between the clubs and refereeing plenty of the games himself, which caught the eyes of the Burnley Referees Association of which he eventually became president, a position he held until his death.

"Baring in mind he was quite young, he got rapidly promoted," John said of his father's refereeing career. "He refereed from local league to the Lancs amateur league, then to Lancashire combination and the Northern Premier League. In the 1950s, he went on to the Football League and stayed until he was too old in 1971.

"He got international caps - in 1966 he refereed East Germany against Romania in Germany as I recall, and he refereed in UEFA so he got some other games in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup," John added. "Even when he finished he continued refereeing for children's games as a volunteer."

Honoured for 50 years of service to refereeing, John received a medal from The FA in 2005, presented to him at Burnley Football Club by former Scotland international and Manchester United manager, Tommy Docherty.

John married Alice Patricia in 1952 with the couple having John as well as three grandchildren - Harry, Olivia, and Rory. Always one for socialising, John was a member of Belvedere & Calder Vale Sports Club from its inception as well as a member of the Knights of St Columba - becoming a knight in 1949 - and a season ticket-holder at Turf Moor.

"He would go in the Vice Presidents Lounge until his legs got so bad that he wouldn't make it up and down the stairs!" John said of his father's time on the Turf. "He was a Burnley lad, born and bred who would come up the Kettledrum - his local since the 1960s - and sit on a bar stool and chat away to his old mates.

"He did a lot, did my dad; he went out and had a good time and met a lot of people along the way," John added. "He told me last year that he'd thoroughly enjoyed life, and he had."