FOOTBALL and Malvern this week lost an iconic figure who officiated at every level of the game for more than 50 years.

Robert Allen Cole, known to everyone as Bob, died of heart failure at his Wells Road home on Monday (November 26), after returning from watching a match in Worcester.

A giant of the local football scene, he served the Referees' Association for more than 50 years and was a prominent member of the Worcestershire Football Association, joining its council in 1969 as a representative of the Worcestershire Referees' Association. He was elected a Life Member in 1999.

Mr Cole's passion for the game was kindled before the Second World War, when he helped run a team called the Nondescripts.

After service in Hiroshima and India as a communications engineer, he returned to work for the Post Office, maintaining his involvement in football by passing his referee's exam without any tuition.

He spent years as a linesman in what was then the First Division, wielding the flag in many big games, one of the highlights of which was an FA Cup fifth round tie between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in 1968.

"He was one of the very few to be retired from the national scene because of age and not for any other reason," said his friend and colleague of 40 years, Norman Simmons.

"He was a great friend, a very honest man. We argued many times, but never fell out once because he would listen to what you had to say.

"I shall miss him enormously."

Mr Cole lived in Malvern all his life. His wife, Mary, whom he married in 1951, died two years ago, but his daughter Sue, son Alan and grandson Jamie survive him.

Together with Mr Simmons, he resurrected the Worcester Royal Infirmary Club Cup in 1983, which today has some 80 teams up to senior semi-professional standard and raises money for medical equipment unavailable on the NHS. His son, Alan, is now secretary of the cup.

His funeral takes place on Thursday (December 6), at 2.30pm, at Worcester Crematorium.