In 1957 in the Holy Family Church, Mattie Stafford married Barrack Street native Bridie Cahill.
During the course of their 58 years together, the happy couple were blessed with five daughters, Elizabeth, Claire, Jannette, Louise and Eileen and one son, Bill.
Add in nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild and you get some sort of idea what a busy and happy household it was at the couple home on McDonagh Road, Kingsmeadow.
On Monday last, August 24th Bridie lost her fight for life and less than 24 hours later Mattie died from a suspected heart attack.
Mattie Stafford, born in Parliament Street in 1933, was a football man through and through and he was deeply involved in the game he loved for the majority of his life.
As recently as June of this year, Mattie was honoured to be elected Chairman of the Waterford and District League at the age of 82 years.
A lover of cricket (as told me for this newspaper back in May 2011) Mattie served his time as a plumber with ‘Hand A Hamilton’ which was based in Thomas Street and he worked on the construction of the houses on the Cork Road.
He also worked on the extension of Ardkeen Hospital before moving to the west of Ireland to work as a plumber on the construction of Galway’s Hospital. And following his two years in Galway, Mattie moved to work at the oil refinery at Whitegate in East Cork.
Returning to Waterford, Mattie went on to work in the ACEC for 16 years before moving to Merrymax and eventually concluding his working life in Measurex on the Industrial Estate. Football, as Mattie told me in his office in Ozier Park, consumed him.
“John ‘Nipper’ Doyle, a wonderful man, got me playing at Under-16 with a club called St Lawrence’s which was based in Ballytruckle I then went on to play with Dolphin with Eddie Sauvage at minor level.
“When I was working in Galway I played with Galway Rovers and when I came back to Waterford I was lucky enough to play with Tycor – we had players like Jack Burke, Eugene Noonan, Bob Barry and Mickey Croke. Tycor were the top team in Waterford and to get the chance to play with guys like that was a great thrill. I finished my playing days with Bolton in Division 2. I loved playing, but little did I know what was to happen when I finished playing.’
A step into the world of refereeing followed thereafter.
“Gene Roche, who was a top player with Waterford FC and the Waterford Oscar Traynor Cup teams asked me one day If I would be interested in taking up the whistle.
“I hadn’t given the idea any thought but when I attended a few meetings I got the bug and off I went. About four years later I got appointed to the League of Ireland (LOI) panel and took charge of games all over the country.”
Mattie continued: “The 60s were a great time for football in this country and one game in particular stands out in my mind. The Dublin clubs at one stage wanted Dublin-based referees for their home games, so the Waterford club decided that they wanted Waterford-based referees for their games in Waterford.
“It was tried for a while and I was lucky enough to take charge of the game in Kilcohan Park when the Blues defeated Cork Hibernians to record their 13th win on the trot and create a record which lasts to this day.
“There were over 10,000 people packed into Kilcohan Park that day- Saint Patrick’s Day, 1966 and a short time afterwards Waterford were crowned champions for the first ever’.”
Mattie remained a member of the LOI panel for eight years and then continued refereeing on the local scene for many more years, taking charge of Munster Senior Cup games and provincial deciders.
At the age of 50 years Mattie was appointed an assessor, a brief he carried out with distinction for a further 10 years and about 15 years ago he accepted an invitation to join the management committee of the Waterford and District League.
Mattie could be seen in Ozier Park most mornings and evenings, trailing through match cards, result lists, fixture sheets, league tables and lots of other paperwork involved in running a big league.
Along with another great soccer man, the late Jimmy O’Neill, Mattie brought a sense of dignity and honour to the WDJL and their work was respected nationwide. Mattie and Jimmy and the entire committee had a burning desire to see floodlights installed in their beloved Ozier. And it was ironic that their dream came through on the week that Mattie and Bridie passed away.
Following the horrific 24 hours which claimed the lives of two beautiful kind people the tributes flooded in for the Staffords.
League secretary Martin Flavin was clearly upset by Mattie’s death. “Mattie was involved in football for over 60 years and received a lifetime achievement award from the FAI in 2012 for his service to football.
“Bridie was in and out of hospital in recent months and they were very close. On a personal level we were great friends for over 30 years and I can’t believe he’s gone. He was in many ways the nicest person I have ever known.”
Said Fixtures Secretary Noel O’Keeffe: “It’s good in one way that neither of them were alone for to long but it’s very difficult on the family as they have to bury both of their parents. Mattie was talking to me about Bridie and their life together shortly after her death and he was heartbroken. He was a stickler for the rules of the league but he was a very fair man. Bridie and Mattie were inseparable and it’s very moving.”
FAI Chief Executive John Delaney also spoke in glowing terms of Mattie. “I knew Mattie personally and he was a great football man. He was meticulous in everything he did and it says a lot about his energy and passion for the game that he was prepared to take on the role of chairman of the Waterford District League at 82 years of age.
“His passing is a huge loss to football in Waterford and we will pay tribute to him at our home game against Georgia in September.”
From a personal point of view I had the pleasure of serving with Mattie for a number of years on the WDJL committee and I always found him to be a true gentleman in every sense of the word.
He loved statistics and even when I left the committee we used to discuss topics such as the number of times clubs won the Premier League, the Ardagh Cup, Infirmary Cup and Marquis Cup and we enjoyed many a chat about cricket.
The time spent with Mattie in the Ozier Park office both as a committee member and later a friend will remain with me forever.
Bridie was equally courteous and helpful and although both have left this world it’s heart-warming in another sense that they left together.
The lights in Ozier Park will be officially switched on in the very near future but they will be slightly dimmer now that Mattie Stafford will never again be seen in the famous venue he graced as a player, referee and administrator.
The couples’ remains were removed from Thompson’s Funeral Home, Barrack Street on Thursday, August 27th to The Sacred Heart Church, The Folly at 7.30pm. Requiem Mass was celebrated on Friday morning last at 11am and burial took place in Saint Otteran’s Cemetery. May their gentle souls rest in peace.