From The Vaults

26 April 2021
The One and Only Whistle

"The whistle has no intrinsic value. It isn't much to look at. I never used any other whistle in any games - clubs or otherwise while refereeing from 1904 to 1923."

JD Dallas' 'one and only' whistle

This is how John Dewar Dallas, the former Scottish rugby referee and 1-cap international, described the whistle he used throughout his refereeing career. His insignificant brass whistle with a thin leather loop still exists today. It was manufactured by S. Auld of Glasgow and played a major part in a number of historic rugby occasions.

It was used in the first international match at Twickenham in 1910 and the record-breaking match between Ireland and South Africa in 1912, but it's most famous appearance was in 'the greatest game' and 'the most controversial game' of all time.

John Dallas recalled, "The first so called 'big game' I refereed was New Zealand v Wales at Cardiff on 16th December 1905. Those were not the days on sleeper to London and then to Wales next morning. I went hard via Chester and it's changes. No company and a cold trip. On the Friday evening Rees, WRU secretary, handed me a silver whistle, requesting me to use it the next day. I didn't commit myself. I tried it when I went up to bed. (It was) too slow in response and note too low so I used my one and only one."

The New Zealand 'Originals' had played 27 undefeated matches on their tour before they came to Cardiff. Being lauded as the greatest team to have ever visited the British Isles, they were living up to their reputation having scored 801 points whilst only conceding 22.

Wales were the Triple Crown champions and had not lost at home for six years, so this match against the newly-named 'All Blacks' from the colonies was highly anticipated.

The record books show that Wales won 3-0 and, in doing so, inflicted the first ever loss on the New Zealand team. It was the only loss suffered by the team in their 35 matches on tour and is also remembered for the controversy surrounding a disallowed try.

Bob Deans, the New Zealand centre, grounded the ball over the line but John Dallas infamously disallowed the try, a decision which still rankles over 115 years later.

John Dallas wrote 'The game was a grand one between I think the two finest fifteens I've ever seen. New Zealand was both a bit stale and were over-anxious. Wales had great backs and a fine pack. I did not find the game a difficult one (to referee).

I had to return to Edinburgh by train at 7.30 same night. On the Monday at home, I was astonished at the suggestions that Deans had scored a try which I had disallowed. This was in the second half. I here on shall write a manner of this so called 'try'. When the ball went back on it's way out to Deans, I kept going hard ahead and when Deans was 'tackled' by Teddy Morgan he grounded the ball 6-12 inches short of the line. At that moment he could neither pass nor play the ball and as I passed between the Welsh goal posts my whistle went shrill and loud. It is true that when I got to the spot to order a scrum, the ball was over the line. Without hesitation I ordered a scrum at the place Deans was grounded. I never blew my whistle at the spot. It had gone before. No try was scored by Deans."

Dressed resplendently, albeit inappropriately for his role as a referee, Dallas was criticised for struggling to keep up with the action. The New Zealand Manager, G.H. Dixon, wrote, "Deans dived over and grounded the ball well over the chalk mark. He was at once dragged back. That this was an absolutely fair try there is overwhelming evidence, and it is most unfortunate that the referee should not have been on the spot to see what actually occurred." Dallas was "somewhat slow, judged by a New Zealand standard - not with the whistle - but in the matter of keeping up with the play when any especially fast bit of work occurred. As is customary with many referees in the Old Country, he went out, on a greasy ground, with ordinary walking boots, no buttons or bars, and clad in ordinary clothing, including the orthodox high collar."

The New Zealanders had to contend with further decisions going against them in the match. The referee stopped the first half two minutes early with the tourists hammering away at the Welsh line and Duncan McGregor's try in the corner was ruled out after Dallas adjudged the final pass as forward. Billy Wallace, the New Zealand utility back, recalled that it was "a perfectly fair pass" and this was a view agreed by the 'impartial critics' from the Morning Post, Sportsman, Telegraph, Mirror, Times, Daily Mail, Athletic News, Weekly Dispatch and Evening News - albeit all English newspapers.

Despite the controversies, the New Zealanders were magnanimous in defeat. Dave Gallaher, the captain, lead his men into the Welsh changing rooms to congratulate the victors and to exchange jerseys. "When I found him (Gallaher) after the match, he was shaking Gwyn Nicholls heartily by the hand and telling him in a manner that was evidence of the speaker's sincerity that the best team had won." Gallaher's jersey was sold at auction in 2015 for £180,000, a world record price for a rugby shirt.

While Gallaher and Dixon both felt that the team had become stale from such a long tour, there is little doubt of the strength of the Welsh team.

The match report in The Times observed, "Mr. John D. Dallas, the referee nominated by the Scottish Union, had a very difficult task to perform. He administered the laws of the game unflinchingly, and the New Zealanders had to pay dearly for sailing so near the wind on the question of off-side. The many penalties given against them in the first quarter of an hour of the game obviously affected their organisation, and the pace and vigour of the Welsh forwards gave them no repose in which to steady themselves."

The whistle of 'no intrinsic value' officiated and blew in eight further internationals including the Welsh victory against Ireland in 1908 which secured their fifth Triple Crown and the first ever international at Twickenham, between England and Wales in 1910. The whistle's final international appearance was in 1912 when Ireland played South Africa in Dublin. The tourists won 38-0, setting numerous records at the time. The game was also notable for being the first time a referee was substituted at half-time.

Dallas recalled the occasion, "This is the only game I started and didn't finish. The ground had stones in it. I had leather studs. Seven minutes from half-time I pulled a muscle and refereed in the one spot until half-time when Fred Gardiner took over."

As well as the seven internationals, the whistle was used in two Oxford v Cambridge games at Queen's Club in 1910 and 1912, and one English county final.

Jack Dallas died in Aberdeen on July 31, 1942. While his name will live on in rugby history, we can admire his treasured whistle, his 'one and only', and can only imagine what it witnessed; the controversial 'no try', the historic matches and the great players of yesteryear.

"Then the whistle went

The whistle went

The whistle went and we hadn't won

We had lost

They had won"

  • 1905 Originals - Bob Howitt and Dianne Haworth (HarperCollins 2005)
  • The Triumphant Tour of the New Zealand Footballers 1905 - George H Dixon (Geddis and Bloomfield 1906)
  • Rugby Rebel - Christopher Tobin (Bosco Press 2018)
  • The Book of Fame - Lloyd Jones (Penguin Books 2000)
  • Notes written by J.D. Dallas - Private collection

About the author- Toby Goodman is a proud New Zealander with a keen interest in sporting and military history. If he's not searching for the graves of international sportsmen on the WW1 battlefields, you'll find him working as the Director of Sport at The Paragon School in Bath.