Steve Bucknor © Getty Images
Steve Bucknor © Getty Images

Steve Bucknor, the man who officiated in five consecutive World Cup finals, was also a referee in a match between El Salvador and Netherlands Antilles on October 16, 1988. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the match at Estadio Cuscatian.

West Indies’ inability to reach the World Cup final since 1983 meant that Steve Bucknor had a chance to officiate in five consecutive World Cup finals — 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, and 2007. He made his international umpiring debut on March 18, 1989 in an ODI between West Indies and India at St John’s, but he had another honour to his name six months before that.

North and Central America and Caribbean were one of the teams for FIFA World Cup 1990. There were four teams in Round 1, from which Jamaica and Netherlands Antilles qualified for Round 2 to join USA, El Salvador, Canada, and Honduras. The first match between El Salvador and Netherlands Antilles resulted in a 1-0 victory for the former; it was their home match.

[Trivia: Caribbean Netherlands, formed after the dissolution of Netherlands Antilles, is a part of Leeward Islands; it is also the only Test-playing nation where they drive to the right of the road.]

The return match (El Salvador’s home match) was played at Estadio Cuscatian, San Salvador. It was a complete mismatch, where El Salvador went up 2-0 in the first half and added three more goals to their tally in the second. The 5-0 victory was the biggest margin of the round.

Bucknor, a goalkeeper in the Jamaican Parish Leagues in the 1960s (parishes are the second-highest administrative divisions in the country: there are three counties divided into 14 parishes). He played for Jamaica Schoolboys against Brazil Schoolboys (no less) in 1964; he must have been good under the bar, since Jamaica Schoolboys drew the match 1-1.

Here, in the decider between the teams, Bucknor was appointed referee. He also yellow-carded two men: it is not documented how he did that, but one can imagine what that must have been like; the players standing in a semicircle around him with bated breath, and then, just when they were about to disperse, he would, in the slowest of motions, procure a yellow card at the last moment.

Three-and-a-half years later Bucknor became the first man to officiate in World Cups football and cricket (and continues to remain the only one to do so) during 1992 World Cup cricket.

What followed?

– Costa Rica and USA went through to the final stage.

– While USA lost all matches, Costa Rica beat Scotland 1-0 and Sweden 2-1 in the league stages, losing only to Brazil by a 0-1 margin. They eventually lost to Czechoslovakia in the pre-quarterfinals by a 1-4 margin.

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(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)