A heartbroken Irishman died less than 24 hours after his wife of 59 years passed away.

Mattie Stafford, a 81-year-old Waterford man, suffered a heart attack on Tuesday, August 25. His 80-year-old wife Bridie died on Monday.

Stafford, a football fanatic, was a former League of Ireland referee and refereeing inspector, and a Chairman of the Waterford Junior League.

Mattie received a lifetime services award from the FAI following his lengthy refereeing career.

The Irish Mirror reports that FAI supremo John Delaney said he was devastated to hear of the passing of the couple.  

“I was shocked to learn of the passing of Matt Stafford and his wife Bridie within hours of each other and my thoughts are with their son and daughters and the extended family at this very sad time,”  he said.

“I knew Mattie personally and he was a great football man who made a tremendous contribution over a 60-year period as a referee and an administrator.

“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. I will be attending the funeral on Friday to pay my respects and the FAI will be paying tribute to Matt Stafford at our home game next month against Georgia.”

Waterford junior league secretary Noel O’Keeffe said he spoke with Mattie before his death and Bridie’s passing had left him devastated.

He said: “It’s incredible really. It’s like something you would see in a movie.

“It’s good that neither of them were alone for too long.

“But it’s very difficult on the family. They have one son and five daughters.

“They have to bury both their parents.

“He was speaking to me about Bridie, he was just talking about their life together.

“He was just heartbroken.”

O’Keeffe spoke fondly of Matt and his love for the game.

He added: “Matt was a stickler for the rules.

“He wouldn’t tolerate any messing.

“But one thing you would have to say about him was that he was very fair.

“He would have been a referee for years and then a referee’s assessor.

“He was a very strong man, loved the game. His mind was perfect for a man of 81 years.

“As I said, it’s like something you would hear about in a film. They were inseparable, him and Bridie. It’s very moving.”

Secretary of Tramore AFC Paul Power said the football community was devastated by the couple’s passing.

 “Mattie would have been one of the leading lights in regards to refereeing.

“He was always a very fair man. It’s just a big shock to everyone here that he has passed away. He was very courteous and had a great relationship with all the clubs in the area.

“There would have been an awful amount of respect for Mattie in the county.

“He was also very big into his cricket would you believe.

“Mattie was very well liked and he will be sorely missed in the area.”

Secretary of the league Martin Flavin said: “We are devastated.

“Matt was involved in football for over 60 years and received a lifetime achievement award from the FAI for his services to football. Bridie was in and out of hospital in recent months.

“They were very, very close. But he hadn’t been well himself for a long time.

“Matt wasn’t one for talking about his personal life.

“On a personal note, we were great friends over the past 30 years…I can’t believe he’s gone.”

Flavin described his friend as “a gentleman who kept to himself.”

He added: “He was a very quiet person.

“We have a very small committee, we were a family and we’re all very good friends.

“Matt taught me refereeing. I was absolutely devastated when his wife died yesterday and was absolutely gutted then today when I got a call telling me the news.

“I was just getting ready to go in and see Matt. It was only his birthday a couple of weeks ago.”