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Life as a referee

Even during the current era, in which leading match officials are now full time professionals, refereeing Rugby League at any level requires a deep love of the game. In Super League referees’ performances are scrutinised more than ever. Each decision can be assessed by the media when matches are screened on live television whilst, now assisted by the ‘big screen’, traditionally more vociferous and less diplomatic judgements are still made by the crowds who attend matches. Referees’ decisions were received with equal passion during Billy’s career and, as he explains, the rewards for doing the job were far less attractive. There was also little protection for match officials in the days before the Taylor Report saw the introduction of new safety regulations to sports stadiums during the 1990s. At some grounds, the only route from the dressing rooms to the playing area was through the crowd itself. The famous walk from the pitch at the bottom of the Odsal Stadium bowl to the old dressing rooms at the top is one which holds some particularly vivid memories for Billy. Spectators lined the route after the match had finished and often gave a harsh reception to the officials as they walked back up the hill. Sometimes a police escort was required and not without some justification. Unfortunately, nine assaults by spectators on referees or touch judges were reported to the RFL in the 1960s along with seven incidents in which bottles or stones were thrown at the match officials. In contrast, the attitude of the players towards referees has, almost without exception, been one of total respect, even when a mistake may have cost them financially!