Billy’s career as a Rugby League referee came at a time when the game in Britain was littered with great players and colourful characters. The tough and uncompromising nature of the sport meant that physical confrontations were always capable of boiling over. Matches were often at their most volatile during the ‘softening up’ period in which two sets of forwards battled to gain the upper hand before the backs were able to play more open football. This meant that most sides contained at least one ‘enforcer’ and, as Billy recalls, the challenge for referees was to keep these men in check whilst also allowing the game to flow.
One technique favoured by some referees was to maintain a dialogue with the players throughout the match and, for Billy, this resulted in some highly entertaining exchanges with men like Dennis Hartley the Castleford, Doncaster and Hunslet prop forward. A key member of the successful Castleford side in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hartley had built a reputation as one of the most feared prop forwards in the game. He won nine caps for Great Britain and, along with Tony Fisher and Cliff Watson, was a member of the formidable front row which left such an indelible mark on the Australians during the 1970 Ashes winning tour.
Another legendry prop forward who Billy encountered during this era was the Welshman ‘Big’ Jim Mills. After signing for Halifax from Cardiff RUFC in 1964, Mills played for Salford, Bradford Northern and North Sydney before he really made his mark with Widnes during the 1970s. He too gained notoriety as a fearsome opponent in both Britain and Australasia, and was dismissed 20 times in his professional career.