A road trip down memory lane today, destination – Cumbria. Three games, three referees. Hold on tight.
It is a long way to Cumbria, in the middle of winter, even though it is an attractive part of the world. Most of it. George Hinds, John Pepworth, Albert Newbrook and I often used to make a weekend of it. I am the only one still living of that group (at the time of writing).
My first game, and first referee, is Cockermouth and one-eyed Norman. He literally did have only one eye; metaphorically, too. He was a French teacher, from Carlisle, apparently. We were in North West 1 back then, level 7, and it was bring-your-own touch judge. I was that touch judge. There was no discernible touchline, in places, and I got a bit of stick from the crowd for missing a foot in touch.
In the end, we won. One of my duties was to get the official match card signed by the referee. I went up to him in the bar and, out of politeness, said, “13-nil, sir, is that right?”
“How should I effing know?” was the not entirely unexpected answer. Pardon his French.
Then there was Netherhall, in Maryport, a choppy boat ride across from Kirkcudbright, Scotland. Their pitch was 7000 square metres of brown liquid mud, and they didn’t mind a fight. The referee, thrown into the middle of this, was some poor youngster from Yorkshire, on exchange to be assessed and to gain experience. Well, he will have done that.
Two events of note. Firstly, a staggering performance by one Sedgley player, and secondly, I made my last ever tackle on a rugby field.
Mike Glover was the player in question. He was a fairly tall but lightly built number 7. He could run on mud when others sank, and he covered every one of those square metres, and fell on dozens of loose balls. Every time he fell on the ball, they kicked him. We won because of him.
There were a few brawls, and one of them was near the touchline. Our replacement players that day included Terry Keepe, a tiny Irishman who wasn’t averse to a fight himself. He hurdled the fence to join in, and I tackled him. The RFU would have thrown every book in their library at us had that been reported. Lovely guy, Terry. Off the pitch. He became a good referee, with a sense of humour that players appreciated, and an obvious love for the game. Poacher turned gamekeeper.
Match number three was at Egremont. I remember it as a first drive out in my new Peugeot 205, up and over Hardknott Pass. Had to pedal hard. Again, I was touch judge, and this time it was a replacement referee, stepping up to this level for the first time. Another nice guy.
Unfortunately, niceness was in short supply. I was running the line on the quiet side, away from the clubhouse, but there were still a few pockets of aggressive home fans, and also the Egremont coach, who was screaming at his players to give it to these Manchester so and so’s. We had a Colt at 9, a future captain, Rob Smith. On one occasion, he was held by one forward while another punched him several times, right in front of me. But I was just a TJ, not an AR, and it was outside my jurisdiction.
Our coach, at the time, was Kiwi Val Baker, who stood quietly behind the dead-ball line as he always did. He said hello as he passed me at half-time. The referee got the two TJs together, and said how much he was enjoying the game. We mentioned that (with respect, sir) there might be a couple of things going on that he wasn’t quite seeing. Later, I was to give written evidence on Val’s behalf to a disciplinary hearing.
During the second half, the ref gave a decision, against Egremont, which saw a bunch of spectators from my side of the pitch run on and jostle him. No damage, but he was manhandled. The game ended in a draw. Afterwards, Val Baker must have said something to the referee, because he was reported. My letter explained the circumstances, as above. Whether my input made any difference, I have no idea, but Val was not suspended.
So that’s Cumbria, folks. It’s better in summer.
Some stats, for those who like that sort of thing.
When we beat Huddersfield 80-5, last home game, I was asked whether this was a SP record, at this level. Naturally, I didn’t have a clue. I vaguely remembered us beating Bradford & Bingley by a big score, in the great long ago. That turned out to be 64-9 in 1996/97, but at level 5, when we were in North One.
My records are incomplete, but I did find two contenders at level 4. In 1998/99, we beat Winnington Park 70-17, and in 2000/01, we beat Bedford Athletic 69-0. So the Huddersfield result tops them both, for score and for winning margin.
Glad to be of help.