About Berkshire Rugby Refs

History of the Berkshire Rugby Refs - by Mike Cock

Forgive the somewhat stilted narrative; I am used to writing formal reports, not a story. Comments in Italics are mine and do not necessarily reflect the Society as a whole. Unfortunately Christian names are not often mentioned in the Minutes but I have, where I have known them, added them myself.

The inaugural meeting of the Society was held in the Wheatsheaf Hotel, Reading on Thursday 15th December 1948 as a Sub-Committee of the Berkshire RFU, who had written the By-Laws.

It was formed from members of the London Society, who had been supplying referees to the Berkshire Clubs, who wanted to referee locally and were living in Berkshire.

The Chairman and three others were elected to the Committee: D. Gwyn Francis (Chairman); A. (Sandy) Young (Secretary); E. G. Carter and S/Sgt W. Antwiss. Sandy Young was also elected to stand on the County Committee, a post he held until 1968.

There is no list of members attending but other names appearing in the Minutes of the Inaugural Meeting are Mr Findlater and Mr Fearon.

A very short inaugural meeting, it closed at 7.25pm.

A person had to be proposed and seconded by existing members to become a member of the Society, a rule which still exists, and were thrown in at the deep end, “If you have the guts to go onto the pitch with a whistle, go to …………Club on Saturday” or words to that effect were said to me, as I have said to others when I was secretary. A bit different from today with the training available before getting onto the pitch.

It appears that, initially, referees were appointed to any game without consideration of experience, grading of referees was not discussed until the AGM of 1949 and was still being discussed at the following year. Apparently the referees had not been cooperating with the assessors. This was not really surprising as reports were considered to be confidential and very little feedback was given. Although feedback, or to be more accurate, a ‘talking to’ by the assessor, was given, reports were confidential until the late 70’s, the Society then decided to send, at the end of the season, the written reports to the referee with the name and signature of the assessor removed. A lot of help when you can’t remember the game.

The Minutes of the 1950 meeting records that the Society had been recognised by the RFU, and consisted of 18 members who had covered 190 games for 6 affiliated clubs and that R.E.M.E. and the Army Apprentice School clubs had applied to be affiliated to the Society for the following season. With the changes made by the Ministry of Defence, both these clubs have moved away from Berkshire.

By the end of the 50 – 51 season there were 21 members, 11 affiliated clubs and 220 games covered and Sandy Young, E. G. Kynaston and Glyn . Strong had refereed County Championship games.

To be affiliated, clubs had to pay a subscription to the Society and the Treasurer’s Report showed a balance of £6-19-4, about £6.93p in today’s money.

The question of dress was raised. It was noted that some referees were not turning up ‘appropriately attired’ and that some were wearing un-matching socks and old club shirts on the pitch. Single colour shirts and socks were recommended.

The Society was slowly expanding. The Minutes from 1952 showed 305 games, 13 clubs and an average of 18 referees available. Glyn Strong and Sandy Young were again appointed to County Championship games. More clubs became affiliated and the number of members slowly increased. By 1952 there were 23 members and had covered 270 games. Exchanges with other societies had started to take place, the first being with Oxfordshire and Kent.

Disregarding International games, being appointed to take charge of County Championship games was the highest level a referee could achieve. Those who have achieved this high standard are; D G Francis, ? dates; A Young and G Strong, 1950-52; E G Kynaston 1950-51; H R Blagrove, 1953 and ‘55; G P Ashwell, 1955-’61 (the first referee in Berkshire to be awarded the Referees Tie by the RFU); ? Longmate, 1956; L C Stephens, 1959-63; D H Easby, 1962-’69, T L Ashworth, N R Sanson, 1972-76, H A Douglas 1974-‘79, P Emerson, E J Robins. Norman Sanson was also selected to the International Panel of the Scottish RFU in 1974.

In 1961 Lionel Stephens was appointed as Touch Judge for the England v France and in 1965 Dennis Easby was appointed for the England v New Zealand at Twickenham.

1953, 2 clubs had returned to the London Society for their referees and only 270 games were covered with 23 referees on the books. Exchanges with the Oxford and Kent Societies had been arranged and H R Blagrove had been appointed to officiate at a County Championship game.

The problem of ‘Late Cry-offs’, of both clubs and referees was raised. There’s nothing new in the running of the Society!

Beaconsfield, Staines, Newbury Grammar School and R.G.S. High Wycombe became affiliated in 1954 and Newbury had agreed to accept Berkshire Referees for some of their 1st team games.

The RFU had made a change to their regulations regarding County Championship Referees. They were insisting that those nominated should have ‘English Qualifications’. This resulted in no referee from the Berkshire Society being put forward.

Exchanges continued with referees travelling to the Devon, Durham and East Midlands Societies.

Affiliation subscriptions had been increased from      £1-0-0 to £1-10-0 and there were 2 clubs who had not paid and one still owing the increase of 10 shillings.

The 1954 – 55 season started with a re-write of the Laws and the Minutes of the AGM in May 1956 which had moved from the Wheatsheaf to the Boars Head, suggested that, as far as referees were concerned, the changes had improved the game but the comment in the Minutes was ‘This aroused great interest amongst all the followers of the game, resulting in many amazing interpretations being put on them and applied in games to the wonderment of all concerned’.

The number of games covered had increased to 363 and the Treasurer had £10-5-1 left in the kitty.

1955 – 6 saw Petrol Rationing and members found themselves going to the same club more than once a month, exchanges were also severely curtailed. The County Committee indicated that as the Society was in effect a Sub-committee of the Berkshire RFU, referees on the Official List could wear the County Tie. Although few do so, members are still entitled to wear it.

This season the Society was invited to send referees to the Oxfordshire Schools Sevens, which had been in existence for several seasons and were supported by schools from all over the country.

The AGM, held at the Bear Hotel, Henley, finished with a ‘Supper’

In the 1957 – 8 season, the number of games covered reached the 500 mark, G P Ashwell took control of 2 County Championship games, thus being awarded the Referees Tie by Twickenham, the Society also acquired a shirt badge. Suggested at the AGM of 1955, in 1957, the County Committee authorised a Shirt Badge based on the County Logo with Berkshire Rugby Football Union, Referees Society added (Unfortunately I no longer have an old one to copy. This is taken from the stationery of the time) which, of course we had to buy them, (7/9 each). We also had to buy our own shirts, shorts and socks; nothing was free in those days.

Numbers had increased to 33 and exchanges with other Societies increased dramatically in the ’59 – 60 season. 20 referees were sent out on exchange, covering games such as Gloucester v Bath, Bridgewater v Penarth, Northampton v Met. Police and Bath v Weston.

The AGM of June 1960 records that the Society were going to seek membership of the Midlands Group of Societies.

The membership of the Midlands Group was confirmed and 22 exchanges within the group were made. Referees on exchange claimed their expenses from the Society, the club was charged 5/- towards the travelling costs that totalled, in the ’60 – 61 season, £23-13-10 and the Treasurer was left with 7/5 (about 34p) in the kitty.

This season Lionel Stephens (Steve to those who knew him), who had been refereeing, at the request of the RFU, as a guest referee with the London Society, refereed 3 County Championship games, one being a Semi-final between Cheshire and East Midlands and was also appointed as a Touch Judge for the England v France game at Twickenham.

The following season had 20 affiliated clubs, 8 of them schools, and 25 referees available regularly, covering over 600 games. Although, as a Sub-committee of the Berkshire RFU, any financial shortfall would be covered by them, the Society felt it had to remain financially independent so the charge to the clubs for an exchange referee was raised to 7/6.

‘Steve’, along with the 2 County Championship games, refereed the Final of the Middlesex Sevens.

The AGM of ’62 was held for the first time at a rugby club, Old Redingensians, during which a change to the By-laws whereby the Committee elected the Representative to the County Committee instead of the Society as a whole was put forward. This, of course, had to be ratified by the County Union, which, being held on the same day as the Society meeting would not happen until the following season.

The ‘Big Freeze’ over Christmas and New Year of ’62 – ’63  saw 180 games cancelled and several of the ‘older’ members, because of problems getting fit again, had thought to retire and had to be bullied into continuing.

Gwyn Francis decided that, having held the position of Chairman since the Inaugural Meeting, this would be the last time he would sit in the ‘chair’. Peter O’N Thorpe was elected as Chairman, Sandy Young and Mr D Bowen-Jones as Secretary and Treasurer.

A Cheese and Wine Evening was held during the ’63 – ’64 season, at a cost of £28-5-8, which, unfortunately, was not supported by as many referees as would have been liked, it was a success due to those who did attend bringing guests with them. (Nothing changes)

The Secretary felt that, as the size of the Society and the number of games continued to increase he need some support. Denis Easby had provided that assistance and was elected as Appointments Secretary for the following season.

There was a proposal that the Society elect a President. This would have meant a break away from the Berkshire Union. I assume that the election of a President was rejected by the County Union who would have had to approve it. (There is no mention in the minutes of following seasons of any action taken.)

The Midlands Group, the name of which had apparently upset the powers that be at Twickenham, was changed to the Central Group, which continued to flourish in the northern areas with regular exchanges but Berkshire was beginning to feel out on a limb.

Society Ties were again discussed and a design agreed. This was based on the County Tie with a change of colour and a stripe added, which has not changed to this day. These are shown in the Treasurer’s Report for ‘65 – ’66 as costing 18/6, although the Badges had been reduced by 1 shilling to 6/9.

A Dinner was arranged in the early season of 1966 which proved a great success with another being organised for 28th October 1967 at the Grosvenor Hotel, Caversham.

During the season exchanges had fallen off, some societies regarding Berkshire as a poor relation because the standard of rugby was thought to be too low. Berkshire was probably suffering from the fact that, being so close,  ‘big’ clubs in the London area were attracting the best players. However, games available within the County were still increasing, nearly 800 covered by 41 referees. With the increase in the number of schools, 14 now affiliated, there was a marked difference in the number of games available before and after Christmas. Some referees were complaining that they did not have sufficient games in the second half of the season and that they were of a lower standard than those they had been used to controlling.

Peter Thorpe, Chairman, and Denis Easby, Appointments, indicated that, because of other commitments, they could no longer continue in these positions. Lionel Stephens was elected as Chairman and Dennis’ brother, T J Easby was appointed in his place.

1968 – 9 saw a big change in the organisation of refereeing groups in England. An Advisory Panel had been set up by the RFU which resulted in the formation of the Southern Group consisting of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire. Berkshire had the honour of providing the officers for the inaugural meeting, Lionel Stevens as Chairman and Peter Thorpe as Treasurer cum Secretary. There was also a change of Appointments Secretary in the Society, Mr R G Smith replacing Mr Easby. Tom Ashworth also represented the Society on the County Championship Panel of Referees.

1989 was also noteworthy as, not only had Peter Stevens and Keith Montgomery been accepted by the RFU Advisory Panel, as it was now known, Keith also accompanied the British Police and Combined Services tour to New Zealand.

Grading of referees also became more formal with a voluntary group of ‘watchers’ being set up. As previously noted, these reports were confidential and the referee did not necessarily know that he was being watched. This caused a certain amount of concern amongst the members, referees being down-graded without knowing why, although, mentioned in the minutes, fitness had a great deal to do with it. It was also noted that ‘games of a worthwhile standard are in very short supply in Berkshire’.

‘Sandy’ Young gave notice that he wanted to retire as Secretary at the 1970 AGM. Holding the position since the Society’s inception in 1948, changes in the Laws, and they were being changed again for the coming season, had left him out of touch with the practical problems of refereeing. Mr R G Smith, the Secretary, agreed to take on the job of Appointments as well.

The Society continued supplying referees to the Oxfordshire Schools 7’s and, through exchanges with other Societies for games such as:- Bedford v Gosforth, Birmingham v Clifton, Bridgewater v Taunton, Guys Hospital v Taunton, Cheltenham v Lydney and Bath v Exeter. The Southern Group continued to function with ‘Junior’ Exchanges between themselves.

The number of referees unfortunately fell from 52 at the end of last season to 33 at the start of this and, although there were 4 recruits, the season finished with only 31. There were also a lot of ‘cry-offs’, 147 in total which put an additional strain on the smooth running of the Society.

The problem of insufficient ‘watchers’ was causing concern with only an average of 2 being available each Saturday. and only 50 reports being received.

Although there a few were games being played on Sundays, something that the RFU had frowned upon, a Knock-out competition was being organised for the 1971 season. This put an additional strain on the active members of the Society and more work for the Appointments Secretary as was late cry-offs. There also seemed to be a deterioration in the commitment of the referees with some failing to turn up for the lower level games.

Although membership of the Central Group had been retained, the Committee decided to resign from this Group as Berkshire was not getting any games allocated. The Southern Group however had improved its management of the exchange system and 16 games were offered to Berkshire referees. The Society also managed exchanges with Ken, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, North Midlands and Somerset.

A ‘Card’ system whereby the referee handed Assessment Cards to the clubs, was initiated and, although there was a postal strike in operation, this seemed to work well and enabled the watchers to be concentrated on referees who either needed help or were good enough to progress.

Mr Smith had accepted the job of both Secretary and Appointments not expecting these jobs to be as demanding as they were. Keith Munro, who had joined the Society in 1964, took on the job of Appointments Secretary and Bill Willis was appointed as Treasure. Bill had joined the Society the previous season, moving to the area from Durham.

Bert Ridley and Alan Douglas were nominated and accepted for the RFU ‘A’ List, the first for several years together with Keith Hellewell, who had joined us from Yorkshire and was already on the RFU Panel for County Championship Games. Alan went on to referee Championship Matches but, unfortunately, Bert suffered from a recurring injury and was not able to continue.

Other Societies have claimed to have been the first to have a Lady referee. Let’s put them right. In the 1975-6 season, Hilary Bradshaw, whose husband played for Maidenhead, joined the Society and had a successful season. She had the obvious problem with changing facilities, the Shire Hall Club being the only one in the County with facilities for the ladies and she had to be careful not to get too close to play. I watched her refereeing a Colts match while waiting for my game to start; she got a bit close to the maul and got pulled in. Several players came away from that maul smiling!

During the 1980-81 season the Secretary, Keith Munro, died in tragic circumstances. His wife, in his memory, presented a Trophy to be awarded to the referee who had ‘Made progress with his refereeing skills, had represented the Society on exchange and had, in general, been an asset to and an ambassador of the Society’. The original Tankard has been lost, anyone reading this and has knowledge of its whereabouts, please get in touch. However, the award is still made every year, some recipients going on to referee at higher levels than we have in Berkshire but all have been a credit to the Society.

In 1983 Bill Willis, who had joined the Society from Durham, retired as Treasurer after 12 years in the post. In his final report Bill suggested that the Travelling Expenses paid be raised from 6 to 8p per mile. This was greeted with unanimous approval.  Bill left the job leaving a balance sheet showing that Travelling Expenses during the season were £2324.21 as compared to £19.15 in 1973/4 when the Society started to collect match fees instead of the referee claiming direct from the club. The final balance for 1982-3 season was £1828.88.

Bill was given a season off before being persuaded to become the Society’s Chairman.

Lionel Stephens and John Haines were elected as Life Members at the 1985 AGM and the Society was informed that Steve had also been elected a Life Member of the Berkshire RFU. Both Steve and John had been stalwarts of the Society and rugby in general for many years.

Brian Tozer had been accepted onto the RFU A list in about 1983 and had had a couple of good seasons. In the season of 1985-6, Geoff Fagence, and Peter Stevens joined him and  between them they covered games at Bath, Bristol, Moseley, Saracens, Both Universities and an RAF Station Final.

A Grading Sub-Committee had been formed after the previous season’s AGM under the Chairmanship of Alan Douglas.  The number of Reports on referees had increased to 196, probably due in part to the number of exchanges that were taking place but also due to the retired members and senior referees without a game, giving up their Saturday to watch the youngsters. The Society had swopped referees with 20 other Societies during the season. The number Cards received from the clubs had also risen to over 650 and a new system of Grading was being introduced by the RFU, Alan and his team were going to have their work cut out dealing with that lot.

The RFU had instigated a new system for grading referees that was supposed to ensure a B1 referee in Berkshire was of the same standard as the rest of the country. In most cases this worked well with other Societies accepting our Merit Table games in exchange for one of theirs. But it didn’t happen everywhere. On one occasion we had been given, in exchange for 4 of our Merit Table games, 2 Merit Table games and 2 friendlies. I complained to the Society concerned and was told ‘There are no friendly games in _______ me ‘ansom.’. Clearly we were still regarded as the ‘poor relation’ by some Societies.

From the 1989 season, B1 referees had to be ratified by the Southen Group and exchanges for them were to be arranged by the group. A tie was designed representing the four Counties, which was available those who served on the Southern Group Committee and to the referees to recognise the fact that they were Southern Group referees as well as representing their home County.

The Annual Dinner, held at the end of October 1987, was, for a change, fairly well supported but the attendance at the Ladies Night, a cheese and wine evening at Reading RFC was very disappointing.

Ashley Rowden joined Keith Mongomery on the RAP List in 1991, Ashley going on to referee several for seasons.

Shirt Badges were awarded for the first time to those who were accepted on the Official List and the Treasurer was asked to investigate the cost of having shirts with the Logo already embroidered.

A written exam for all B Grade referees was introduced. Assessors on the South West Group were also expected to pass this exam.

1998 Jubilee Season – Dinner – Sandy Young’s work through all the years he was an active member of the Society, had somehow been overlooked. Invited to attend the Annual Dinner, Sandy was presented with a Mounted Badge of the Society and proclaimed a Life Member, something that should have been done several years previously. Paul Emerson designed and had a Tie manufactured to commemorate the event and a River Party was held on the Thames, sailing from Henley towards Reading and back, plenty of music and, of course being rugby orientated, booze. Several who attended had to organise overnight accommodation for fear of being found incapable of driving home.

The Society also obtained its first Sponsor. All the members were issued with a Shirt with the RANSTAD Logo on the back, together with shocks and shorts. The shorts and shirt both had the Society’s Jubilee Logo embroidered.

Honorary Life Members

D.H.Easby, L.C.Stephens, A.Young, W.Willis, J.Evans, M.Cock, A.Harris, P.Holroyd, D.Robertson, D.Tarrild-Ball, T.Davis