Meet The Ref
I was a dreadful rugby player, both at school and University. Athletics was my sport and I did achieve county level at cross country. I am a veterinary surgeon, a profession with a long history of rugby – Micky Steele-Bodger, the founder of the Barbarians, was a vet. Further, I married into a rugby family. So my involvement in rugby resumed/began, as our son reached his fifth birthday. His mother and grandfather signed him up to Hungerford Rugby Club, and I quickly realised it would be a lot warmer running around in the middle than it would be standing on the touchline. So I volunteered as a coach, did “Rugby Ready” and then I did (what was) ELRA 1&2. I continued as my son progressed through the age grades, as an assistant coach and ref for Hungerford games. I joined the society six years ago. I can clearly remember my first game, in Lightwater. The first half didn’t go very well, but the second half was much worse. At the nadir, about 60 minutes, I was playing advantage and forgot which side had the advantage. It taught me how complex and multifaceted the fifteen man game was.
I’ve plugged away at it, and made it up to level 9. Do I love it? No, I hate it. That sensation of heading out on Saturday lunchtime, knowing loads of people will disagree with you, and some of the time they will be right, is nauseating. But its like so much in life. If you are prepared to stand up to the challenge, time and time again, you will get it right more and more, and the satisfaction when you come off the pitch, knowing you have marshalled the game well, 30 men or women have had a good afternoon, the best team won, and you kept a thrilling but safe contest going, well that’s a good feeling.
As I said I am a vet, I’m a specialist in surgery on horses. I was the equine surgeon for the Rio Olympics in 2016, and I’m a director of Donnington Grove Veterinary Surgery in Newbury, one of the biggest horse practices in the country. People think I am mad when I say this, but there are so many parallels between refereeing and my professional career. You go into the theatre / onto the pitch, for two hours, and you give it your total concentration. Nothing else intrudes on your thoughts for that time. You have to cope with whatever comes along. If the horse is bleeding from some inaccessible artery, it’s similar to the drop out which is blown back over the dead ball line. The fact you can’t remember what the precise anatomy is, or what the precise law is, doesn’t alter the priority to deal with it now. And ultimately, you learn the anatomy or the law. Further, as you become more senior in business, managing people (rather than the more tractable horses) becomes more critical, and so many of the techniques in refereeing transpose directly to business. On the ELRA course, John Ford taught me to manage players by “talk, warn, then sanction” and I try to apply this at work all the time.
And lastly, its good for me. In an average game I will cover about 6km, and I will burn 1500 calories. Its good exercise, it’ll shift the weight a lot better than golf! And, its a lot harder to back out of a refereeing appointment because of the rain than it is to choose not to go for a run. There must be many worse ways to spend an afternoon at the weekend, than exercising hard, practising your management skills, testing your memory, and helping 30 other men or women to take part in a sport which teaches them the values of teamwork, of self reliance, of the need to accept events or judgements going against them, and of the necessity of complete commitment to the cause in front of you.