Rachel has been involved in the game most of her life took up refereeing when she was aged 19 years. She is a life long Featherstone fan, kit washer and referee society secretary
Julia Lee chats to Rachel about her life in Rugby League
I got involved in rugby league due to my family. My mum’s, or most of my mum’s family, were active Featherstone fans as I was growing up. I’ve still got a vivid memory of most of my family trundling off in 83 to go and watch the final. I didn’t go – I stayed at home with my dad, but I remember going to drop them off on the morning and going to pick them up when they came back. I remember going out to my dad’s tool shed to tell him that Featherstone had managed to win which was the biggest upset to that point.
After that it sort of dropped out of my life for a bit and then probably the late 80s early 90s I started just going to watch the odd game with my cousin and my aunt, just when I felt like it. And got to the point of, I don’t know, probably as most fans do at some point in time, I can do better than that person in the middle, at that time, the man in the middle. And started – I think there was something in the paper – about the local society. So, I went, and that was an interesting experience. I think I did my RFL exam in 92, so it was in late 90 or early 91.
The referee society met at the Ship Inn in Castleford, which is no longer there. Well, the building’s still there, but it’s no longer a pub. And the meetings were in a separate room downstairs. Everybody was in a shirt, tie and blazer, so very, very formal. I did eventually get a blazer but I think at the start I went in, not casual casual, but almost like me school stuff I think.
I was about 17, 18. And yeah, it was interesting. Me and about 25-30 blokes of various ages. Probably the youngest about my age or slightly younger. Right up to like senior echelons of the game, cos we’re talking about Ray, we’re talking about Russ, we’re talking about Pres, we’re talking about Dave Davies, Pete Walton, who were all Grade 1 officials out on the top game’s week in, week out. So I was going “right, OK”. Had the argument about what I would wear to officiate, because I played a lot of hockey so I was used to wearing like the PE skirts and he was like, no, you’ve got to wear the shorts while you’re reffing. OK fine.
Got out, can’t even remember my first game, seriously, but I did an inordinate amount of lower ages who at that time played ordinary rules then anyway. I was given help on the laws of the game. There was no when it’s this you stand there and when it’s this you stand there. None of that.
So I did quite a few years of the 8s 9s and 10s.
Obviously, my first game wasn’t too bad, because I went back again. And back again and back again. And then it was just oh, you need to work on this or you need to work on that.
People occasionally came to watch me. Cos, we used to meet… I’m trying to think… We used to meet every other week at that point in time. And it was formal every time. We used to have the thing that there was a jukebox in the pub downstairs. Various little rooms off the main central area and we were in one of them, there was a pool table in one and all the rest of it, but the jukebox fed into all the rooms. So while we were holding our meeting, cos it was a Monday night, there weren’t usually many other people in, but if anybody came in and wanted to play the jukebox, there was a definite raised eyebrow and the bar person had to trot in and go and turn our speaker off. And then it got to a point later on, Gavin and Ian joined, who I’m good friends with, we always used to put Welcome to the House of Fun on as our last song before we went into the meeting, because we thought it would set the appropriate tone for us being in the meeting, so that became our society song.
So yeah, a serious number of years doing really young age groups, which in some ways is not bad, I think, cos it gave me a really good grounding, but in other ways, I’m like, they came in after me and they’re now doing that age group, so why am I not being allowed to progress? So, there was that flick of, yes, it’s making me into possibly a better referee than if I’d shot through the ages, but actually now it’s starting to feel that it’s holding me back. So, I almost went from, when I signed up to do the out of areas, I almost went from doing under 14s, under 15s… It was the, what was the league called now, that David Lowe used to manage? And it was like… The Southern Conference – not the National Conference but the other conference. I want to do a bit more reffing, I want to get above what I’m doing, because I’m probably at that point still doing under 14s, under 15s, but touch judging open age men, because I did a lot of touch judging for Mr Merrick, who dragged me into that to start with. So, I went literally from probably refereeing under 14s, under 15s, to refereeing open age men.
I did kids for 4 or 5 years then moved on to open age. To be fair it wasn’t too bad. Cos you go into areas that weren’t traditional rugby areas, it wasn’t like there was a prejudice against you, because it’s like they just want to play rugby and I was just here to facilitate them playing rugby, so they weren’t bothered. Whereas I think if you go into the more traditional areas, which you probably find yourself, there’s more of that, sort of like, hang on a minute, de duh de duh de duh… Whereas because I was out of our traditional heartland, it actually wasn’t… They were just happy to have a referee
So, I trekked round a few places. I’m trying to think – what was it, the World Cup, we went down to Bedford, and they said, can we kick off early? I said what time were you thinking of? Oh, umm, 11 o’clock? I said, right, yeah, I can do that. It would have been the football. I’m trying to think when it was. So, I went down the night before and then me and me mum drove home in about the only car on the road, cos everyone was watching the Football World Cup and I was like, that’s fine. It was great working with teams from outside the area, but then I enjoyed touch judging in the Conference in the Heartland area. I went to Normanton to touch judge and they were like oh we didn’t know you were here today! It’s alright, it’s a total coincidence you’re on the front of the programme for the match as well, right. OK thank you. It was actually a shot of the Normanton players going for a try and I was in the background.
And then when I went to Oldham St Anne’s once, and it was the review, they do, match review on that day or nearest 5 years, 10 years, and I was the touch judge on the game from 5 years before. And I was like thanks for that! But yeah, it’s like the teams you can have a laugh with, a relationship with. Yes, you turn up, you do your job, but outside of that, you can have a laugh with them, have a joke with them, you know. I mean it’s like Mezza will probably tell you about if you ever ask Mezza, the Best brothers. First game I ever did with Mezza, touch judging, was Oulton Raiders vs Oldham St Anne’s at Raider Park, Oulton and I had some lingerie problems, to the point where I was doubled over, couldn’t breathe, at various points in the game. And I was like – Mezza had pulled, I can’t remember which one it was, probably David, up for something in the game, and he says “Rach, are you alright?”. Yeah, I’m fine. And he says what did you see with this? I said de duh de duh de duh and he said OK right, that’s it, I’m sending him, so he sent the player off and I came back, and he went what are you on about, you can’t even breathe? And I’m like yeah, but my eyes still work so that’s fine. End of. And I touch judged that game with, bless him, Martin Bingley. So, it is the whole thing. I kept getting dragged all over the place. St Anne’s been one of David’s regular haunts, so I went there quite a few times. But it is, it’s just about the relationship you have with the players, with the clubs. I mean a guy, you know how you… as an official, you’re much more visible, if that makes sense, because the guy, the person that bought the house in front of where I live, when he came up, I had one of those moments where you know him from somewhere. And he played for Stanningley and he says I know you, you touch judged there so many times. And it’s like Stanningley was one of the teams I could always have a crack with. I once did them at… Dewsbury… I’ve got to get the right one… the one near the Dewsbury ground? Shaw Cross. And it was me, Gavin and Wardy. And me and Gav were in the car saying right, it’s going to be a punch up today, because that’s pretty much what we were sent on. It was either relegation decider, promotion decider, or it was going to be a punch up. They were our categories of games. So we’d come to the conclusion that that was going to be a punch up and I think I was on that 6, 7 times in the first 20 minutes, because Shaw Cross were being that way out and taking every opportunity to get a cheap shot in, and I just kept going on and reporting it. And one of Shaw Cross players said, “You’ve got to stop stopping us there” and I said, “Well, if you stop what you’re doing and then I don’t have to, do I?” and then it calmed down in the end. I’m not saying street cred, but the teams appreciate that you’re going to do your job and you’re going to do it properly. So then after that I never had any issues with Stanningley, because it’s oh, yeah, from Shaw Cross and she were alright and all the rest of it. So even then actually if sometimes you make a mistake, they’ll almost cut you some slack for, actually, we know it is a genuine mistake not oh, you don’t know what you’re doing, you just genuinely made a mistake.
In some ways I had more difficulties being a woman ref, I suppose, per se, working out of the Castleford area, it is quite a big area and we’ve got quite a lot of teams, but it also means we’ve got quite a lot of games where it’s a team from in our area playing another team from in our area, so it was a question of once I’d been to every club with an age group, it’s getting your face known. So then once you override the, I won’t say hostility, but the original, sort of like, uh, what are you doing? Once you got past that, it was less aggravation and it seemed to be more with the changing age groups. You didn’t have an issue with the club, but then you sometimes had an issue with the different age groups, so it was… I mean even 4, 5 years in I was still getting asked why I was reffing. As a woman, why was I doing it. And it’s like, cos I want to, what’s the problem? I never quite got why it had to be an issue, because to me it’s not an issue. Why can’t somebody referee? And it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, why are you doing it? Male or female shouldn’t come into it – are you as a person refereeing this or playing that or doing that? That’s a personal decision for you, it shouldn’t be because you’re male or female.
I haven’t done any games for a couple of years. I want to get back out, but I was poorly last year, I had fluid on my lung. So I wasn’t really in a state to do anything. But I want to get back out this year. I don’t know if it’s going to necessarily happen, but I am working towards getting back out. I’m not ready to hang the whistle up or hang my flag up yet.
I remember us setting up the National Women’s Referee Association I think because we needed to because of the fact that we were in so many different societies and we had such different experiences. Cos you think, some of the people…. I was always brought up that if you want to do something, do it, whereas some people couldn’t cope with that or didn’t have that in their background, to actually go into some of the situations where you’ve probably been, where I’ve probably been, they would run a mile. Where if they’d gone into a more supportive environment, if they’d been more nurtured, they would’ve been fine. So it was, the Women’s Association, was trying to fill that gap. But I don’t think it ever got, it ever managed to get in to the societies and say this is the template or however you want to put it. But even then, to be fair, it should have been the way that everybody was treated when they walked through the door, whether they were male or female. It should have been the standard. And it wasn’t. That was the issue.
Having a day out with Pam when we went down to touch judge in, or officiate, in Birmingham with Bob Connolly and Stuart Cummings. When we used to have us meetings and trying to get… We all had such varying experiences, because there were obviously me and you and Jean from this side, some people that were active some that weren’t active, few people in the Leeds society and then Pam and some others on the other side of the hill and we seemed to have such varying experiences of whether we were accepted or not in our own societies. Which was just like, this is so ridiculous. So, I think… I don’t know if actually it ever got the backing it needed or the recognition it needed, because I know looking back through some of the minutes, it’s like, oh, somebody’s supposed to be doing this, or we’re supposed to be going to that, and we never got the support or however you want to put it from the RFL to actually go, this is part of our, part of us as well.
The whole – it wasn’t, it wasn’t that they didn’t want to be welcoming. With you, you were saying about Hull and you know FC were on one side and KR were on the other and all the rest of it. Even at Castleford/Featherstone, we don’t have that, however much Cas and Fev hate each other, we’ve never had that as a society. We’ve always been yeah, I’m a Fev fan, so and so is a Cas fan, so and so is… We even have. We used to have Mossy – Simon Moss, he was the treasurer for a while, he was on the pro games, he was a Wakefield fan, it didn’t make any difference. Whatever your team allegiance, we were a geographical area that had rugby in it and we were just together to help that go, so actually our personal team allegiances, you might get the odd crack, oh, Leeds have beat Cas or whatever, but that was it. There wasn’t any segregation because of who you supported. Whereas whenever you go to Hull, or you had the Bradford and Halifax fall out and all the rest of it, you just go oh, get over yourself. If you support rugby league, then you do for the rugby league and who you support is your personal preference, but it shouldn’t dictate who you sit next to in a meeting for the love of god. That’s ridiculous.
I was probably a couple of years into the society, quite happy to just sort of like, you know, yeah, I’m fine, I’ll turn up, I’ll go ref, looking to maintain, improve, all the rest of it, but no grand ambitions for ever being on the management committee. And Dave Davies who was the secretary, had been the longstanding secretary, needed some personal time. There was something come up and he couldn’t commit to the society for a couple of months, so he asked me if I could act as interim. So, I said yeah alright, I can cope with doing that – I think I was actually at Uni at the time. That’s alright I can cope with that, cos my days at Uni would fit round when the meetings are and everything. So, I did that for him till the end of the season. Then he decided that he didn’t actually want to carry on, so I pretty much just ended up with it in my lap. And this was at a point where, because we had formal meetings, we had formal minutes every meeting, so everything was documented and I had to produce typed up minutes for every meeting, so I was on a continuous cycle of the next meeting, the next meeting, the next meeting, what needs doing. And that continued pretty much, I can’t remember when it was now, until Paul Carr was the Chair and a guy called Jim Jones who was also a touch judge. Paul wanted Jim to be the secretary and I said well, I’m not bothered, seriously, I’ve probably done 4 or 5 years if not more by that point. In fact, probably more, actually, by that point, I’m seriously not bothered. I give him all my stuff and he got, Paul used his casting vote to elect Jim as secretary. So, I gave Jim all my stuff – my folders, my notes, everything, all the records I had of the society at that point. And this was when we were still winter, so that’s how far you were going back. So, at the end of the season, May, I gave him everything after the meeting and we got to the end of August and he’s like, oh, Jim’s not going to do it, can you step into the breach and do it, but I never go anything back. So, all I had of the society up to that point has disappeared. And then I’ve been secretary ever since. Various chairpersons, various treasurers, but I keep trying, but nobody ever takes the hint, so I’ve been secretary ever since.
It’s truly terrifying. When we had some new members at the last meeting and John Seymour says I think we need to get a handle on how many years people have been here, what they’ve done, and all the rest of it. So, he was going round the room and he got to me and I went, “Um, OK, I think I started in like 1991”, so I’ve been involved in refereeing longer than probably at least half the people in that room have been alive, so that’s slightly worrying. So yes, so it’s now me and Bob Stokes are the most long-lived members of the society.
The secretary is a more an overseeing post, so if we need something organising, I organise it. So, I’m currently organising the dinner. I’ve organised the dinner for the last 3 or 4 years. And things like that. Just keeping things on track. Making sure people have got contact details if there are any issues. If anybody sends anybody off, I get a copy of it to keep on record in case there’s any issues and also, we can chase up, obviously. Yes, it’s been done, because it’s come to me, so it’s definitely been done, with the timelines of how quick reports have to get in. So more of an organising role now. No minutes every meeting, thank goodness. No blazers.
We’ve got probably a hard core of about 20. So, we’re not doing bad. Rough mixture of older and younger. I mean we’ve got some of our, you know, I say kids, but I can remember them walking through the door and now we’re doing first team rugby, cos Joe was recently on a Catalans game and Cameron’s doing internationals and I was just like I remember them starting! We’ve got a rough mixture of slightly younger end. We’ve just managed to get in a couple of slightly older starters, which is really unusual nowadays. Roughly equal school age and adult, roughly about 20 members that are hard core, a few that turn up now and again, but probably solid members we should be about 20.
I started volunteering at Featherstone when I was at Uni, so I was already reffing and I already knew a few of the people at Rovers because the Lions Juniors, used to play on the pitch at the back of the Rovers ground. So, they used to use the changing rooms at Featherstone now and again. So, I knew Lewis and Fred and a couple of the other people that were virtually always at the club and they were there when the junior games were on. When I did my A levels, I’d done work experience with the police, so when I went to university and I had another block of work experience, because I’d already done the police, I couldn’t do another one. So they said try and find some community-based activity to do. So I think I just casually said to Lewis, oh, can I come down and like do a bit in the shop or whatever, cos this is when the shop used to be on Station Lane. Can I come and help you in the shop for a couple of weeks as my work experience? And he said oh yeah, that’s fine. So I think Fred heard about that I was doing that and he said, oh, you can come down and do some stuff at ground as well. Right, OK, and that was it. I got sort of swallowed up. Oh, you don’t mind doing training while me and Benny go to horse racing tonight, do you? You can just lock up for us and things like that, can’t you? And it just grew and grew and grew.
I use to do everything. Literally everything. I hate the pattern on the floor in the changing rooms, cos it’s tiles with raised squares on them, which meant that it wasn’t an easy mop over and it was done, you had to literally scrub each one because of the silly bloody square raised tile pattern. Washing towels, washing kits, sorting kits, getting it repaired with Anne, Gavin’s mum, she used to repair it for me. I was probably doing that for… I was already working behind the scenes when we went to the premiership final in 92-93 and then I probably started working, I was still working behind the scenes when we were in the semi-final in, was it 95? When we played Leeds at Elland Road. I was still behind the scenes. I didn’t work match days, I did just training sessions. And then Kev Hobbs took over with the academy and he said can you come and do the kit, be kit manager per se, so come to the games and all the rest of it, so that’s when I started working with like the academy and then just gradually worked my way up.
I eventually did the kit for all teams home and away. I can remember going up to do double header at Workington with the under 18s and then the under 21s. So I went up. I think the under 18s played first, so I took all the kit on the bus with the under 18s, went up, unloaded everything, did everything for the under 18s game, put all their stuff away, and then the under 21s rocked up, so we repeated the whole performance and brought it all back on the bus with the under 21s. That was a really, really long day.
Talking of long days I think the longest day I did was due to the Academy team in 2001. We’d just managed to qualify for the end of season play-offs and thought we’d have away games all the time so the main pitch had been reseeded and was off limits. The grass was about a foot high. We played our first game and managed to win and the team below us also won which meant we had a home semi-final. We asked to play on the Miners Welfare pitch at the back of the main ground and were told no on the Friday. The game was on the Saturday! So having done a full day at work I got down to the ground and started to prepare it for the match on the Saturday. The grass had been cut and seriously you could have baled it as hay. Next problem the line marking machine can’t cope with cut grass so I had to clear grass away from where the lines needed marking then mark out the pitch – under floodlights cos it was about midnight. But it was worth it because the team won and then went on to win the final at Leigh.
I went to France when we played in the Treize Tournoi, after the Grand Final defeat to Wakefield. Fev played Limoux and UTC. I went all over the place, Cardiff, London. I finished when my dad got really poorly. So that was probably 2012, 2013? Quite a long time, yeah.
I loved it most of the time, yeah. Cos again it’s the craic you can have, the laugh that you can have with the players and everything. So it was… It’s like when I see Paddy, he was associated with York Acorn. I didn’t know he was, I was touch judging Cas Panthers and York Acorn. And I got this eh up, Raquel! And it was Paddy from the Championship team. And it’s crackers. You know, Brendon? He was over the other year – me and Brendon were good friends. I knew he was on tour in Pontefract but I was on holiday and I thought oh, well, he’s going to go back before I get home, and I just happened to see him. He was doing a talk with Dave Downs in a pub in Pontefract and I went, and Dave saw me, and Brendon came in and Dave said, Rachel’s over there. He just literally walked up to me and gave me a great big hug. And this guy was like, how do you know him? And I was like, cos we used to work together. It’s that relationship you can develop with players and actually see them, not being horrible, but as people, rather than just oh it’s Paul Newlove who played for Featherstone or Steven Molloy or whoever, you know, and we had Great Britain internationals, but it’s just Steve or Matt or whoever. It’s like with Matt … with his kid watching a particular cartoon and how many times he’d have to watch it as well. And every time I hear Matt on the radio and he’s commentating I think yeah, I remember you complaining about how many times you had to watch those cartoons. So it’s seeing beyond the persona.
I don’t think rugby league defines me, but it is a key part of who I am. When I’ve been out reffing or officiating or however you want to put it, I feel like a different person to when I’m not. It’s definitely contributed to who I am and I definitely feel different, not having refereed for a bit. It’s like part of me is missing, which is what I’m saying I want to get back out, because I haven’t finished yet.