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Ref eyes his 3000th match

Exceptional milestone for 73-year-old

Unorthodox official Glynn James reaches an astonishing rugby landmark when he takes charge of his 3,000th game in Cambridge next month.

The retired lecturer from Stamford in Lincolnshire will reach the milestone when he referees the students’ game between Trinity Hall v Churchill College on 10 November.

James, 73, has clocked up more than 90 games a season since his first appearance in the middle of the game between Stamford IV against Lincoln IV in the 1974-75 season.

Since then he has refereed at every major club in England and Wales, served on the RFU ‘A’ list and county panels as well as for the Nottinghamshire, Lincoldnshire and Derbyshire and Cambridge Referees' Societies, experimented with new laws, and crossed the paths of some of the game’s famous names.

But even though he is clearly a natural communicator, he took some persuading at first. 

“I’d been playing for Stamford and the sides talked me though the game,” said James. “It wasn’t a case of retiring from playing – I was pushed into it by friends – but that first game was so enjoyable that I just kept going and I was lucky to have appointments secretaries who thought I was okay and brought me on.

“I’ll go on as long as the players don’t mind me and as long as I keep enjoying it – over the years I can only think of a couple of games I haven’t.”

Among the players he has refereed include past and present England coaches Sir Clive Woodward and Andy Robinson when they were students at Loughborough University. “I told Robbo he’d covered every blade of grass – mostly on the floor,” said James.

And while he was the first official to sin-bin a player with a yellow card in the laws laboratory at Cambridge, it is his desire to keep teams on the field that players will remember.

He carries in his wallet a card with ‘Don’t mess with the referee – he’s your only friend’ written on it to defuse any tension when he pulls any miscreants to one side.

“I ask them if they can read it or if they’re prop forwards and they want me to read it out to them, then they start smiling. I find it works better than sending people off,” he said.

He added: “I’ve been lucky to have met some great coaches in Chalky White, Jim Greenwood and Brian Ashton and they’ve taught me a lot about the game and refereeing.

“The message from them is that if you treat the players right, you’ll be rewarded. Sometimes there are too many laws and it is important to referee the game as you see it developing – not just to the letter.

“I always tell players ‘if you’ve got two bad knees and you’re eyesight’s going then you could be a referee’. You can get an enormous amount of enjoyment out of it and I’d encourage anyone to try. It’s about all 31 guys on the field enjoying themselves.”

James’s outstanding contribution to the game as a referee and administrator has been recognised this year by the award of a medal from the Community Service Volunteers organisation.

Premiership official David Rose led the tributes from James’s refereeing colleagues.

"You'd be hard pushed to find a better example of someone who's made a lifelong commitment to the game and who's maintained his enthusiasm and willingness to get involved,” said Rose.

"It's guys like Glynn who keep the game going. If we have a referee taking charge of a World Cup final, like Ed Morrison has done in the past, then great. But Glynn has given so much more to keep the game going at the grassroots."

More than 36,000 volunteers – 6,000 of them referees – support grassroots rugby in England, enabling 500,000 people to take part in the sport.

RFU CB Volunteer Manager Carole Thelwall-Jones said: “Glynn is a shining example of the enthusiasm volunteers bring to rugby at all levels. Our game is special because of their dedication and the fun we share while helping grassroots rugby flourish.”


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