We recently caught up with a rugby-mad schoolboy who turned to refereeing because he has a rare heart condition.
The story of Arthur Cripps, aged 10, from Manchester, was so inspiring, the sport has rallied around him in support, with ACME Whistles this week linking him with one of the world’s top refs to get some tips.
During his school day at Cheadle Hulme School in Stockport, Greater Manchester, Arthur and his PE teacher, Jonny Cartwright, who is spearheading Arthur’s referee training, joined leading official Luke Pearce to give the young ref a unique insight into the world of refereeing.
“It was amazing to speak to Luke,” said Arthur. “I never thought I’d get to speak to such an amazing referee.
“We chatted for ages. He was so inspiring and has made me want to continue my refereeing journey.”
Arthur grilled Luke about everything from practical on-pitch advice to chatting about Luke’s favourite team, Cullompton.
The interview kicked off with Arthur diving straight into a topical issue of handling players that argue back.
Luke was able to put Arthur’s mind at ease, starting by pointing out that few players argue with referees.
“It’s important that you don’t just look at the player arguing but look at how you manage the situation with them, and how you speak to people,” Luke added.
“Nine times out of 10, in my experience, if you speak to people like you’d want to be spoken to, you find a middle ground and there is no arguing.”
Arthur went on to ask whether Luke ever feels bad about giving a red card.
“You don’t want to make decisions that are unpopular,” Luke said. “However, in the job that I do, and the job that you might be going into, you know that someone will win and someone will lose.
“The beauty of people supporting is that they will be emotional if their team doesn’t win. You have to be aware that at some point you are not going to be very popular.
“Although people will judge you or not like your decision, if you can explain something really well and give a rationale for the reason why you’ve made your decision, people may not agree with it, but they can go along with it.”
The conversation moved onto keeping your focus as a referee.
Interestingly, Luke discussed the times where referee focus does get more challenging, saying: “The hardest part for me is the scoreline. If you have a really tight score in a game, you know that everything you do will have a bearing on that match.
“It’s easier to stay focused because you are conscious that everything you do is so important.
“The hard part is where one team are winning really easily. Because refereeing isn’t just about reading a law book and blowing a whistle. It’s about trying to create the best game for the players to play.”
Arthur went on to ask Luke about the hardest game he’d reffed, with Luke saying that “games are hard to referee for different reasons.”
“Saturday was up there with the Ireland v New Zealand game, because obviously the score line and just the way the game went,” Luke added.
“Also, the European final from May or June this year was tough. It wasn’t a pretty game so there weren’t lots of tries or nice running rugby, but there were big hits, lots of physicality, lots of scrums – and that makes it harder as you’re drawn into more scenarios.
“I also think that every international, with the scrutiny and big crowds, adds another challenge.”
Thinking of fitness, Arthur asked how far referees run during a game, and more specifically, is it more than the players?
Luke began by explaining that it’s a different sort of fitness as a ref because they are not getting tackled, rucking or mauling, telling Arthur ‘it’s a different kind of energy’ as a player.
“I guess I run around as much as a player, but to be honest I don’t know how much distance players do on average,” he added.
“We wear a GPS watch and on Saturday I run maybe eight kilometres, which is higher than my normal because the game was quicker.
“When players play the ball wide and from touchline to touchline you run more as you’ve got to chase the play, whereas when it’s a lot of physicality and a lot of picking and going from the ruck, you don’t run as much.”
Wanting to find out more about handling difficult situations on the pitch, Arthur asked whether Luke had ever lost communication with the rest of his official team.
Luke said: “So maybe eight or nine years ago I was refereeing at Newport in Wales. It was a Friday night, pouring with rain and freezing cold. I went to check something in the corner and exactly that happened – all my comms went down.
“In the end I had to stand in the middle of the pitch on a mobile phone to the TMO before I could give the try.
“We’re lucky enough that there are engineers now, so if it does go wrong, somebody can get on and fix it pretty quickly.”
Coming to the end of their interview, the conversation turned towards age and experience, something Luke could relate to.
“You’ll have to overcome lots of little things like this so when you start, Luke said. “Refereeing people older than you can be a real challenge. When you turn up somewhere, you will get comments like ‘wow how young is he?’ and ‘does he know what he’s doing?’
“You’ve just got to try and overcome it, and work through it. I had it for years. I’m 34 now, but for 10 years I was pretty much the youngest person on the pitch.”
After an enlightening interview, with advice not only for Arthur, but also for his teacher Mr Cartwright, the schoolboy was able to take away all of Luke’s advice to inspire him as a referee.
“There’ll be good times, and bad times but most importantly just keep enjoying it and you’ll go far, there’s no doubt about that,” Luke said.
Arthur is definitely one to watch out for in the future. Keep an eye here for updates from the team at ACME Whistles on how his journey develops.
For more information visit https://www.acmewhistles.co.uk/whistles-accessories/sports-whistles/rugby-whistles