Happy times in Rugby Union

When I started at the Dental Hospital in 1955, National Service was still in being and as a fresher I was unable to gain a place on any of the University Rugby Union teams. Instead I turned to squash and played for Manchester University for five years, being captain in 1958/59 as well as playing for Lancashire.

Rugby Union however was my main interest and in my last year at University, I played for Oldham and then Kersal, (now Altrincham Kersal), being captain of the latter club in 1962. I turned to refereeing in 1963 in order to protect my hands once I had bought my own practice in Burnley.

I became a member of Manchester and District Rugby Union Referees’ Society and rapidly progressed through the grades to be promoted to the RFU County Panel after four seasons. After refereeing Schools’ and A team Internationals, I eventually became an RFU International Referee in 1977.

During this time I refereed 4 full Internationals including Ireland v Scotland in 1978, as well as the All Blacks twice and the Australian touring teams once. During my Rugby career, I visited 24 different countries to referee, assess or lecture. My partners Peter Pearson and Stewart Jackson, both Manchester graduates, were extremely tolerant of my regular absences. In the winter my appointment book was always kept blank on Wednesday afternoons to allow me to referee local matches and on Friday afternoons, until the last week, in case the RFU appointed me to matches in distant parts of the UK or Europe.

The highlight of my career was travelling to the Far East with Scotland to referee their International against Japan after matches in Bangkok and Hong Kong. Another unforgettable trip was to referee Canada v USA in Toronto followed by lectures at various cities travelling west across Canada to Vancouver Island. A foreign trip with a difference was to Romania with England B in 1978 where I refereed their match against Bucharest. Following England’s return home, I stayed on lecturing to the local coaches and referees, and refereeing a couple of club matches.

I was also privileged to organise the referees and referee at the Caribbean Championships in Guyana and the Asian Championships in Taiwan. Other trips abroad have included managing Anti-Assassins’ squads to the Caribbean Sevens in 2000 and 2001 and to the Dubai Sevens in 2008 and 2009.

I retired from active refereeing in 1993, but still remain involved with the Manchester & District Society in a variety of different roles. I served on the committee at Calder Vale RUFC, (now Burnley RUFC), for over 50 years, becoming their representative on the Lancashire County Rugby Football Union in 1964 and becoming President in season 1996-1997.

I represented Lancashire on the Rugby Football Union from 1987 to 1997 serving on the Coaching, Referee and Laws subcommittees, and also on the England Rugby Football Schools’ Union, on retiring from which, in 2007, I was awarded Life Membership. For these services to the game, I was presented with the Torch Trust Trophy Award by the Duke of Kent in 2007.

With my experience over the years of being an RFU Liaison Officer to incoming touring sides such as New Zealand, South Africa and Western Samoa, I was appointed to the six-man Technical Committee which delivered Rugby Sevens at the highly successful Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. I was also involved in the organisation of the Under 21s Rugby World Cup, held in the Thames Valley area in 2003.

Rugby Union has been a major part of my life and I have been most fortunate to have had some unforgettable experiences all over the world. An understanding wife, and the flexibility of dentistry, have allowed me to make the most of the many wonderful opportunities I have been offered. As well as having a great deal of fun, I was also honoured to be awarded the British Empire Medal for ‘Services to Rugby Union Football in Lancashire’ in the Queen’s 2012 Birthday Honours.

Peter Hughes

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