Tony Spreadbury - the unique referee

07th Sep 2007, 11:52

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'Spreaders': Unique

'Spreaders': Unique

Tony Spreadbury will referee the opening match of the 2007 Rugby World Cup - a referee with a unique style among his peers.

Tony Spreadbury will referee the opening match of the 2007 Rugby World Cup - a referee with a unique style.

More than with other referees his personality shines through his refereeing and he is an ebullient personality. So he jabbers away, smiling, giggling, laughing, exhorting, giving every impression of enjoying himself.

That's the way he is. Few people have his bounciness and so few people should imitate it. In fact it is not everybody's cup of tea as many find the nonstop jabber annoying and distracting. Where most referees are No.31 on the field, Spreaders is far, far more prominent - not consciously seeking prominence but just from the way he does things.

It is a style at odds with the IRB's protocol on communication which urges referees to cut the talk down to a minimum.

But Spreaders is Spreaders, and just about everybody who knows him calls him Spreaders, including his wife Philippa.

On one occasion a decision of his led to a family dispute. Spreaders started refereeing young and his father carried on playing till he was old. In a reverse in the normal order of things, Spreaders was refereeing and father was playing - in the same match. Spreadbury's father went over for what he thought was a try but Spreadbury son did not award it. This led to family discussion afterwards.

For 17 years, before he became a full-time referee, he was a paramedic which meant that his care of an injured player could be more effective than the usual refereeing inquiry.

There was another occasion, a sad one, when he went from Bath to Northampton to referee a match practice for the England Under-21 side. He set a scrum, it collapsed and Matt Hampson went down with a broken neck. Spreaders was able to resuscitate him. He probably saved Hampson's life and stabilised him before he was taken to Northampton General Hospital from where he was transferred to Stoke Mandeville.

On one occasion he had refereed in Bristol and then rushed home to Bath to go on duty. The first call was to an elderly man who was having a heart attack. Spreaders rushed upstairs to where the suffering man was in a chair with a television set on opposite. The programme playing was Match of the Day. The old man took one look at Spreaders, pointed at the screen and slumped over dead. Spreaders tells that story against himself.

Once he was knocked out cold while refereeing. Once he showed a streaker a red card as he flashed past. Once he showed the crowd a yellow card. It was a premiership match in England when Wasps and West Hartlepool. There was a kick at goal. The crowd made rude noises. Spreadbury put a finger to his lips to call for silence. The crowd took no notice. He then showed them a yellow card, which changed the noise to amusement.

In Montevideo he refereed a World Cup qualifier between Uruguay and Portugal, a crucial match as it would decide which of the two would be at this year's World Cup. In the first half he showed the Teros lock, Juan Carlos Bado, a red card for stamping on Vasco Uva's head.

Cheerful and lively he is, but he takes his refereeing seriously, which is why he is at the World Cup and why he has been entrusted with he opening match while the whole world watches and Spreaders sets the standard.

Anthony John Spreadbury, born in Bath on 29 March 1962, will be the oldest referee at the World Cup. At one stage he was dropped from the International Rugby Board's panels, but he bounced back. Now it seems that his involvement in active refereeing will diminish after the World Cup and a place will be found for him in refereeing development which he, with his positive attitude, is sure to do well.