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One of RL's great referees dies at 87 PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Walsh   
Tuesday, 16 February 2021

billy thompson.pngOne of Rugby League’s most famous referees – the legendary Billy Thompson – has died at the age of 87.

After Eric Clay he was probably the next top level whistler in rugby league that I can recall.

He was in charge at one of the first games I attended at the Recreation Ground, Whitehaven when one guy on the Kells End was continually shouting: “Get ‘em onside Thompson.” He must have ended the game hoarse. 

No doubt about who was in charge of the game, however, and Thompson’s strong control of the contest was most noticeable.

I suppose Billy is best remembered by Leeds fans for his part in one of Wembley’s most controversial incidents when he became the first referee to send-off a player in a Challenge Cup final.

The Huddersfield referee dismissed Syd Hynes following a clash with Alex Murphy during Leeds’ shock defeat to Leigh in 1971. Murphy was stretchered from the field, but returned soon afterwards as Leigh stunned the hot favourites 24-7.

Thompson was also in the middle for Leeds’ 1978 Wembley win over St Helens and before enforced retirement, aged 50 he took charge of the 1984 Cup final.

Along with Fred Lindop, Thompson was the sport’s dominant match official in the 1970s and early 80s, taking charge of finals in all major competitions.tommo book.png

He was referee of the year three times and the first to officiate an Australian State of Origin match.

Made a Grade One official in the 1967-68 season, he refereed 17 Test matches, including the 1977 World Cup final in Sydney.

Super League referee Ben Thaler, from Normanton, has paid tribute to Thompson declaring he was among the finest officials in the sport’s history.

He said: “He will go down as one of the best referees there has ever been - and rightly so.

“He deserves his place alongside the likes of Eric Clay, Ron Gelder and Fred Lindop as the best of all-time.

"He had a way with the players, probably like no other.”

Thompson was an engineer at David Brown Tractors and became a hugely popular public speaker after hanging up his whistle.

Thaler added: “He was a brilliant bloke, a proper Yorkshireman. He was a great character and somebody who’d help you whenever he could.”

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