Rugby referees' feature - John Griffiths has been a great ambassador for referees

Rugby referee John GriffithsJohn Griffiths has been a long-serving rugby referee based in our county and when we finally caught up with him he provided us with loads of interesting details about what it is like to be a ref – and some special moments like the season he was honoured with the presidency of the Welsh Society of Rugby Union Referees.
In his time he was also Hon Secretary, Hon Treasurer and President of the local society for the men in the middle, and is a great advocate for former players putting something back into a sport which has given them years of pleasure!

Started out in Carmarthen and played in two separate times for them

John started playing his rugby as a winger with Carmarthen Athletic and says,
“I absolutely loved my time there with some terrific players in a brilliant club.
“There was no league rugby like there is today but as well as playing lots of so-called friendlies there were also great tours abroad to places like Holland, France and Belgium.
“I played on the wing for several years but then decided to stop because of family and work commitments as a solicitor.
“I thought that would be the end of my playing days but  ten years later The Athletic started up an over 35s team and I had three years there as a terrific bonus, steering clear of injury and just enjoying the fun of playing again.

His refereeing is down to the powerful persuasion of ‘T.C.’

“That I started refereeing was down to Colin Davies, popularly known to all as ‘T.C., who was by then a highly respected rugby referee and told me several times I should think of joining him because not only was  enjoyable but would allow me to put something back into a sport I loved.
“I decided to give it a try and he took me along to a monthly meeting of the Pembrokeshire Society of Rugby Union Referees to meet everyone and I found them a friendly bunch who were delighted that I was about to join them.

Great welcome from Keith and Co at the PSRUR

“Keith Bryant, who has sadly passed away since, presented my with a metal ‘Acme Thunderer’ whistle (the sort that might damage your teeth if you misjudged the speed of getting it into your mouth) which was a really nice.
“I can remember feeling a bit nervous before my first youth game but Keith was there to give me support, as he has done to so many new referees before and since then.
“I felt it went well and I was hooked from the start, went on a course and for a while stayed local with youth and second team games, getting a good welcome wherever I went.
“When I felt it was the right time to move up I joined the WRU Referees’ list and began travelling all across the M4 corridor and for some matches in North Wales, which I particularly enjoyed because of the uplifting drive up the Cardigan Bay coast but clubs seemed to really appreciate refs being prepared to make such long trips.

Family Matters . . .

Outside his love of sport, John is very much a family man and would be eager to highlight the total support given by his wife Geraldine, who was an accomplished ice skater in her younger days and represented Great Britain in the European Junior Championships before an injured foot caused her to retire early from competitive ice skating.
They have three sons, with David (43) as an excellent triathlete and someone who loves competing in ‘Iron Man, followed by Ian (41), who is a keen cyclist and another ‘Iron Man’ participant, and finally Jack (34), who played rugby for Cardigan.

. . . Other Sports

“My work kept me very busy until I retired at 65 but then my sons bought me a new bike and I’ve enjoyed building up my stamina, although I have to admit I am a bit of a fair-weather cyclist and so rarely go out in the winter.
“But I have entered the Carten Challenge twice and was delighted to finish the 100-miles or so – not a bad effort at 66 and 68 years old. Will I make it a hat-trick at 70? Who knows!
“I also enjoy running, despite creaky joints and have completed 10K races around South Wales, including at Barry Island, Porthcawl, Newport and Cardiff – and I love walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and I’ve completed all of it at some time or another, but so that I can enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife, rather than as a challenge!

Back to rugby – and a real honour bestowed

Going back to his refereeing, John has been secretary and treasurer of the PSRUR and then was honoured with the presidency – and completed a presidential double by being chosen as the president of the Welsh Society of Rugby Union Referees.
John would describe both offices as curtesy titles and that is the secretary and treasurer who have the heavy workloads – but readily admits it was a lovely year in office, nevertheless.
“I made visits to almost all the regional societies as a guest at dinners and I was also the proud receiver of a plaque on which it said,
‘In recognition of an outstanding contribution to the Welsh Society of Rugby Union of Referees.'
“I was also invited by the Welsh Rugby Union to attend international matches as their guest against Japan and Ireland – and what made it even more enjoyable was that they made all the arrangements and Geraldine was also invited to come with me on one occasion and we were made to feel very welcome!
“Gordon Eynon, the District H rep on the WRU, joined us for the meal and I was presented with a smashing plaque that was suitably inscribed!

Other memories; mostly good but with an occasional blip

He has also acted as an assistant referee in a range of age-group internationals and done a similar job in regional matches like Llanelli versus Cardiff or Swansea versus Newport, and says in some ways it is a little more difficult in the sense that you are always very close to spectators, often whom are able to see one colour – the jerseys of the team they support!
“I once took on the role for a game between Swansea and Newport and Percy Montgomery, who had over 100 games for South Africa, was playing for Newport and was sent off for pushing my colleague on the other side of the field – and it wasn’t the most pleasant of evenings as a result.
“But luckily, such events are few and far between and there are nice moments to remember, like the time I reffed the Junior Union Final at Pembroke and had a smashing welcome led by the late Eric Brown, who was The Scarlets’ groundsman and a real gentleman of sport.
“I have really enjoyed my involvement in the game as the man in the middle and wish more people, especially ex-players, would take the referees’ course, and get really involved because it is definitely the next best thing to playing.”
Chat to John Griffiths, as we did, and you would find him a compelling advocate for being a referee and if you are moved by what he says just contact the Pembrokeshire Society of Rugby Union Referees – and you are guaranteed the warmest of welcomes!