I’m not usually one to pay much attention to the announcement of the match day officials.
I know I should, and undoubtedly they can have a huge bearing on the outcome of a game, especially the referee – as Scotland can well testify. However, sometimes I do think it becomes all too easy an excuse to blame officials for the loss of a game or a poor performance, rather than any inherent weakness in the team itself.
At the Butts it’s not that unusual to hear someone, somewhere in the crowd, say something along the lines of: ‘It’s that Tim Smith, we never play well when he’s the referee’. And they might be right, but in the end if Cov lose it’s invariably because they aren’t good enough to win. Or so it seems to me.
However, whilst looking through ‘The Rugby Paper’ at the National 2 results last weekend, I did do a double take when I happened to see the name of the person in charge of the South Leicester v Broadstreet game. It was Claire Hodnett.
Now how good is that? A woman refereeing a game of men’s rugby, one of the last bastions of male dominated sport. I expect there will be many people reading this post who will already be aware of Ms Hodnett, but I have to admit, she’s not someone I’ve been aware of until now. It might well be old news to some, but it’s still worthy of a mention.
I know we’ve had female referees’ assistants at the Butts for some time now, (I’ll never be able to stop calling them touch judges in my own head), but I hadn’t appreciated that a woman had been appointed to the RFU’s national panel of referees. But one has, and that’s Claire Hodnett. This is her second season at this level, her appointment having come into effect in September 2014. She is able to referee games in all National leagues up to, and including, the Championship.
According to Gavin Mairs’ article in ‘The Daily Telegraph’, this puts her in the top 50 referees in the country. Whilst she is still some way off refereeing Premiership matches, she’s only in her mid-30s and has every chance of joining the group of elite referees who ply their trade at the very top level of club rugby and beyond.
Given Hodnett had only been refereeing for 7 years before being handed the opportunity to join the RFU’s national panel of referees, her rise has been a rapid one. But she is an exceptional lady with an extraordinary tale to tell. A former number 8 at her local club side, Newark, she was by her own admittance ‘heavily’ overweight and ‘pretty crap to be honest’ – it’s hard not to warm to someone who’s so self-effacing. Two knee operations forced her into an early retirement and whilst recuperating she happened, by chance, upon a woman officiating a game at Newark. The rest, as they say, is history.
And she says the hardest part of the whole process of becoming a top class referee was attaining the required level of fitness, level 16 of the Yo-Yo test – ‘It almost killed me the first time I had to do it’. No one’s pulling her strings.
Speaking to ‘The Guardian’ in May of last year, Claire Hodnett insists that she hasn’t come across any overt sexism directed at her, ‘Oh no, you just wouldn’t get that in rugby’. I’m not quite sure how true that is, but I can imagine that to get where she is now, she’s had to be better than the vast majority of her male peers in order to be accepted.
For all her reticence, having sat in stands and stood in terraces the length and breadth of the country, I’ve seen a fair amount of bigotry and I can’t believe she hasn’t had to put up with a few choice remarks from some supporters unwilling to see the game change. She must be one tough cookie to survive in what is still very much ‘a man’s world’ even long after James Brown was funking his stuff.
I, for one, applaud Ms Hodnett for being prepared to do her bit to break down the preconceptions and stereotypes often associated with the sport of rugby. I am also delighted that Will Carling’s ’57 old farts’ seem to have found at least a partial cure for their flatulence.
Times they are a-changing and we must change with them. I’m sure it won’t be too long before we see Claire Hodnett officiating at the Butts and very welcome she’ll be, too.
Thinking about it, perhaps it would be more fitting if she were to referee us away from the Butts, if only because we could play in pink.
This is a man’s world
But it would be nothing, nothing
Not one little thing
Without a women…
It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World – James Brown