Sidmouth rugby referee named new president of Devon Rugby Referees Society

Simon Lane (left) hands over the presidential bell and gavel to new Devon Rugby Referees Society (DR

Simon Lane (left) hands over the presidential bell and gavel to new Devon Rugby Referees Society (DRRS) president Derek Blackburn - Credit: Archant

Sidmouth’s Derek Blackburn has been voted in as new president of the Devon Rugby Referees Society, writes Conrad Sutcliffe

Blackburn, who is 54, is believed to be the first Sidmouth member to hold the office.

Although the title is president, the job is that of chairman under the society’s current constitution.

The appointment went through on the nod at the society’s annual meeting held at Topsham RFC on Wednesday night.

Blackburn replaces Simon Lane in the chair for a 12-month term.

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Blackburn, who runs a training and development company with wife Anne, started refereeing in 2007 and graduated to adult games in 2009.

“My son started playing at Sidmouth in the under-10s and someone was needed to referee,” said Blackburn.

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“After doing my basic training and under-13 games for Sidmouth, I wondered whether I could manage an adult game?

“There was only one way to find out: have a go on a Saturday afternoon. My first game was Honiton 2nd XV against Salcombe 2nd XV – and here I am six years later as president of the referees’ society.

“I would not have believed that had you told me before the game.”

Yorkshireman Blackburn played hooker for home-town club Goole and also at university.

He moved to Sidmouth in 1984 fully expecting to play for the club, but injury dictated otherwise.

“I went on tour to Amsterdam with my university team, got injured and never played again,” he said.

Curiously, Blackburn is also a qualified rugby league referee and took charge of a game last weekend.

“Goole, where I come from, is an island of union surrounded by a sea of rugby league so it is inevitable that you pick the game up, said Blackburn.

Blackburn said he didn’t intend to re-invent the wheel during his 12-month stint, but pledged an open and transparent’ regime in the service of members.

His focus will be on recruitment as the society has struggled to attract candidates in recent seasons.

“We really need to be getting the message across to ex-players that there is an enjoyable career to be had as a referee,” said Blackburn.

A number of committee changes were made at the annual meeting to replace members who decided to stand down.

Paddy Dummett is the new exchange secretary, replacing long-serving Terry Friend, who was appointed to the post in 1992 when Peter Hunt from Ottery St Mary stood down.

Conrad Sutcliffe took over from Alan Meagor as recruitment and retention officer and is planning a series of roadshows around the county to drum up new members.

Sutcliffe, along with Richard Steggall from Bradninch, received engraved tankards at the meeting recognising 20 years as active referees.

Scott Baker was voted on to the committee as the new referees’ representative, replacing Sutcliffe following his move.

Past president Steve Avenall stood down on rotation and was replaced by president-elect Stuart Reed.

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