16th February 2021, 17:37 | untitled
Billy Thompson MBE, one of a handful of referees in the history of Rugby League who have transcended the sport, has died at the age of 87.
Thompson, from Huddersfield, will probably be best remembered as the first official to dismiss a player in a Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, when in 1971 he showed the red card to the Leeds centre Syd Hynes following a clash with Alex Murphy of Leigh.
He also earned a lasting place in Australian Rugby League history when he was flown to Brisbane in 1980 to take charge of the first State of Origin match between Queensland and New South Wales – a famously brutal affair.
That provided Billy with plenty of material for the after-dinner speaking for which he became renowned after his injury-enforced early retirement aged 50 in 1984, after his third Wembley Final between Wigan and Widnes.
Ralph Rimmer, the Chief Executive of the Rugby Football League, said: “I got to know Billy well in my time at the Huddersfield club, and what a character. But that shouldn’t obscure the fact he also had an outstanding career as a referee.
“He was appointed to dozens of major matches, becoming a familiar figure to BBC television audiences, and you only have to speak to players of that era to appreciate the respect in which he was held.
“He continued as an ambassador for the game in his after-dinner speaking, and remained a regular at Huddersfield fixtures, where he was always generous to the many supporters who wanted a chat.
“On behalf of the RFL and the wider game, our best wishes to Billy’s family and friends.”
Billy Thompson was added to the RFL’s Grade One list of officials in 1967 and took charge of 17 Tests, including the 1977 World Cup Final in Sydney.
The late, great Eric Ashton MBE, the former Wigan and Great Britain captain, and St Helens chairman, summed up his contribution on his retirement.
“When the history of Rugby League is written, fitting tribute will be paid to many of the great referees - and foremost among those names will be that of Billy Thompson.”