At the age of 77, Whitianga rugby referee, Peter Grant, thinks the time has come for him to put away his whistle.
For the past 40 years Peter - who played senior representative rugby back in the 1969 and 1970 seasons - had been involved in refereeing games at Lyon Park, the home of the Mercury Bay Rugby Club (MBRC), as well as controlling First XV games at Mercury Bay Area School. “We all get older and I felt that at my age, the time was ripe to hand over to a younger generation,” he said.
In all his time refereeing, Peter only ever sent off one player andhad another ejected from the park, although he has a tale or two to tell about some of the games, especially the fearsome rivalry
between the MBRC and Coromandel Town.
Peter moved to Whitianga from Auckland with his wife, Betty, and children, Scott and Kim, in 1982 to take up the post of caretaker and groundsman at MBAS. “At that time there were no referees on this side of the Coromandel Peninsula in the Thames Valley area, so I took up refereeing for games at the school and at Lyon Park,” he said.
It was fairly full on, especially with commitments to a number of other sports, including netball and tennis, but Peter later persuaded policemen Don Bates and Mike Skeen to take up refereeing also to relieve some of the pressure. Then 20 years ago, he had a double hip replacement, so he became an assistant referee, which required a little less running about, helping the referee in his decisions from the sideline.
In the early years, Peter was responsible for marking out the rugby, hockey and football fields at MBAS, and did the same at Lyon Park. “I think I can safely say I know every blade of grass on those pitches,” he said with a laugh.
Recently, the MBRC honoured Peter’s service to the club and to the wider game by presenting him with one of the club’s shirts.
In addition to his refereeing duties, Peter also coached the MBAS senior netball team in the Thames Valley competitions that his daughter, Kim, participated in and managed the Thames Valley secondary school rugby team that his son, Scott, played in.
“Between refereeing, netball and managing, it was pretty full-on and Betty and I had some pretty busy weekends, especially over the winter period,” Peter said. While rugby is obviously a very physical game, Peter always tried to control it in a way that allowed the play to flow freely without too many stoppages. There were, however, incidents that no official ever likes to have to deal with.
“During all my years of refereeing, I only ever once sent someone from the field, but I also banned a spectator from a visiting secondary school team who was throwing abuse not only at me, but at the players of the local team also, using some pretty bad language,” Peter said. “There was a bit of a kerfuffle, actually, and I would not restart the game again until he went.
“That particular person was banned for two years from every ground in the Thames Valley.”
Refereeing games between fierce rivals Coromandel Town and MBRC could also be a bit of a challenge, although they always ended with friendly handshakes and genuine bonhomie. “The two clubs were very strong rivals in the 1980s, for want of a better way of putting it, and unfortunately in those days there were no ropes on the sidelines to keep the public back off the field,” Peter said. “When I was reffing those games, the players used to get abusive and physical
with each other, but the spectators were worse. They would come onto the field, interrupt the play and push players out of the way as they were running down the sideline.
“So it was quite physical both on and off the field, but I would add the rider that the spectators and players would always have a feed and a few beers after the game, and they were always jovial and the best of mates.
“The rivalry is still there. The MBRC played Coromandel Town recently and the game was played in a very sporting manner.”
Peter said that when he first arrived in Whitianga, he relied on his knowledge as a former representative rugby player to officiate the game. “I played for Auckland as half-back, so I knew my rugby pretty well,” he said.
Since those early years, Peter had kept up with changes to the game through attending seminars and training courses on how the game evolved, and how any new rules had to be applied. He said that the MBRC is currently in a very healthy position, both from the playing strength of the senior teams and also from an administrative viewpoint. “There’s a good crew running the club and there is definitely a good vibe,” he said.
In addition to a life devoted to rugby, Peter is also a life member of the Mercury Bay Tennis Club and a life member of the Coroglen Darts Club. “I have been involved in a fair few sports over the years, so now I am running out of clubs,” he said with a laugh.
Pictured is Peter Grant at the game between the Mercury Bay Marlins Senior A rugby team and Hauraki North at Lyon Park in Whitianga on Saturday last week.