VALE DON LANCASHIRE

Don Lancashire was one of Australia’s finest Rugby League referees, controlling Test matches; Inter-State clashes and Brisbane and Sydney Grand Finals. Lancashire also had the honour of standing as an umpire in First Class Cricket matches at the Gabba.

The Former Queensland Director of Referees died on June 25, aged 89, having spent his final years at Mt Warren Park, in the City of Logan, with his wife, Carol.

Lancashire was born at Brighton-Le-Sands in Sydney, in the heart of St George Dragons’ territory, and played rugby union for the local side, before taking up the whistle as a rugby league referee. He controlled his first A grade match in 1959 – a St George v Souths clash at the Sydney Cricket Ground, with Test referee, Darcy Lawler ruled out at the last minute, after he rolled his ankle. (Lawler put Lancashire through his referee’s training course).

Lancashire moved to Queensland in 1960, and controlled Brisbane Grand Finals in 1963, ’64, ’67 and ’69. His first Brisbane Grand Final saw Norths defeat Souths 18-8, at Lang Park, with Ian Massie scoring two tries for the victors.

“It was the greatest advertisement rugby league club football has had in 17 years,” said Norths’ coach, Bob Bax after the match, and no doubt Lancashire had a lot to do with the spectacle.

Three years earlier, Lancashire was at the centre of an ugly riot at Norths’ home ground, Oxenham Park. Norths were playing Wests, and Lancashire made a huge call at the end, which handed Wests the game.

The score was 7-7 when Lancashire penalised a Norths’ player for making a tackle from an off-side position. Wests’ Darryl Stevens missed with his first shot at goal, but Lancashire gave him a second go, because Norths’ players were walking backwards and forwards under the posts, trying to distract him. Stevens made no mistake this time, and that was the signal for about 1,000 fans to jump the fence, with Lancashire half carried from the field, as players and officials sought to protect him from the horde.

Back in the dressing rooms, he needed police protection, as fans milled around, hurling abuse.

“I still had New South Wales number plates on my car,” Lancashire said. “The cops told me to get in the car, and go.”

Lancashire returned to Sydney in 1970, from where he was appointed to control the Australia v Great Britain Test series.

Australia won the First Test at Brisbane’s Lang Park, but lost the battle, with their dressing room resembling a hospital casualty ward. Worst hit was Australian prop, Jim Morgan, who made the mistake of starting a head butting duel with British prop, Cliff Watson.

“You look at Cliff Watson, and he’s so tough, you’d think if he had an argument with a steam roller, the roller would come off second best,” Lancashire said, during an interview in 2015, when asked to reflect on his career in the middle. “I’ll never forget Morgan’s nose. It was flattened across his face. After the big stoush in that First Test, I told both captains that was it. No more nonsense, or they were gone. I had no more trouble after that.”

Britain went on to win the next two Tests in Sydney, to reclaim the Ashes Trophy.

Lancashire was in charge of the 1970 Sydney Grand Final, when Souths’ skipper, John Sattler played for 77 minutes against Manly-Warringah, with a broken jaw, after an incident behind play.

“The touch judge let me down, no end,” Lancashire said of the incident, which happened in the days before the bunker or video replays. “It was on the blindside, and no-one came in and said anything.”

Lancashire returned to Brisbane at the end of the 1970 season, and late that summer umpired a Queensland v England cricket match at the Gabba. His other first class cricket appointment was a Sheffield Shield match between Queensland and Western Australia.

Such was Lancashire’s profile, he landed a television commentary role with Channel 0 (now TEN), and also wrote for ‘The Australian’ newspaper.

A printer by trade, Lancashire said he believed his sometimes-blunt appraisal of refereeing performances got him off-side with his contemporaries, and that, along with other run-ins with the Brisbane Association, forced him to travel to the Darling Downs for matches.

He still refereed at the top level, controlling the First Test of the 1974 Australia v Great Britain series; the England v Wales World Series clash at Lang Park in 1975, and the New Zealand v France World Series match at Carlaw Park, Auckland in 1977. The England v Wales match was regarded as one of the most violent in the history of Test football.

Lancashire controlled 11 inter-state matches between 1964 and 1976. He was appointed State Director of Referees in the early 1980s, and oversaw the rise of North Queensland referee, Barry Gomersall to State of Origin and Test status.

In retirement, Lancashire was a strong supporter of the Men of League Foundation.

I had the honour of interviewing him in 2015, for Men of League magazine, and also during my time as a league writer with the ‘Telegraph’ and ‘The Courier-Mail’ in Brisbane.

Former Queensland Rugby League Chairman, Peter Betros, a fine referee in his time, had this to say about Lancashire.

“Don was a legend when I started refereering. He ran the QRL Referees with Les Sainsbury. He was a tough taskmaster, and kept us on our toes. We would start the year with Don running seminars, under the direction of the Qld Referees’ Association. He was certainly highly respected and most young referees feared his wrath.”  

Don Lancashire and his wife, Carol in 2015

Don Lancashire (far right) tries to regain control during the First Test of the 1970 Ashes campaign at Lang Park. That’s Australian prop, Arthur Beetson coming in with the swinging arm, while Britain’s Cliff Watson grabs Jim Morgan (number 13)

One response to “VALE DON LANCASHIRE

Leave a comment or reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s