George Crawford, Q.P.M.
For a time in the mid 1980’s George Crawford was probably the most famous rugby referee in the world. Making a stand against violence in the game, he left the field of play whilst officiating a match between Bristol and Newport. Twenty years earlier he was a London Irish player (when the Metropolian Police who he pounded the beat for and also played for, would let him play). He has kindly taken the time to answer so of my questions:
What is your date of birth/place of birth? 28.9.1942 Coleraine, Northern Ireland.
When/where did you start to play rugby? Started playing at 11 years old as a pupil at Coleraine Academical Institution.
What position did you play? Tight Head Prop.
When did you join London Irish? I joined the Met.Police in 1962 and played for their 1st.XV and then played for the Irish from 1964 to 66. I then returned to the Met. XV.
How many points did you score in your London Irish days? Cannot remember, but not many.
What brought you to London Irish? Frankie Byrne, the Ireland back pressed me into service. I was a PC in Chelsea and he had a flat there.
What was the training like? Not much training. We met in the grounds next to the Royal Hospital and sometimes at Hyde Park.
Who was the coach at London Irish? No coach that I remember.
Who was the captain of London Irish in your time there? It may have been Andy Mulligan.
Who was your most difficult opponent? Robin Challis of London Scottish. Very strong.
Where was your favourite away ground? London Welsh
What was Sunbury like in your time playing there? There was a main stand, which is still in existance and Fitzys Bar which was then near the entrance to the ground.
Did you spend any time in Fitzy's bar? Fitzy's Bar was where we all met after the game. It was a great place with much singing of Irish songs. I was always in demand to sing Danny Boy. Great times.
Who do you consider was the best player you played with for London Irish? Gerry Miller. The hooker was a hard man and one of the best.
Who where the characters at Sunbury in your time playing? Cecil Pedlow's uncle was a bit of card and so was Jimmy Ritchie.
If professionalism had been introduced in your time playing would you have turned pro? No.
Do you still keep in contact with any of your old team mates? Not really, but I have been doing some spotting for John Hunter who is responsible for scouting Irish talent in England. He asks me to watch players and I report back.
The professional London Irish team is no longer a team for Irish/ Irish descent players, what are your feelings about this? When I played you had to have strong Irish links. The present London Irish is a flag of convenience. A bit like Irish theme bars in London.
Do you miss playing for London Irish? Forty years is a long time.
How good was the London Irish side you played in?(or) Which season had the strongest team? We had a strong team but this was not reflected in the results. I think we had three or four Irish Internationals.
Did you play for any other Irish/English clubs? Met. Police, which I skippered.
Did you go on any over-sea's tours? No.
Did you win any honours? (International/inter-provincial/county/Barbarians/etc.)? Played for Middlesex County.
Did you ever play Inter-provincial rugby? Did not play inter provincial rugby.
How difficult was it for London Irish to put out a XV on the weekends when the Inter-provincial’s were taking place? In my case I had real problems turning out for the Irish. My Superintendent wanted me to play for the Met. so my shifts were always difficult. On many occasions Frankie Byrne would pick me up in his sports car outside Chelsea Police Station as I came off morning shift at 2pm and we raced down to Sunbury in his sports car. We both changed on the way there and got to the ground many time just before kickoff. For 2.30pm kick off I had to take ' time off' which cost me money. Generally the Irish had no problems turning out a good team as most of the lads were in The Professions. I was the only policeman.
Do you have any stories from your playing days? Too many to say. We had a lot of fun.
When did you stop playing rugby? I stopped playing in 1970 and took up the Referees whistle. Went unto the England Top list and then on to the Irish Top list refereeing Inter provincials and junior internationals. Refereed the final of the Middlesex sevens in 1983.
Do you still watch rugby? I still watch rugby but it has changed dramatically. It is all a bit manufactured and too much depends on the referee.
Are you still involved in rugby? As stated earlier, do some spotting for the IRFU.
When was the last time you attended a London Irish match? The last time I was at Sunbury I refereed the Irish against Connaught.
Has your old position changed since you played? I played tight head and never went above 14 stone. I would have been murdered now by an 18 stone prop.
Which modern day player would you have liked to play with? I enjoy watching Stringer. He has the heart of a giant for such a wee man.
Do you prefer the rugby of today or when you played? Horses for courses. I enjoyed playing and am not sure I would fit into to-days regime. The rules have changed so dramatically since I played and even since I refereed. I think the lineout is so artificial and am of the opinion that if you take that out of the game it is little different from Rugby League which I now enjoy more than Union.
What was/is your occupation? Retired as a Chief Superintendent in the Met. Police.
You were awarded the Queens Police Medal what was it for? The citation for the QPM reads as follows:-
" In 1989 Mr. Crawford took charge of South Norwood Police Division, where, continuing a considerable commitment to community-based policing, he has shown similar thought for his colleagues and those under his command by instituting a highly regarded welfare system.
In recognition of his achievements and service to the Metropolitan Police Mr. Crawford is awarded the Queen's Police Medal ".
Queens Police Medal - front and reverse. 'For Distinguished Police Service'.
You walked off the field during whilst refereeing a match in 1985, what happened? The Walk off in September 1985 caused quite a stir and hogged the media for a good two weeks. I have attached an item I wrote for the Times see below some four years after the event and the photograph shows me walking off at Bristol.
There was a history to the event in that rugby was suffering from a lot of gratuitous violence which was not being dealt with at the RFU.
Referees had discussed the problem, but little was done, so when I was presented with a similar problem which was being broadcast live on TV I took the decision to highlight the violence by walking off. I simply went to the dressing room, changed and drove home leaving the 10,000 crowd and the TV to get on with it.
I thought it might cause a bit of publicity but when it was on the National radio and TV News I knew then that I would have to defend my stand.
The incident was discussed at length in the UK and in the world rugby playing nations. It went on for two weeks and has reared its head ever since.
Indeed I have since been hired by solicitors to give comment on the matter and gave evidence in the Ben Smolden case on behalf of Ben, when the rugby authorities cut him adrift after he had his neck broken. Have a look at the case on the Web.
George was issued a severe reprimand by the RFU. They took no action against the clubs for a number of weeks, and only did so after pressure from the Press. The RFU reprimanded Bristol and the WRFU Newport (although Newport were affiliated to the RFU also). George was not allowed by the RFU to view the video of the game and name those who perpetrated the violence.
After his reprimand George resigned from the RFU official list. He was a member of the London Society of Referees.
Playing career: Not much to say. Played for Ulster Schools, then the Met. London Irish and finished back with the Met. Played for Middlesex.
Since retiring from the Metropolitan Police George Crawford has been The Safety Officer at Selhurst Park and has written a number of articles for the media.
Isolation against violence
Every Saturday afternoon, through the kindness of the staff at Epsom College, I referee one of the junior matches there. I do this for enjoyment and in the true belief that every effort should be made to encourage youngsters to play rugby.
Four years ago, after I had walked off the field in the Bristol v Newport match as a personal protest against violence on the field, I firmly believed that even though I was punished by the Rugby Football Union, something positive would result. At that time, I was foolishly of the opinion that the sacrifice would be worthwhile.
Nothing appears to have changed, and once again David Hands, Rugby Correspondent of The Times, has written about the problems of violence associated with the game. He tells us in the same article that the RFU has appointed 11 youth development officers whose main responsibility is to encourage young people to play the game.
What chance have they or the other enthusiastic amateurs who week after week persuade parents to allow their children to play rugby when at the very peak of the game, violence is endemic?
But more dangerous still is the erosion of respect for the authority of the referee. Four years ago, I stated that it was the responsibility of the players, captain, club officials and the RFU to ensure that people actually obey the law of the land when they play. Far from supporting the referee, it would now appear that it is open season for the man or woman in the middle.
Recently, the newspapers have been full of allegations that referees failed to take control of a number of league games, as the louts, dressed in the colours of some of the greatest rugby teams in the world, went about their thuggish business.
Few words have been written about the responsibility of everyone else associated with the game. What immediate action was taken by the RFU and club officials to control the damage done to the image of the game?
If such behaviour had taken place on a football field, or even in the crowd, there would have been an inquiry. Instead, what we got was the castigation of the referee and an ominous silence from those responsible for the supervision and well-being of the game. It would now appear that these levels of officialdom are almost impotent to deal with the problem.
Four years ago, Clive Norling, the Welsh referee, wrote an article in The Times. It was headed: ``Words of caution about a game that is getting out of control.''
He expressed concern about the violence on the field: ``In an age when authority is being increasingly questioned in society, the referee should be supported by all who care about the future of the game. Without that support, it is inevitable that more referees will not only walk off the field but will also walk out of the game.'' Norling has again found it necessary to call into question the behaviour of players on the field.
But what worries me most is the total lack of response from officials in the referees' societies in defence of their referees. Is it not their responsibility to defend their members when they are criticized for matters which are out of their control?
The tragedy is that many of the people who hold the power do not wish to rock the boat in case it reflects badly on them when they seek election to higher positions in the union.
Well, if they cannot or will not do it, then the referees should stand up and speak out in their own defence, even though it might upset the establishment. They should always remember that they actually hold the power. If no referees were to turn up at the grounds one Saturday, the rugby union programme would be ruined.
In the Epsom College programme last Saturday, Keith Douglas, himself a referee and member of the London Society of Referees, wrote: ``Rugby Union is played by 31 players 15 on each team, plus the referee. The referee has every right to enjoy the game as much as the competing players and his sole purpose is to see that neither side gains an undue advantage and to promote an atmosphere conducive to the playing of good, bright and interesting rugby.
``Is there a player or ex-player among you who has never made a mistake on the field of play? Or had a bad day? For some reason, referees are expected to have a perfect day at every outing, have 20-20 vision, front, rear and to the sides, in addition to X-ray vision through scrums, rucks and mauls. Contrary to widely-held opinion, referees are human and as such they have on occasions a less-than-perfect day.''
How many players, club officials and members of the media take these comments into account before they castigate the referee?
As the game of rugby attracts large amounts of sponsorship and players are treated like ``professionals'', there is a real danger that the referee will become increasingly isolated.
It has now become all too common for the referee to receive a less-than-joyous welcome in the bar after the home team has lost. How many referees leave clubs on a Saturday afternoon totally disillusioned after travelling, in some cases, hundreds of miles to carry out their duties? Indeed, after a particularly inhospitable afternoon, many question their future in the game; the referee turn-over statistics each season make worrying reading.
Let me offer a comment which was made in my defence after a game at London Welsh some years ago. As I was having what might be described as a dressing-down by an official of a well-known Welsh team, a member of London Welsh intervened and said: ``Leave the man alone. He has given up his Saturday to help us, for the price of his bus fare and a pint of beer.''
All those associated in any way with the game should note and mentally digest.
(C) The Times, 1989