16 Feb 2021

Billy Thompson 1934 - 2021

Legendary former Rugby League referee and Huddersfield Giants life member Billy Thompson has sadly passed away at the age of 87.

Billy Thompson M.B.E., the lad from Huddersfield who never quite made it as a football professional with, of all teams, Gillingham. Soccer’s loss was rugby league’s gain, as time after time Billy’s dry and well-developed sense of humour carried him through 80 minutes on the hallowed turf of rugby grounds all over the world. 

Billy’s first appointment as referee was an under 17 game between Rastrick and Queens Road. His last the 1984 Challenge Cup Final between Widnes and Wigan. He joined the senior referees list in 1966 and during the next 18 years achieved every honour in the game. Billy refereed 28 cup finals and 18 internationals, a true testament to his ability and standing. He mixed expertise with an ability to relieve big match tension by his sense of humour, honesty and his man management which brought great respect from players. 

Of course, it wasn’t always easy being a referee. In 1980 at Narbonne Billy disallowed what would have been a decisive French try against England for a blatant forward pass. He required a disguise and an escort of gendarmerie to get him out of the ground and country safely. Billy also dismissed Leeds centre, Syd Hynes, in the 1971 Wembley final against Leigh, making history as the first official to take this step in a final at the famous stadium. 

 One of Billy’s proudest moments was receiving his M.B.E at Buckingham Palace, accompanied by his wife Joan. The Rugby League granted Billy a testimonial to mark his retirement. He was not lost to the game. Billy joined Radio Leeds and the words of Tommo were on the air on a Sunday afternoon. He built up a fine reputation as a raconteur and after dinner speaker, entertaining thousands, and helping many players and community clubs by appearing at benefit evenings and find raising events. The Great Britain and Wigan captain, Eric Ashton paid Billy a tribute 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.

Huddersfield Giants Managing Director Richard Thewlis paid tribute to one of the games great characters “ Billy was a weekly visitor at the club back in the early 2000’s walking down from Linthwaite and back again just for a natter, and to keep us all in check as he’d say. He rarely missed a home game until illness hampered him in later life and was the first person that many of our guests would look forward to seeing and reminiscing with. His name is asked about at virtually every event I attend on behalf of the club and he will be sorely missed by his many friends both in the UK and overseas. His stories about the game were legendary and todays news will hit many who knew him as such a jovial and likeable character with a huge love for his hometown club Huddersfield and the game of Rugby League worldwide.”

The Huddersfield Giants would like to pass on our condolences to Billy’s family at this very sad time.

R.I.P Billy