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Ex-England skipper de Glanville takes up refereeing at the age of 55

By Jon Newcombe
(Photo by Mary Chaloner)

While the younger breed of Bath fans are far more attuned to the achievements of his son Tom, who is fast earning himself a reputation as a rising star of the Gallagher Premiership, the sight of Phil de Glanville back on a rugby pitch has come as a welcome surprise to unsuspecting locals of an older vintage.


The 55-year-old former England and Bath captain, who led the club to their last league and cup double in 1995/96, enrolled on an RFU refereeing course earlier this year in the kind of heart-stirring, ‘putting something back into the game’ approach that might encourage other former players to do the same.

De Glanville’s main motivation for taking up the whistle was a yearning to be actively involved in grassroots rugby again now that his kids have grown up and his days on the touchline as a happy-to-help parent are over.

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The short time he has been in the middle has left him full of admiration for the people who do it for a living. “Our youngest has been at uni now a couple of years and so the days of Bath youths and being involved on the sideline, running touch, coaching, helping out refereeing a few games, doing the bacon sarnies and whatever… I have been out of that for three or four years so I thought it would be good to get back involved in the grassroots a bit more,” explained de Glanville to RugbyPass.

“I’m also coming to the end of RFU (council) time in terms of administration. I finish in July next year as the council member for students and my role with the board finishes then too, so I was just thinking I needed to find something else to fill that gap and take up another hobby.

“Every professional coach should go through the refereeing course and do some refereeing; I don’t know how many have but you realise how difficult it is. God knows how elite refs do it, they are superstars. Everything is happening in a flash and there are a whole load of laws that you barely knew ever existed because the scenario that needs them hardly ever unfolds.

“There are always these ones around the fringes that pop up from time to time. For instance, I was doing a game, Bath Uni fourths against Exeter sixths – a cracking game it was as well – and the goal line dropout was kicked out on the full. I didn’t know what to do so I gave a lineout where the ball went out rather than give the attacking team the option of a centrefield scrum or a lineout five metres out, or for the kick to be re-taken.”


Most Bath folk and beyond are well aware of what de Glanville senior achieved in the game – 38 England caps, eight as captain, and over a decade of service in a Bath jersey as the perfect foil to Jerry Guscott in midfield when the club was at its peak.

But for those whose memory still needs stirring, the vintage Bath kit that he uses for his matchday referee attire has been a bit giveaway, as are the admiring looks from middle-aged women who remember him as “Hollywood” – a sobriquet from his playing days that came about because of his chiselled features.

Mentored by Somerset Rugby Referees’ Society’s Wayne Davis, de Glanville was eased into the most scrutinised of sporting occupations with a handful of school and university matches before making his club refereeing debut for Bath-based Old Sulians’ 38-14 win over Clevedon seconds in Counties 3 Tribute Somerset North.

Clevedon lost a player to injury midway through the second half, leaving them with only 14 players as they came from the North Somerset coast without any replacements, but with de Glanville using the whistle as sparingly as possible (he only awarded 10 penalties), a good, flowing game of rugby was had by all.


A spokesperson for the home club said: “He is one of the best refs we have had. One of the players said, ‘The game flowed and there were no howlers’ which is pretty good for Somerset Division 3 North! Plus he was fitter than pretty much all the other refs we get – and as another player said, ‘All the mums loved him’.”

As de Glanville now has five games under his belt he qualifies for an official Somerset Rugby Society yellow jersey, making the retro 2000/01 Bath shirt from his swansong season as a player redundant for a second time.

de Glanville referee Bath England
(Photo by Mary Chaloner)

Pending the reliability of the postal service, de Glanville will look the part as well as act the part for his next assignment – the dizzy heights of Counties 3 Tribute Dorset and Wiltshire Central and a fixture between hill-top village side Colerne and Melksham seconds.

When he makes his ascent to the club’s ground overlooking Box Valley via the narrow, winding lanes half an hour’s drive from Bath, de Glanville’s refereeing will be going up in a literal sense at least.

One hopes that the fairly remote location will dissuade any former teammates from coming along to see what de Glanville is made of because the only abuse he has received from the touchline to date has come from his former teammate, Kevin Maggs.

“I did have Kevin Maggs, a talent ID person for Ireland, turn up for Monkton (Combe) versus Downside and he started giving it some straight away so I went over to him at half-time and I said, ‘Maggsy, how am I doing?’ He said in his Bristol accent, ‘Fair play, you’re doing alright.”

“I have done five games and I have been taken aback by how respectful everyone has been. In the men’s game there is probably a lot more of trying to influence the referee, a lot more of, ‘Sir, can you look out for this, can you look out for that?’ In the uni and three school games I have done, I have had not a jot to be fair.

“Wayne Davies, who played for Bath seconds and thirds at the same time I was playing, does all the appointments in Somerset. He said, ‘I will start you with the schools because they are a lot easier’. I haven’t had a bad experience yet. I have been really heartened by that.

“The support the refs get is really good. All the new refs come together and meet, go through clips and talk about positioning – and I am the oldest by a long way. It is quite a big step, your first game (Kingswood School v Marlborough College). You are suddenly out there on your own. I was totally standing in the wrong position but luckily Wayne was there to guide me. The support refs get is phenomenal.”

Given his age and what he has already achieved in rugby, de Glanville has no innate desire to climb the refereeing ladder. There is too much to think about for a start, including remembering to bring a coin for the toss.

“I don’t use a coin, I took a coin to the first game and I dropped it, it fell out of my pocket and I lost it so I thought it would be much easier to use a leaf or a blade of grass. I have discovered there is quite a lot to think about – you have to take your own touch judge flags, you have got to do all the briefing beforehand, get yourself warmed up, so I thought I’m not going to bother with that.

“It has worked out alright so far. Another thing I do is, as a back, I don’t try and have ideas above my station and tell the forwards how to scrummage, I just tell them I want to see them certain things and that’s it.”

Now word has got out about his refereeing, de Glanville is expecting a bit more touchline attention but he is happy to remain under a relative cloak of anonymity for as long as possible. “I’m enjoying it but there is always that inevitable look, mostly from the parents, of ‘did you play rugby before? I think I recognise you from somewhere’.

“But the kids have no idea, which is great. It has definitely turned on its head, it’s now, ‘Are you Tom’s dad?’ because all the youngsters know him and not me.”


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