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James Child opens up on suffering death threats and abuse

James Child announced that he was stepping away from officiating going into the 2023 Super League season but he should be remembered as one of the best in recent times.

A Grand Final official in the 2017 decider between Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers, Child controlled the clash superbly – a game with only three penalties showing that he knew how to let a big game flow.

However, no matter how good you are as an official, you always end up upsetting some people and unfortunately Child has had to deal with death threats throughout his career.

“I’ve had death threats as well and some of those have been investigated by the police. It usually affects your family far more than it does yourself,” Child said. “At games I’ve managed to avoid pints being thrown at me but it’s sad really, I think as a referee you just learn to accept it.

“I didn’t have a good record at Salford, I had a pint thrown at me and then a Castleford lady ran on during a scrum and sort of tried to get to me. It’s sad really because you grow to expect it and when it does happen it doesn’t necessarily phase you.

“I remember one incident where there was a touch judge at a conversion and some spectator wasn’t particularly happy with the official so he lent over and pulled his shorts down.”

Going into more detail about the abuse, Child revealed there was one game in which he thought he would be the victim of a physical attack by a coach he decided against naming, while also pointing to incidents at Castleford and Salford, in which Child was subjected to attacks by supporters.

“There’s only been one occasion where I thought I was going to be hit and that was by a Super League coach at the time, who subsequently got fined for his comments that he made.

“There’s been a few occasions where I had a woman, a Castleford fan, run on at Salford towards me at a scrum. I think she’d got that far onto the field but she was a little bit surprised that she’d got that far.

“She didn’t really know what to do but it was the first time I’d ever stood in the middle of a scrum and I didn’t really know what I was doing either, but I’ve had beer thrown over me at Salford and lots of other incidents, but I don’t think I’ve ever really feared for my safety.

“I mean, even in my last Super League game, actually, it was Catalan against Leeds, the play-off, and we were rained upon as we walked off the field. I guess, you know, it just didn’t come as a surprise particularly.

“I didn’t actually get hit. I don’t know whether my colleagues did. I can’t remember. I know the Sky team had to move into the middle of the field to avoid it. There was an investigation, I think, and there was repercussions for the club from that.

“I remember going there in the first season when Catalans came in and they used to put umbrellas over the tunnel to avoid the spit from landing on you as you walked off. So some things in life unfortunately don’t change.”

Child also believes that supporters have a narrative that they never win a game with certain referees in the middle, pointing to the fact they they only recognise the official after a defeat.

The former Super League Grand Final ref pointed to an incident at Wakefield where he put a player-turned-coach in his place after giving Child a dig when he visted their ground for a game.

“Every fan thinks they hate their club. “I mean they had the thing with Wakefield where Wakefield, even like Stuart Dickens at Wakefield would say, ‘we’d never win a game with you’.

“Well you don’t win that many games though Stuart do you? So let’s have it right. You don’t win that many games so the percentage chance or the likelihood of you winning with me is going to be small anyway, no matter who is the referee.

Asked if he genuinely said it: “Yeah of course I did. If they’re going to hand it out they’re not going to hand it back. But that’s just the reality and clubs have done that before.

“Pete Smith last year he came in for a load of flack on social media, he released some stats on some of the referees and their win rate with certain referees. There was an implication in that story that actually there was some bias there, it’s just nonsense. It depends on the fixtures of who they play and that’s just the way it is.”

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