Obituary: David Leslie, Scottish international rugby referee

David Leslie
David Leslie
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David Leslie, rugby referee. Born: 15 June 1943. Died: 24 June 2018, aged 75

David Leslie, who has died aged 75, was a leading Scottish international rugby referee for several years from the late 1980s onwards, during which time he officiated two Five Nations’ fixtures and five other Test matches.

In addition he was an international touch judge on a number of occasions and refereed high-profile fixtures throughout the world, in the USA, Argentina, France, Australia, South Africa, Canada, Australia and Japan.

Other notable refereeing assignments included the Hong Kong, Dubai and Melrose “sevens” tournaments. He was also involved in referee coaching and carried out referees’ assessments for the Scottish Rugby Union.

Although he performed at the highest level on the international stage, he maintained his enthusiam for, and loyalty to, grassroots club rugby, which had provided the pathway for his rise to the top in his career.

Once retired from high level officiating in about 2000 he became a valued member of Fylde Rugby Club’s committee in various roles, including Chair of Rugby and Discipline while continuing to referee club matches until 2008. He also served as President of the Manchester and District Society of Referees between 2007 and 2009 and as Chair of Discipline for Lancashire RFU.

His first involvement with the game was while a pupil at Hamilton Academy, where he showed potential as a forward and continued playing enthusiastically for their FPs side after leaving school.

He also enjoyed a spell with the West of Scotland club before increasing injuries led him to take up refereeing instead, in his mid-
twenties. Shortly after that work took him down to Lancashire, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

Born in Glasgow to Robert and Peggy, nee MacNab, he was the younger brother of Marion. Their father worked as a “setter-out”, involved in the design of metal windows fabrication, and initially the family lived in Linwood but wartime bomb damage to their house necessitated moving to Bridgeton to live with grandparents. Mr Leslie attended John Street Elementary School until he was ten, when because of his father’s work, the family moved to Hamilton, where they lived in the Fairhill district.

Initially he attended Low Waters primary school, where he was Dux before going on to Hamilton Academy. After school he completed a course in Environmental Studies at Glasgow University before beginning work as a sanitation inspector in Motherwell.

Around 1970 he moved to Lancashire to take up an appointment with Wyre Borough Council in environmental health and waste management before moving to a promoted post with Lancashire County Council in Preston.

At this time Mr Preston was living in Wesham, a 
village near Kirkham, with his first wife and their three 
daughters, Hazel, Karen and Fiona.

He continued refereeing having become a member of the Thornton-Cleveleys rugby club near Blackpool and joined the Manchester and District Referees Society. From refereeing club games he gradually worked his way up to handling County fixtures and then being added to the RFU’s panel of referees.

This led to being given control of top English club games involving teams such as Leicester, Bath and Harlequins.

With his reputation in the ascendancy, the SRU nominated him to the international referees’ panel and he took charge of his first international between Japan and New Zealand in the late 1980s. In 1990 he was delighted to be given his first Five Nations’ appointment in charge of England v. Wales at Twickenham and three years later secured a second one, Ireland v. France in Dublin.

Because of his standing he was regularly called on as an exchange referee to handle prestigious games all over the world, particularly enjoying his visits to Argentina and South Africa. He also very much enjoyed trips to officiate in Perpignan in France, where his services were frequently sought.

As a referee he was fair, had a good knowledge of the working of scrums, brought effective communication skills and a sense of humour to the task, and liked to let the game flow, qualities that endeared him to players and won their respect.

When his top level career on the pitch was drawing to a close, after being made redundant at work he set up his own consultancy dealing with environmental and health and safety issues throughout the UK, which became very successful.

Once finished completely with refereeing, he regularly attended Fylde games, where he was a popular figure whose company was much enjoyed in the bar afterwards.

In August 2008 he married again, to Barbara Nicol, a secretary in the aerospace industry, whom he had first met many years previously. A chance encounter in 2007 at a Fylde match kindled a relationship which led to a happy marriage living in Lytham. She had three children from a previous marriage, James, Anna and Beth who, like his own children and all the grandchildren, adored him.

Aside from family and rugby, his interests included being an all-round sports fan. A sociable individual, he enjoyed good food and was something of a wine aficionado, while a fund of stories from his rugby globetrotting fuelled his raconteur skills and made him a very popular and well-liked figure.

Together he and his wife enjoyed holidays abroad to Sicily, Cyprus and France among other places.

He is survived by her, his sister, his children and four grandchildren, as well as his wife’s children and her four grandchildren.

JACK DAVIDSON