Earle Pilcher, one of the finest ever no nonsense referees to have donned the whistle from Wellington, died in Christchurch on Tuesday, aged 85.

Born and raised in Lower Hutt, he attended Waiwhetu Primary School before attending Wellington Technical College (now known as Wellington High School) in 1948-49. After leaving school he began playing lower grade league at the Randwick Club, where his older brother Les Pilcher, was starting to make an impact.

In 1953 Earle was called up into the Army under the Compulsory Military Training scheme and gained two traits that were to set him up for the rest of his life – immaculate grooming and excellent discipline. After getting out, the 20 year old Earle then joined the Wellington Rugby League Referees Association in 1954 and such was his promise, he went to Dunedin that year to officiate in the national schoolboy’s tournament.

A referee that never stood for any misbehaviour in the slightest on the field, Earle refereed five Wellington premier grand finals between 1958 and 1968, including three in successive years from 1958 to 1960. By this stage, he was starting to get regular representative appointments and between 1960 and 1980, he refereed 12 international touring sides to New Zealand. His one and only Test came in the second 1964 international between the Kiwis and France in Christchurch, while he also refereed the first ever official New Zealand Universities game, when they played Wellington at the old Showgrounds grounds in 1968.

Off the field, he contributed as well by being the Chairman of the WRLRA for several years in the early 1960’s. Before the decade ended, possibly his most remembered action on the field came about when he was knocked unconscious while refereeing the 1969 fixture between the touring Australians and Auckland at Carlaw Park. He was carried off on a stretcher and several months later, discovered that he had gained a fracture to his neck. This meant time off from refereeing and being involved with the Wainuiomata club for several years.

In 1974 he returned to refereeing and in 1977 moved to Greymouth to take up a job as a Depot Manager with the New Zealand Railways. He was made a Life Member of the Wellington Referees Association in 1980, during the same year he transferred to Dunedin to take up an even more senior management job with the Railways. In 1981 he began refereeing league in Dunedin and between 1983 and 1984 was President and Chairman of the Otago-Southland Rugby League. In 1985, after a series of meetings he and Invercargill referee Jackson Smith made the two provinces split up as their own identities with Earle becoming the first full Otago President since 1976, while Jackson Smith, became the Southland President.

In 1986 he made his last job transfer to Christchurch, where he was to remain for the rest of his days. He was awarded a NZRL Distinguished Service Award in 1989 and became involved with the Canterbury Referees Association as a rules critic, assessor and appointee. His final refereeing appointment came in 1987 when he officiated a Randwick club anniversary fixture. All told he refereed more than 1100 games in a career that spanned 33 years.

His funeral will be held in Christchurch next Monday.

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