Queenstowner Alex Derbie is just about in a league of his own — an assistant rugby referee who’s still patrolling the touchline at the age of 74.

The former Southlander took up reffing in 1997, and often used to be the man in the middle till about four years ago.

‘‘I would not trust myself to do 80 minutes in a Premiers game any more,’’ he says.

However, as a Premiers-level assistant ref, he still has to keep up with the play — the job’s not just about tracking where a ball goes over the sideline, but, as the name implies, assisting the ref where he can.

At the start of each season, he has to bone up on any law changes.

And he also has to stay reasonably fit — ‘‘running the touchline is a stop-start exercise, and you’ve got to take off very quickly’’.

Derbie says his only regret is he didn’t take up reffing till he stopped playing at the ripe old age of 47.

‘‘If I had stopped playing and taken up refereeing 10 or 15 years earlier, I might have been better.’’

Unflagging: Veteran assistant ref Alex Derbie running touch at the Wakatipu versus Upper Clutha Premiers rugby game at the Queenstown

He’s also reffed in Hong Kong, where he lived for a long time, and in England — while he never reffed the Hong Kong Sevens, he was the referee ear-piece assistant for a time.

Derbie says it’s very important to remain focused, even on the sideline.

‘‘If you’re not, you get abused by the public who are only too pleased to offer their opinion on the laws of the game and also the condition and parentage of the referee.’’

One time, in Hong Kong, he was being yelled at by a spectator, so he jumped the fence, ran into the crowd and gave the abuser his flag — ‘‘I said, ‘you run the bloody line, then’’’.

Derbie’s not intending to flag his role any time soon, saying he’ll carry on ‘‘until I find I cannot do it properly and efficiently’’.

‘‘I don’t want to be the person who’s always catching up.’’

He also says it’s ‘‘a great excuse for having a beer on a Saturday afternoon’’.
● While Derbie ran one touchline during last the Wakatipu Premiers versus Upper Clutha game in Queenstown, ref Hamish Walker
brought up his 100th Premiers game with the whistle.

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