Refereeing at the highest level
Scottish referee Graham Allen has officiated matches in all sorts of locations, from Edinburgh to Barbados, but next month he’ll be blowing his whistle on a rugby pitch like no other.
Edinburgh-based Allen, 54, is taking part in a fundraiser for rugby charity Wooden Spoon – one of Scottish Rugby’s official charity partners, which will see a team attempt to break two Guinness World Records on Mount Everest.
The challenge will see the group battle acclimatisation and heights of 6,500 metres to play the highest game of full contact rugby and the highest game of mixed rugby in history.
Allen has previously officiated, either as a referee or assistant referee, at all club levels within Scotland, as well as Cup, Shield, Bowl, school and university finals. His experience includes officiating at pro games, the Heineken Cup, IRB 7s and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, but this match will be something different.
“Rugby has been a big part of my life, both as a player and as a referee,” said Allen. “I support Wooden Spoon and when I was asked would I like to come as a referee and raise some money, I said I would be absolutely delighted.
The challenge aims to raise more than £200,000 towards projects supporting children and young people with disabilities or facing disadvantage across the UK and Ireland. Allen’s brother, who was severely autistic, was assisted by Wooden Spoon and the referee has seen the impact it can make.
"My brother passed away sadly in November and I'm going to do it for him and all the other children, parents and carers involved in Wooden Spoon," he said.
Allen will be joined by a number of former rugby internationalists, including Wales’ Shane Williams, England’s Tamara Taylor and Lee Mears and former IRB Sevens World Player of the Year, Ollie Phillips.
While many of those involved are used to maintaining high levels of fitness, the training required for this challenge has been on a different scale. Preparation has included learning mountaineering skills on Ben Nevis in winter weather, altitude chamber training and even a few dips into a frozen lake in Finland.
Allen says he is not concerned about enforcing discipline on Everest, saying “I’ve been refereeing for too many years to be worried about it.”
And in addition to raising money for a good cause, Allen says the challenge comes with another perk: “It gave me bragging rights to say that I’m going to be refereeing at the highest level in the world.”