A RUGBY referee has become the longest serving active member of a Cumbrian referee group.

Neil Byers, 69, is about to kick-off his 42nd season as a crucial member of the Cumberland Rugby League Referees Society.

With rugby keeping Neil very busy, within the past eight months, he reckons he has umpired a total of 100 matches.

When asking the veteran referee when he may consider retiring from the game, he said: "To be quite honest, I'm still enjoying my time, still looking forward to each game, I'll keep going as long as I can really."

Neil has had a love for the game since he was 13, however, after a bad back injury left him temporarily paralysed at 26 when playing with Broughton Red Rose, it was time hang up his playing boots.

"After that scare, I started coaching, but I hated it, I just wanted to be on the pitch.

"My brother was a referee at the time and asked if I fancied that instead, and I've never looked back since to be honest," he said.

The referee has since become a well-known name amongst officiates, adding the 1995 and 2000 World Cup to his umpiring accolades.News and Star: ARBITRATOR: Neil kicks off his 42nd seasonARBITRATOR: Neil kicks off his 42nd season

Neil will be well known to rugby players throughout the professional leagues however, he is becoming more and more familiar to the youth side of the sport, as he continues to offer his refereeing skills in school competitions.

“It’s good for the kids when they have proper referees, it’s also good to give something back.

“I know a lot of the kids anyway as they play for the club sides, so I tend to get a lot of respect from them as they know what I’m like.

“But respect's a two-way street, I treat everyone the same, they get my respect and I get it in return,” he said.

When it comes to fitness, Neil said: “When you’re refereeing so many matches, it keeps you match fit anyway, but I also do a lot of walking to help keep fit.

“It is important to keep fit though, because it’s not fair on the players, they put the effort in, and if your making calls from 20 yards behind them it’s unfair,” he said.

Whilst Neil isn’t putting a time on when he will hang up his whistle, he said ideally, he would like to reach “45 seasons”.