Challenge Cup final: James Child believes coming out has made him a better referee

Child’s fiance Steven and their young son Harris will watch him referee the Challenge Cup final.

Ian Laybourn
Friday 27 May 2022 08:10
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Referee James Child will be in the middle at Saturday’s Challenge Cup final (PA Images/Richard Sellers)
Referee James Child will be in the middle at Saturday’s Challenge Cup final (PA Images/Richard Sellers)

It will be a proud family occasion for James Child when he takes charge of his first Challenge Cup final on Saturday as he revealed coming out has made him a better referee.

Child’s parents Colin and Patricia stopped going to matches after witnessing widespread abuse towards players and referees from the terraces but they have been encouraged by the progress the game has made towards inclusivity.

The spectators at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for the showdown between Huddersfield and Wigan will also include Child’s fiance Steven and their young son Harris.

“It will be a proud moment for my family,” Child told the PA news agency. “My mum and dad have been there throughout my career and when I was young my dad used to take me to all my games.

“They don’t go to many games these days so it’s nice for them on days like Saturday, when they can go along and watch it and enjoy it. It’s their reward for their support over the years.

“My fiance is also going and his parents and my son. Harris went to his first game at the semi-final, which was great, although he didn’t particularly enjoy the loud cheers as he’s not one yet.”

Child, who is getting married to Steven next month, helped break down the barriers at the start of the 2021 season when he revealed he was gay and says the impact of his announcement was profound.

“I got lots of messages of support from people at the time,” he said. “By and large the reaction was absolutely positive.”

After speaking with Child, Newcastle Thunder general manager Jordan Robinson followed his example by talking about his sexuality on the BBC’s LGBT sport podcast and Child believes the decision of 17-year-old Blackpool footballer Jake Daniels to come out as gay will have a similarly positive impact.

“Absolutely hats off to him for having the courage to do it at such a young age, firstly for having the self-assurance to know how he feels at such a young age – I know I didn’t – and secondly the willingness to be open about it,” Child said.

“I am sure it will do wonders not only for football but for other sports. I can’t see how it would ever have a negative impact, by just being yourself.”

Jake Daniels’ decision to come out as gay ‘takes incredible courage’ LGTBQ+ charity Stonewall said in a statement (Sky Sports News/PA)

Child firmly believes he enjoys a better relationship with players following his revelation and reckons it may have contributed to the improvement in his own game which has seen him awarded the Cup final.

“I felt last year I got perhaps a better response from the players but maybe it was because I was a little bit more relaxed with the players than I have been in the past,” he said.

“Whether that comes off the back of what I said I’m not sure. It wasn’t a weight off my shoulders because it wasn’t something that burdened me but it was nice that the message was out there.

“Other than one incident (at Bradford, who were fined for crowd abuse), I didn’t really get any trouble last year that I had had in previous years and I’ve had no trouble this year.

“It’s hard to put a finger on it but certainly I felt a bit more relaxed and I get a better response from the players.”

Child’s top performances in 2021 and so far in 2022 have not gone unnoticed, although, at the age of 38, he says he feared his chances of refereeing a Challenge Cup final may have gone.

“When I started out as an 11-year-old referee in 1995, it was before Super League was born and the Challenge Cup final was the game that everybody watched,” he said.

“It was certainly the one that I wanted to do before I hang up the whistle and I wondered if it might have passed me by.

“I’m the second oldest in the squad now and I don’t know how many more years I will do.

“I’ve been involved in a number of Challenge Cup finals either on the line or as video ref and was reserve referee twice so this will be one to savour come Saturday.”

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