From The Vaults

23 March 2020
Remembering Alan Bean

Remembering International Referee Alan Bean (1902 - 1986)

Bean and Auld

Alan Bean (L) and RFU administrator Robin Auld, July 1980, Ashbrooke

Alan Bean gave invaluable service to Sunderland RFC as both honorary secretary and as fixtures secretary, jobs he carried out from his youth. He was also county representative and it is clear from the club minutes that he was a man who got things done even at a time when he was playing the game and organising tours. This was the case from his return to the club after study at Cambridge during the early 1920s. Like Eric Watts Moses, he also served on the wider club's governing board. In addition to all this, Alan Bean was a referee. He took up refereeing in 1926 and rose rapidly in the ranks to be in charge of county games, international trials and, eventually, internationals themselves. He also refereed the Oxford v Cambridge 'varsity' match twice and the first ever match between the Barbarians and Australia. Off the field, his influence was even greater as he made a considerable contribution to the improvement of refereeing standards. In the years after the Second World War, he was behind numerous successful refereeing courses held at Ashbrooke, Bisham Abbey and Hatfield College, Durham. Above all, he wrote the RFU best seller 'The Art of Refereeing', which was greeted with great acclaim. His feat in producing the work was acknowledged in the club minutes. His endearing approach to the game he loved enabled him to communicate his passion to all that came across him. This approach can be seen in a brief extract from 'The Art of Refereeing';

'Rugby Football is a recreation played for the enjoyment primarily of the players. It follows that the referee's approach to his job must be positive and co-operative... Rugby players are not criminals out to transgress the Laws. It is not an idle claim that Rugby footballers are in the main "grand chaps" and grand chaps do not automatically become hardened cheats as soon as they step on a playing field.'

The Ashbrooke club thus provided the 'scribe of referees' as well as the 'scribe' of more general rugby history (Watts Moses). Alan Bean was Senior Vice President and President of Durham County in the 1960s and a member of the important Mallaby Commission in the early 1970s. His interest in rugby and Sunderland RFC and rugby in general continued after this and well into the 1980s. Towards the end of his life he served for many years as president of the Ashbrooke Club and was a driving force behind the Ashbrooke Foundation. In the 1970s revision of his book, on refereeing, (a revision in which Alan Bean was still involved), the new editor noted;

'This book is the work of Mr Alan Bean, who was a member of the International Panel of referees up to his retirement in 1950 and is the present chairman of the Referee Advisory Panel (1975)... Referees, and indeed all those players and spectators to whose pleasure they minister, should be eternally grateful to him.'

The wartime international refereed by Alan Bean (England v Wales - Gloucester 13 April 1940) was one of the most memorable for tragic reasons. It was marked by a silent tribute to the legendary Prince Obolensky who had been killed in a plane crash a fortnight previously. In front of a crowd of 18,000, England won by 17 points to 3.

About the Author - Keith Gregson is a regular contributor to 'From the Vaults' and previous blogs on the site may be of interest to researchers. Details of his work on SRFC ('One among Many') and the Sunderland club and the First World War ('The Ashbrooke Boys') can be found on his website at