Rugby referee from Wellingborough still going strong at 80

Ferdinando "Nando" Di Matteo.

Ferdinando "Nando" Di Matteo.

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A Wellingborough rugby referee says he has no plans to retire just yet despite recently turning 80 years old.

Ferdinando Di Matteo – known as Nando – has officiated thousands of games since he moved to England from Palermo in Italy in 1964.

I would say I probably didn’t peak until about four or five years ago!

Nando Di Matteo

Many get into refereeing by completing a course but Mr Di Matteo was thrown in at the deep end – and his early involvement was purely coincidental.

He said: “I was supporting my son at one of his games and the referee didn’t turn up.

“I ran the line occasionally and said I’d referee the game but I didn’t fully understand the rules.

“I don’t think the players fully understood me because of my accent so there was a lot of arm waving going on – I probably looked a bit crazy.

“I did a refereeing course with Bobby Taylor [former RFU president] but in those days it was very different, they gave you a whistle and you got on with it.

“My love for rugby all came from that and I’ve done thousands of games since, I enjoy it so much.”

Mr Di Matteo runs a successful salon in Northampton Road, Hair By Nando, and has three children and six grandchildren.

But despite his busy lifestyle, he has no plans to give up the sport he loves just yet.

He added: “When I first started I think teams would see they had me as a referee and think ‘oh no, not him again’.

“You learn the game more as you go along and I would say I probably didn’t peak until about four or five years ago!

“I go to the gym a lot and have a good diet – I may be 80 but I don’t feel it.

“Every game is a highlight and I’ve gained myself a good reputation, kids know they can’t mess about when I’m in charge.

“Just last week I officiated Oundle against Corby and then Kettering under-16s against S&L under-16s.

“I’d certainly like to think I’ve got a few more years left in me.”

Mr Di Matteo’s exploits have seen him referee across the world and work alongside stars such as Ben Cohen, Steve Thompson and Courtney Lawes.

He is also a liaison officer for the Italian rugby squad when they visit England, and played a big part in Italy’s foray into the Six Nations Championship.

He said: “When Italy play in England I’m sort of their go to man if they need something.

“I help them when they need something doing, whether it be sorting something at the hotel or tieing their shoelace.

“I was involved when the decision was made to let Italy join the Six Nations in 1999.

“Many people didn’t think we were good enough but we were.”