Young referee refuses to let Autism end his dream

“It is part of my personality and I am glad I have it.”

That is a quote from Alex Lambe, a rising star in the London Society of Referees. 

Lambe, 24 from Surrey was diagnosed with autism at the age of 18, but that hasn’t stopped the young referee pursuing his dream.

Alex has ambitions to make it to the very top of the game. The 24-year-old’s journey began in 2011 after seeing former French referee Craig Joubert. 

“It was back nine years ago in 2011, I remember seeing Craig Joubert, I remember seeing him on the tv, I remember playing rugby after about two and half years. I didn’t enjoy it, it wasn’t for me and then I saw the referee, I saw Craig Joubert and realised I wanted to give it a try and I wanted to stay in the game of rugby and took my course in September 2011, you know nine years later I am still doing at age 24,” 

It isn’t something the young referee hides or shies away from either, far from it. Lambe dedicates a large part of his time to raising awareness via his social media platforms. He has 50,000 followers on Twitter and talks openly about the subject of Autism in Rugby. 

The pinnacle of domestic English rugby union is the Gallagher Premiership. It is the pinnacle for players and referees alike, and Lambe, who is currently at level six for referees in the game, admits he would love to officiate a Premiership match, but only if he is comfortable with it. 

“I think I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t. I think the main aim is just to enjoy it as much as I can, whichever level I am at. Last thing I want is to get promoted to a level where I don’t feel comfortable and start to get exposed and my confidence goes, it is something that I have built up in these last two or three years. If it happens I would obviously be very lucky to get that chance but it is gonna take a lot of hard work in the meantime, it will be a case of wait and see,” Lambe said. 

One of the characteristics of Autism is following rules and Alex believes that is a trait that helps him when officiating rugby matches and states that refereeing has helped build up his confidence. 

“Just being exposed to a different situation. A pressured environment is something that I thrive in and it helps me to learn certain social cues. It has built up my confidence socially and obviously being a referee it is very much about following rules and regulations and being someone who is autistic that fits me well, autistic have a tendency to like instructions and clear rules and everything like being told what to do,” the 24-year-old said.

“Although I am not being told what to do there are clear instructions and clear rules that I have to follow helps me quite a lot and that’s why I feel the role of a referee suits my personality very well,” Lambe said. 

Lambe admits he faced some challenges at the start of his officiating career, namely in regards to body language and social cues, such as sarcasm. However, since gaining more experience, Alex believes that it is no longer a big challenge for him.

“Maybe recognising body language or understanding social cues. So if a player is being or sarcastic or trying to have a joke with you I might not understand it right away or if let’s say they say something out of frustration and don’t mean it personally and I see it in a different light,” Lambe stated.

“I wouldn’t say it is a big challenge for me, I think I know that any kind of comments that are directed towards me are never really personal. The more experience I have got the more I understand sometimes it is just the players, and not me,” Lambe added. 

The London Broncos in the Championship and St Helens in the Super League have both formed a partnership with the National Autistic Society. The Saints raise awareness for the society at Magic Weekend, where all 12 Super League teams play one weekend of matches at one venue. Alex believes that this will help raise Autism awareness. 

“I think it is brilliant to see my own club to form a partnership with the National Autistic Society is very heartwarming with the reputation we have in the game and the amount of exposure we can give it, it could do wonders. I am trying to do my bit by raising awareness of autism and trying to educate more people out there, I think it will do wonders,” Lambe said. 

“I think it could definitely. I know that St Helens have a strong connection with the National Autistic Society and they wear shirts for Magic Weekend every single year and that aims to raise funds and raise awareness for autism so it would be great to see Super League and RFL get behind St Helens,” Lambe added. 

Alex’s progress was slightly delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic shutting down community rugby for the year. However, he revealed that he could be refereeing in the North West by the end of the year. 

“Just to keep enjoying it. I have some experience at level 6, but I am not at a level six referee just yet. I know my coach wants to send me somewhere like the North West to referee a different style of rugby to what I am used to,” the 24-year-old stated.

“Yeah just go down there get some experience, become more confident and I reckon I can make that step up to level six and get promoted. But obviously it isn’t about that, it is about enjoyment and I feel comfortable but it is about feeling comfortable and feeling ready and not making that leap too early,” Lambe said.