In 1907, a small group of eight men became the founding fathers of Australia’s Rugby League referees. The man leading them into this exciting new future was Edward James ‘Ted’ Hooper.
Born in 1871 in Kent, England, Edward showed great aptitude for sports and fitness at a very young age. He moved to Australia and almost immediately found work with the Randwick Municipal Council, as manager of the surf pavilion at Clovelly beach. A job he loved and held down for many years.
In a time where cars did not exist in Australia, everyone travelled by steam engine, tram or by foot. Every summer, Hooper’s job would be one of the most vital and important as Sydneysiders flocked to the beach and the change sheds. Due to the long hours and physicality of his work, Hooper wisely bought a house on Arden St, Coogee, so that he didn’t have to travel far too and from work every day.
He began playing Rugby Union, initially as a centre. At the ripe age of just 27 he made his first-grade debut for Surry Hills, whom he played for from 1899 til 1902. In 1903 he moved to Easts and also, into the second row, where he became renowned as one of the smartest forwards in the state.
In 1903 he was selected in a NSW touring squad that toured the NSW Northern Rivers, before playing an official game for NSW, alongside future Rugby League pioneer Arthur Hennessy. In 1903 Hooper also won his maiden first grade premiership. He left the Easts club at the end of the 1904 season and joined Sydney, before announcing his retirement from the playing field after the 1905 season.
Hooper then turned his hand to refereeing and quickly became one of the leading officials in the state in 1906 and 1907.
In late 1907, when discontent amongst the Rugby Union ranks and talk of a breakaway Rugby code grew stronger, Hooper decided he would switch codes and referee this exciting new game.
On August 28, 1907, Edward Hooper was appointed the inaugural Rugby League Referees Association President, a role he held until the end of the 1912 domestic season.
The NSWRL offered to pay the referees and sideline officials a small sum of money for officiating games. Hooper however moved that the referees not be paid, so that the money could be used elsewhere to ensure the survival of the game. The referees also decided that instead of being paid, they would also donate money to the NSWRL from their own pockets. The referee would donate threepence and the sideline officials gave a shilling each, for every game they were involved in.
On April 20, 1908, Balmain and Wests kicked off in the first Rugby League game under Northern Union rules at Birchgrove Oval. Ted Hooper was the referee in what turned out to be a one-sided affair, Balmain winning 24-0.
On May 2, 1908 Ted then became the first to referee a representative Rugby League game in Australasia, when he officiated the New South Wales vs New Zealand game. By season’s end, Hooper had officiated in 11 club games, more than any other referee that year.
On July 4, 1908, he controlled two consecutive games on the same day. The Newtown vs Norths game which kicked off at 2pm, followed by the Balmain vs Glebe game at 3.15pm, which is surely a true testament to his athleticism and fitness.
Hooper continued to referee in 1909, before deciding to become a part-time referee in the lower grades of the Sydney competition.
At the end of the 1912 season, Ted stood down from his position as Referees Association President and was immediately selected to manage an as yet, undecided Australian representative team that would be the first to tour New Zealand. The NSWRL later decided to send a NSW squad to New Zealand, however it was essentially an unofficial Australian squad.
The tour started with a loss, before the Blues picked up two easy wins. In the second win, Sid Deane was charged with an illegal strike on an opponent and the NZRL decided to suspend him for the remainder of the tour. The NSW team threatened to strike, but Hooper stepped in and mediated a lesser suspension for Deane which ensured the tour would continue.
The controversy didn’t end there. Hawkes Bay were to host NSW on Saturday at the same ground the NZRU were using on Sunday. League officials asked to use the newly erected stand that the NZRU assembled at the ground. The Union officials agreed but only if the NZRL and NSWRL would pay an exorbitant price. They declined.
On the eve of the League game, Union officials dismantled the stand and took all the materials with them. League officials arrived at the ground the next morning and saw what happened. Hooper, a number of the NSW and Hawkes Bay players and local residents all chipped in with materials and labour to build their own stand, which was completed in time for the game.
The NSWRL opted not to charge anyone admission for the game for their support. However, after a great match many of the fans donated money to match officials for the game. Hooper gave half the monies from this game to the NZRL.
The NSW team lost to Auckland before defeating the New Zealand test side. The Sid Deane suspension issue arose again, this time the NZRL decided that they would like to reverse the earlier agreement. So as to retain good relations, Hooper agreed. NSW went on to complete the tour undefeated, their tour summary showed an impressive 8 wins from their 10 games. So successful was the tour financially, that the NSWRL decided to do it again the following year.
Upon his return home, Edward Hooper decided to spend more time with his family and stepped down from all major positions in management and as a referee. He became a referee selector from 1912 til 1915.
However he was coerced into another notable first in 1914, when he managed the NSW team in a tour game against the touring British Lions, in the first game ever played in Victoria. 12,000 fans turned out to see England win 21-15 in a hard fought contest.
The NSWRL disbanded the Referees Association in 1915, meaning that the games controlling body now organised the officials for each game, whereas it had previously been organised by the referees association. They immediately appointed Hooper as a referee selector, a position he held until 1925.
In 1919, the 48 year old Hooper was graded as a first grade referee for the first time since 1909, but he wasn’t required for duty.
In 1925, he travelled with the NSW team to Brisbane for the fourth interstate game. At half-time, a novelty game between the Brisbane and Ipswich referees was scheduled, with Hooper as the honorary referee. Once the 15 minute game concluded, the referees left the field, the crowd applauding Hooper who waved and smiled as he entered the change rooms.
He went to the shower and suddenly, with no warning, collapsed on the floor.
Doctors ran in but they were too late. Edward James Hooper had died; the cause of death at the time was recorded as shock.
He was just 54.
He died as an honourary life member of the NSWRL.