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By Craig Simpson

It was a case of history repeating for Tony Boynton last weekend as he refereed his final NIHL games as a part of #TeamStripes.

In 1982, Billingham Bombers were playing Nottingham Panthers in the Heineken League when Boynton was called into service as an emergency official after one of the appointed zebras was injured.

And so began a 40-year career as an on-ice official across pretty much all levels of the game in England.

Last Saturday, it was Billingham against Nottingham again but this time Buccaneers v Lions in NIHL North 2 – and this is where he took his farewell bows.

“It was a nice symmetry,” said Boynton after his final weekend of senior hockey. “Starting with Billingham v Nottingham and ending at my home rink with Billingham v Nottingham.

“My first game, I was still a player at the time, watching at The Forum and one of the two-man system took an injury.

“I think it was Terry Matthews, the Bombers coach, asked if I had my kit with me. I jumped on to make sure the game finished and that was the start of my officiating career.

“Getting the guard of honour at the end on Saturday was emotional for sure.

“I’ve enjoyed my time on the ice, always trying to keep a smile on my face and I have thoroughly enjoyed the ride, now stepping away safe in the knowledge that I’m the oldest referee of senior hockey in Europe.”

To round-off a busy final weekend, Tony called another pair of NIHL North 2 games on Sunday – Hull v Sheffield and Nottingham v Bradford.

Boynton will continue calling junior and recreational games for the remainder of the season before hanging the skates up he says for good.

Ice Hockey UK’s Referee-in-Chief, Colin Davidson, said: “From the IHUK Referee Section, we can only congratulate Tony on a fantastic career as an official for over 40 years and thank him for his amazing on ice service in that time.

“He has been a passionate supporter of the Referee Section and a driving force for the programme in the North East, always willing to skate with newer officials to help them in their development.

“For myself and no doubt hundreds of #TeamStripes colleagues who have skated with Tony, we wish him well in his retirement and thank him for everything he’s done for the sport and the referee community.”

Tony Boynton was a player on the original Billingham Bombers team and has been a player, coach, official, reporter – radio and TV.

He has also been Chairman of the EIH Recreational section pretty much since its inception That too will come to an end in September as he stands down from the Rec Committee.

Photos: Paul Ali/Billingham Buccaneers.