New play inspired by the story of rugby league's groundbreaking Julia Lee

Julia Lee was the first woman to referee rugby league.
Julia Lee was the first woman to referee rugby league.

A new play, inspired by the true story of Julia Lee, who survived and thrived against the odds to become one of the first women to referee men’s rugby league, will be touring Featherstone, Batley and Castleford this month.

‘Ref!’, produced by arts and social change charity Space2, is a fictionalised, heart-warming account of Julia’s life, written by playwright Sarah Jane Dickenson.

Ref! has been inspired by Julia's story.

Ref! has been inspired by Julia's story.

It follows the story of a girl called Alex as she tackles the status quo in order to prove that she is as good as, if not better than, the men she works alongside.

The play is part of a larger Space2 and Commonsense Initiative project called ‘Crossing the Line’ which aims to uncover and share the stories of women connected to rugby league.

Julia, from Huddersfield, who recently became the first woman to receive the Lord Lofthouse Award for Services to Rugby League, is quietly proud that her story will finally be told.

She said: “I’m excited because it enables me to use my own experiences to support other women to build their confidence and skills to overcome barriers to succeed. I’m not just a survivor - I thrive on what I do and I want them to as well.”

Julia retired in 2000 due to a back injury and became a Director of Community Projects and Events for Rugby League in 2012.

She eventually managed to bring about changes that she could only have dreamed about as a young woman.

“Telling my story will allow me to reach out to women who still experience discrimination in their everyday lives, and help them realise that they are in control and can realise their true potential.”

The play will be linked to workshops where members of the public are encouraged to bring along stories and memorabilia relating to rugby league.

It will be coming to the LD Nutrition Stadium, Featherstone on February 7 (7pm), Phoenix Theatre, Castleford on February 15 (7.15pm) and Mount Pleasant Stadium, Heritage Way, Batley on Friday, February 8 (7pm).

For tickets go to