The idea of a history of Redditch Rugby Football Club was first mooted by former club chairman Archie Moore, who thought it might be a good idea to produce a book, with deep research, lavish prints and superior bindings, which would grace the coffee tables of Redditch and beyond. Archie wanted a lasting memorial to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the re-founding of the club after its dissolution for the 2nd world war.
The enormity of such a task was soon realised as Archie’s ideas were thrown about by interested parties, and it came to pass that a page or two on the web site might be something that players and supporters, past and present, could read, enjoy, criticise and add to over the years, so that we had a living history rather than a onetime snap shot, limited by space, time and cost.
The task is still enormous but can be broken down and added to as the years go by. Just like Wikipedia there will be mistakes, omissions and memory failures. Just like Wikipedia these can be rectified provided that people with the correct information come forward and allow it to be published.
The club is fortunate in having Brian Carr who has a bulging attic full of club memorabilia. Brian is a compulsive collector and has never been known to throw anything of the remotest interest away. He is also a keen photographer and has a myriad of memories and photographs to share. Brian has also collected Committee Minutes covering many years and these tell the story of the club from another perspective.
Archie himself takes pride in having every fixture book since the clubs re-founding and these have provided an invaluable source of information.
Mike Lewis was treasurer on the first committee of the club and he has kindly agreed to provide us with his recollections of those early days. With Liam Kirwan and David Eley, Mike is one of the few survivors who can give us information, because he was there.
This record will not list huge playing triumphs nor vast numbers of playing honours as Redditch is not a club that has ever reached the dizzy heights or set the world on fire. We hope though that it will bring back memories for those who survive, honour those who have passed through the club and inspire the youth of club to keep it going for another 50 years.
The Rugby Football Union was formed in 1873 and Redditch is not listed in the founding clubs still in existence.
However in researching for this history we came across an article in the Birmingham Sports Argus bemoaning the fact that Redditch RFC, founded in 1873, had not reformed after the 1914-18 War! The implication here is that Rugby was played in Redditch in the period from 1873 through to 1914. Unfortunately, unless someone out there can send photos, stories etc this will go down as legend.
Not quite! The history of Moseley Rugby Club reveals that they beat Redditch by 4 tries to nil on the 4th March 1876. The following season (17th February 1877) the score line had increased to 8 tries although it is recorded that Redditch disputed 2 of these. Back then each team provided an umpire, and you could appeal to your umpire if you thought something was wrong. If he agreed he would refer it to the referee who would make a decision. If there was no agreement the score was recorded as disputed. A treasured photo in the club house of the team circa 1885 demonstrates that we were still playing at that time.
This places Redditch a year after Bromsgrove in starting, the same year as Moseley and a year before Coventry, though three years behind Handsworth which pre-dates the formation of the RFU.
There are also photos from the 1929-30 season. There is no doubt that Rugby was being played in Redditch during the seasons 1936-37, 37-38, and 38-39 as Brian Carr’s attic produced fixture cards for those three seasons. Listed among the office bearers is a young Frank Cardy who had been “transported” from the depths of Wales up to Redditch in 1934. History shows that it didn’t take Frank long to get involved in sport in his adopted town. However, for the second time greater things were to interrupt our pleasure, as the world went to war. Frank spent the war as an ambulance driver for Redditch District Council and gave greatly of himself to this town. As a long standing councillor Frank was involved in everything to do with Redditch, fighting hard to make this place a better place to live for young people. (My first memory of Frank was back in 1975, when, playing my first ever game for Redditch I suffered a split above the eye. As I wandered off Terry’s field feeling pretty sorry for myself, Frank opened his box of tricks, sewed up the gash and sent me back on! The following week he removed the stitches before the game. Skippy).
After the war, during which players had drifted off to other clubs in the neighbourhood, it was not until 1966 that Rugby was reborn in Redditch.
(Pete Hutton recalls playing Rugby in Redditch in 1965, but, like the rest of us with fading memories, can’t recall the details. He thinks it may have been arranged through Ian Johnson and the school. He is sure of the year because it was before he went off to university. Skippy)
First Treasurer, Mike Lewis takes up the story:
“The memory is not what it used to be and 48 years is a long, long time ago, but here goes.
Ian Johnson, Tony Carr and myself had been playing for Bromsgrove Rugby Club for a while and on and off chatted about a club in Redditch as there had been one before the war.
Don’t know who was in contact with Frank Cardy but the upshot was that a Public meeting was arranged. This could have been in 65 or 66.
We were surprised at the number of people who turned up. About 35 or 40ish from all walks of life from the Redditch area. Teachers, police, doctors, solicitors and ex Redditch players. Note that in those days the interest in playing rugby was mainly was mainly professional people. That's how it was in England then.
The meeting lasted about three hours and a vote was firstly taken to see if there were enough people interested in reforming Redditch. Discussion then ensued as to how we were to progress. This included where we would play initially whereby local landowners offered as fields especially Noel Green who owned a farm at Mappleborough Green and the possibility of playing at local schools.
Frank Cardy was voted in as Chairman, Ian Johnson as Secretary, and Tony Carr as committee member and myself as Treasurer.
Someone suggested that a collection be made then and there so there would be an initial fund to start the club off. As treasurer I collected in the money which poured in and I had to borrow a plastic bag to carry it home in. I can recall that we gathered in 48pounds which for such a meeting was a lot of money. In those days, to put it into context, I, as a teacher was earning £520 per year and a driving lesson was £1 an hour. I know this as I was a teacher and also a driving instructor to supplement my meagre salary,
I remember that as I was walking home along the path behind the old
Laundry that I had more than a month’s wages sitting in an old bag. That night I had a very expensive plastic bag under my bed and slept very little”.
That was the beginning of the rebirth of Redditch Rugby Club.
Mike continues by reminiscing on a matter that rears its head every decade or so as the debate roars on:
“Dickinson's Field. This is the field next door to Bordesley Garage. We played quite a few games there and it became the first bit of contention in the early days.
A few of us thought that this would be an ideal ground and also ideal situation to help take the club forward. We thought that there would be too many restrictions if we stayed at Bromsgrove Road where there was quite a bit of opposition to us being there, especially from the Hockey Club.
Roger Westwood, Frank Cardy, myself and one or two others thought that the best way forward would be to stand on our own two feet.
At that time money was readily available from banks and other sources so it was decided to go into it further. So Roger and myself started approaching various Breweries and had a couple of informal chats with one or two Banks. The Breweries showed definite interest and we met one or two Reps at the field. We would have had definite help with building a club house and there would have been no problem with planning as the New Town hadn't started. Now the Rugby Club could stand on its own two feet.
It wasn't to be, too many members thought that the risk was too great so the whole thing was shelved, and the club stayed where it was. Bromsgrove Road.
In later years Roger Westwood and I came to the conclusion that if the Club had moved then it would be much more of a force than it is. Despite all the improvements and additions to the Club House the fact that we stayed where we were greatly held us back as a forward looking Rugby Club. If one looks at some of the clubs which we used to play against and where they are now proves this point somewhat. E.g. Old Patesians, Cheltenham and dare I mention Bromsgrove.”
This topic came up in later years when Birmingham RFC’s old ground and club house at the Portway became available. However, there was little enthusiasm for the hard work and effort which would have been needed to make a move from Bromsgrove Road happen and be successful. The Portway is a long way from Redditch but, who knows, Dickinson’s Field may have been a great option. Cows graze peacefully on it now!
Original Player, Life Member and current Secretary or Redditch Cricket, Hockey and Rugby Football Club was asked about the first game played, and responded thus:.
Steve, it was a little unusual. After meeting, I think in July 1966 or thereabouts we trained through the summer. The first game, if I remember correctly, was against Hewell Grange but this was classed as a 'rehearsal. I did not play in that one. The next week we played Dudley Kingswinford Thirds I think. This was classed as the first match. Unfortunately for me I played in that one at wing forward marking a tall muscular gent who gave me the run around all afternoon. I think we may have played at Walkwood School. I can remember a few other names in the team but not all. Within next to no time we had two teams, then three and later four, even reaching five in the seventies. The exiles were eventually formed as a small rebellion, I cannot remember the year. There were by then a number of us who were rarely getting a game. A group of us were chatting in the bar. The suggestion came, I think, from Gren Betteridge, a strong front row forward but he had one arm very slightly withered giving him a disadvantage on occasions. The idea caught on, so we could get games taking fourth team fixtures at first until a full circuit of vet's teams grew up in the area. The explanation of the name 'Exiles' should be obvious, the unwashed and unwanted plus in retaliation we were known to refuse to give players to other teams on occasions when they were short. I suppose we thought we had been neglected and we were in danger of becoming a ' Club within a Club'. However, to our credit we always looked out for promising youngsters who after a few games we encouraged to go up the ranks as far as they could get. Most agreed to give it a shot but a few refused to leave the Exiles even though they had real potential, arguing that it was much more fun where they were. I could go on more about how Gus offered to run the Thirds and would drive round to young player’s houses asking their parents to let them play in the afternoon and I would browbeat students at Bromsgrove College of F.E. twisting their arms to play, Wally Bishton for instance. Schoolmasters also drew in players from their classes. That is enough of a diatribe from me, you only asked on simple question and you get all this waffle.
Prompted by Dave's memories of those early match days, Mike Lewis added:
We played several games on a farm at Mappleborough Green owned by Noel Green. Noel was a great supporter of the newly formed R.C. And went out of his way to help in any way he could.
What happened on these Saturday mornings was just a way thing were and to be honest I can't see it happening today? At about twelve o'clock a group of players would go over to the farm and start work. The posts were got out of the yard, erected and then the markings were done somewhat haphazardly. Then those equipped with buckets and shovels would go around the pitch and clear away all the animal droppings.
We would then drive back to where we were changing that day, to meet the opposition and also to get changed ready for the match. At this juncture it could have been Bridley Moor, Walkwood or Lodge Farm.
Back out to Mappleborough to play the match at the end of which the posts had to be taken down!!! Then back to get changed and on to the Cricket and Hockey Club for a meal and quite a few drinks.
To be fair the meals at the beginning were probably some of the best on the circuit. No hamburgers etc., we had proper sit down meals. Wives, fiancées, girlfriends and mistresses all pitched in and formed a rota amongst themselves and organised the catering for the first couple of years. As I previously said the food was of the highest quality.
Drink driving had not yet reared its ugly head so late drinking was not a problem and it was not unknown for activities to go on until very late on most Saturday's. There was also a warning system in place which told us if there were any police cars in the vicinity!!!!
Looking back, ones social life was the club. It was small and consequently everybody knew everybody else and everybody mucked in, men and women alike which made the running of the club in those early years a happy and very memorable time for all concerned.
The Bryn and Tony Show
Former Secretary Bryn Richards did an interview with founder member Tony Carr (father to Brian and Andy, grandfather to Harry) to celebrate 25 years since the reformation. A grainy old tape was given up from Brian’s loft, so Tony takes up the story:
Tony: Over at least a couple of pints of beer and a glass of sherry a meeting took place between Frank Cardy, Ian Johnstone and myself at the Police Club, Church Road, Redditch.
Bryn: Who is Ian Johnstone?
Tony: Ian Johnson? He was head of French at what was then County High School Redditch. Frank was involved with the Twinning. Ian and myself were both playing at Bromsgrove. Frank used to play for Redditch, pre-war, then I think post war at Bromsgrove. Ian and myself were only playing 3rd or 4th team rugby at Bromsgrove and thought that we were at least capable of playing 2nd team. There were conversations between Ian and Frank, Frank and myself and Ian and myself followed by enquiries of R.K. (Dick) Thomas, long term club member and solicitor with Kerwoods, who now lives in Australia. Dick said that there was a facility there at the Cricket and Hockey club, that there was room and they would be able to accommodate us.
Bryn: So this happened straight from the start, the move into Bromsgrove Road?
Tony: All this talk was going on you see, and we then had this meeting at the police club to discuss it. We proposed a letter which went in the Indicator to call an open meeting for July 1st 1966. We had the meeting and all those people turned up and the club was born, as of then.
When we reformed, our first home pitch was at Walkwood School, then we had the facility of the pitch down at Mappleborough, on Noel Green’s farm, then we went to Lodge Farm, played there on the most horrendous slope. At Lodge Farm the pitch was marked out and goal posts erected on the morning of the match. One of the players “Bones” Thomas collected a sheep’s skeleton from the pitch before the match. He shoved it in his anorak, took it to school and used it for a biology class. He is known as “Bones” to this day.
Bryn: How many games did you play at these places? Was it just the odd game?
Tony: Difficult to say. I would have to go into that. From there we came to Terry’s I think, then out to Bordesley Corner. Before, eventually the pitch where it is and where the Astroturf now is. We had to level all the chunks of rough ground and concrete to clear the area.
Bryn: So we had two pitches side by side?
Tony: We had two pitches side by side and changed at the club. And we then gave up the one pitch which became the Hockey artificial pitch.
Bryn: So what date would that have been when you were actually settled at the club?
Tony: I’m not too sure, I would have to look back through the reports.
Bryn: Where did the players come from?
Tony: For the best part, half a dozen came from Bromsgrove, quite a few came from round here and all over the place, we don’t know where, we don’t know when……they just appeared. A lot of players had just drifted away, played rugby for other clubs, or had played rugby with the forces. There were some who had played rugby in their younger days who just took it up again.
Bryn: How did the club develop, you started off with one side, when did the seconds appear?
Tony: After a while we had too many people to give everyone a game and selection was becoming difficult so we started a second team.
Bryn: Was that in the first season?
Tony: Yes we were putting out a second team before the end of the first season. The third team probably came about in the second season. We had certainly been playing second team games before the end of the first season.
Bryn: In terms of the history of the place, how did that fit in with the New Town?
Tony: We were going before the New Town. Redditch was designated a New Town in 1968, by which time we had two seasons under our belt. We pre-dated the Kingfisher Centre by two years. We adopted the Kingfisher as the emblem of the town on our badge as such. The first club tie was black and white with the kingfisher. I have always been keen on keeping the kingfisher emblem as part of the club.
Bryn: Did the New Town make a difference?
Tony: I suppose it did. Annoyingly though many players came to work for the Corporation and other employers but continued to play for other clubs. Woodrush, Harbury and others. Sometimes our better players were here one day and gone the next. Players drifted in and out which was a little symptomatic of the Redditch population as people came here chasing work and then moved on.
Bryn: Tell us about the trips and links to Auxerre.
Tony: The first trip was Easter 1971. It had taken a fair while to get compatible dates.
We then played home and away for several seasons until in 1976 Auxerre came to us and all hell broke loose. The referee ignored his touch judge and the visitors took objection. One of the players grabbed the referee and spun him round to look at the touch judge. Unfortunately he fell over and subsequently sent the player off. The French team walked off in protest. They did return with 15 and it all got very messy. The speeches were interesting and I think there was a lot said that was missed in the translations. It was the end of the senior tours but the colts continued to exchange for a few more seasons. Also Auxerre were getting too strong for us as they went up the French Leagues. We had some great exchanges and it was a shame that it all ended the way it did.
ARCHIE MOORE REMEMBERS
Archie Moore, who served the club as Hon Sec, Chairman and President between 1975 and 1992 takes up the story in his own words, His reminiscing will surely bring back memories of what it was like back then:
I was a soccer nut at school, in the ‘A’ group for the afternoon double games and played in the school soccer teams. However on a couple of occasions, in a misguided attempt to teach this group the finer points of the oval ball game, I can honestly say I hated it. I think the group’s lack of eagerness about rugby also got through, and the sports master and his staff gave up on us. I remember two things about those lessons, one was being in a scrum which I felt was an excuse to have one’s head ripped off and as a forward (in a soccer team) I continually roamed up field and I couldn’t grasp the principle of getting behind the ball. I later learned that if it did come my way it was as a result of a forward pass or a kick putting me off-side. So it was no surprise that I was a non-participant and I was also shouted at by the sports master a lot of the time, which was another thing I didn’t like and if the ball did come to me by chance I had no idea what I had to do with it.
I was 15 at the time and if someone had told me then that in four years’ time I would be playing in the town’s first XV, they would have received a hollow laugh and I would be supressing a snigger before excusing myself and going round the corner to piss myself laughing.
But I get ahead of myself.
I left school with three ’o’ levels and if I had one other for each sport that I represented the school at, I would have tripled that total. I was in the school’s football, cricket and basketball teams, I threw the javelin in the interschool sports and for two years running won the area schools competition with my doubles partner at tennis, and on a school trip I gained a bronze medal at skiing. All this had a consequence on my education but I made up for it in later life, gaining engineering and management qualifications to graduate level and studies at the Open University.
Upon leaving school I entered upon an engineering apprenticeship at High Duty Alloys Limited (now Mettis). It was here that I met a guy called Phil Troth who was a fellow apprentice. At the earliest opportunity he had passed his driving test so he was mobile. He had a friend called Tony White who in turn was a friend of Phil Vaughan. Phil V. lived just up the road from me so the friendship ring had come full circle as I knew Phil well because we went to school together. So the four of us apart from Phil T., were all under-age drinkers in 1966 through early 1967 which meant that our Friday night excursions had to be out of town, consequently we visited several country pubs, the favourite being the Three Witches in Stratford.
In the autumn of 1966, Tony and Phil V. had started playing for the newly formed Redditch Rugby Club whilst Phil T played for Alcester. Naturally the conversation on our Friday night sojourns turned to rugby. Tales of derring-do, who they played the week before, who they were playing on the morrow and all interspersed with socializing, comradeships and monumental piss-ups, they were an abundantly happy trio. The return journey sing song was also a revelation.
My Saturdays were a complete contrast. I was to be found most Saturdays on the terraces of Villa Park or other (then) first division grounds up and down the country. Unlike England whose football team had just been crowned World Cup winners on that famous day in July 1966, my team served up a cocktail of occasional joy but more often than not misery, hopes dashed, despair and disappointment. But something else was growing, the menace of football violence. It was the days of low profile policing, they only seemed to skirt the pitch stopping the odd idiot who decided to invade it, crowds were non-segregated, with some fuelled by alcohol and it was a disaster waiting to happen. I witnessed scalding Bovril being thrown over a group of away supporters, fists were thrown and it almost became a ritual for many to engage in the finer points of unarmed and later armed combat with bottles and bricks. I was a biggish lad then but more often than not it was a flee for your life situation. I was unwittingly part of but apart from fearful glass in your face situations and running battles. I felt I was being drawn into this cycle and it was for me only a matter of time before I interested either the emergency or the police services. I did what a lot of fans did in those days and voted with my feet. My football viewing was limited to televisual offerings but there was a big gap in my life on Saturday afternoons.
So coming back to my Friday nights with the rugby boys, a germ of an idea formed in my mind and when put it to the boys their enthusiasm was evident coupled with an ‘about time’ having listened to my tales of woe.
And so on the first Tuesday of July 1967 I presented myself at the club’s Bromsgrove Road Headquarters for pre-season training. I vaguely knew some people there from my school days (they were much older than me) and judging by what was on the car park I was now mixing with well-spoken and well to do professional people some of whom were nuggety looking individuals who you would cross the street to avoid. I was a long-haired, gauche 18-year-old off the local council estate, an unknown quantity whose only virtue was that I was a soccer convert. I was a boy amongst men.
I thought I was reasonably fit, since school I had played for the college basketball team, tennis to a reasonable degree (I had been selected to play in a team for Redditch against Auxerre) and of course my apprentices’ soccer team, but I was totally unprepared for rugby training.
I had never heard of the expression circuit training but that was the rugby club’s pre-season menu. We trained on the field (through the gate) that was then Bridley Moors’ cricket field. It was about 100 metres on each side and we were tasked with moving from one corner to the other by various means, jog, sprint, hop, crawl etc. Upon reaching the corners and mid-points we had to engage in multiple repetitions of various exercises, squats, press-ups, sit-ups, star jumps and more. Oh! And not being satisfied with that we had to do ten, yes TEN bloody laps!!!!!! I was soon chugging along at the rear with a group that could only be described as willing but social and when I started to be lapped as I was bent double hands on knees, I began to wonder if I was making a mistake. But what I didn’t count on, amongst the myriad of accents was encouragement from a number of complete strangers (who later became good friends) who confided in me that I had done much better than expected for a first timer.
It still hurt to walk down stairs for the next three days!
But I came back for more the following Tuesday, to the surprise of some, determined to give it another go. Training sessions got easier as fitness improved and at the end of some sessions we engaged in practice games. I am not a tall guy but right from the start I was put in the second row with the simple instructions to start with to push in the scrums I suppose it was their way to blood a rookie and be in a position where it was damage limitation for my team. I do recall however, a line out. Not really knowing what to do at first there was a tap down on my side to the scrum half who was running back to retrieve the ball. Suddenly some big bugger gave me a shove and started to come past me to clobber my team mate. Realising in an instant what was about to happen I grabbed this guy’s arm and yanked him off his feet. He punctuated a glare with an expletive saying that I was unclean and of dubious parentage or words to that effect until I stood my ground with clenched fists. I had no idea who he was but later I discovered I had just been introduced to the chairman of selectors, Gus Glanville.
On another occasion as I waddled from one set piece to another and always arriving just in the nick of too late, I came upon a loose maul and the ball dropped out of the rear. Basic instincts took over and despite a pair of hands appearing in my peripheral vision I did what came naturally and swung a boot at it anticipating a foot rush to the posts but intent and result did not match. The ball ricocheted off the mass of bodies in front and looped to the opposition’s outside centre who immediately booted the ball down field, an attacking position was turned into desperate defence. The voice attached to the pair of hands yelled ‘Archie! You’re not playing f****** soccer now’. I told him to go forth and multiply, for all to hear, which could have been a bad move because I’d just said hello to Roger Westwood, the second XV captain, who was one of the first guys that I met at training and frankly scared the s**** out of me.
However, I learnt quickly, got reasonably fit and soon the season was upon us. The numbers at training had grown to the point that it was clearly going to be easy to field three teams (or occasionally more) each week and considering that in its first season the club had put out three teams on only three occasions, this was a considerable growth of playing strength.
The rugby season starts on the first Saturday in September and goes on until the last one in April, but in 1967 there was a Wednesday that was September 1st a third XV fixture had been arranged against Hewell Grange, the local young offenders institute as a season opener when Redditch would field a number of unknowns, I was one of them.
We met at the Bromsgrove headquarters and a convoy of around 20 cars made the short 3-mile journey. There were that many because most of the other two team’s senior players were there as well as selectors and supporters.
The YOI was based in an old manorial house with outbuildings and grounds and as we pulled up on the large circular drive, I made my first ‘mistake’. Everyone was milling around unsure where to go. ‘I know where the changing rooms are’ I chimed and set off to some outbuildings to the right of the mansion house. In past days they had probably been stables or servants quarters. I didn’t notice one or two raised eyebrows and exchanged glances. Around the corner it opened up to a concrete paddock. Our opponents (the boys) were all changed and waiting for us, after all they were ‘at home’ come to think of it they always played at home. Suddenly from a window a head appeared and a rich Liverpudlian voice shouted ‘Hey it’s the footballer! How you going Archie lad?’ I smiled and waved, my second mistake, but being ahead of all the rest I failed to notice the quizzical looks or heed the unspoken thoughts.
I sat in a bubble of silence in the changing rooms and noticeably on my own. My experience at this point of team games was banter and bubbling conversation. I was told rugby players start to focus, getting in the zone I think you call it now, either way I thought this lot were a miserable load of buggers.
We had to walk about 200 yards to the pitch and on the way one of the officers still in uniform spoke to me, we exchanged a few good natured words. I still didn’t ‘clock’ the looks of all from Redditch.
I remember very little about the game. We won 13 nil and whilst I thought I contributed reasonably well in the set pieces and I was a presence in the loose. It was a typical start of season game which was littered with errors not helped by 15 strangers playing together for the first time. I thought it ironic that I’d left the disorganized mayhem of the football terraces for the organized mayhem of the rugby pitch.
I came off the field to a couple of ‘well dones’ but again I sat in the changing room on my own. It was then that I heard someone say ‘you ask him’, ‘no, you ask him’. Suddenly I sensed a number of pairs of eyes riveted in my direction. Within a minute or so some club official sidled up and sat next to me. I had no idea then who he was and I could see he was consumed with embarrassment. I feared he was going to give me bad news ‘I don’t know how to put this’ he started – yes it was bad news? I thought, not good enough? I thought. ‘It’s just that well…..’ the words came out in small chunks ‘when we arrived you knew where the c hanging rooms were that lad knew your name and then you spoke to that officer who seemed to know you’.
‘Yes?’ And then he said ‘Well…..’ He was clearly struggling ‘Well what were you in for?’ Which came out in some sort of strangulated way.
For a moment I was speechless then the penny dropped. By now all eyes were on me and I just exploded.
I am afraid I swore profusely, well, abundantly and if any selection criteria were involved I would have been selected as a swearer for England. I figured that the circumstantial evidence, along with my appearance, background, and soccer-convert image had enticed everyone to think that two and two equals four. The sum total of their maths, however was nearer seven.
‘If you must know I played soccer here only four days ago against the staff, so I knew where the changing rooms were. I played directly opposite the officer I spoke to and the remarks were about Sunday’s game. As for the lad recognizing me – I scored a goal and he along with all his mates picked up on my name as well as others in our team. They naturally wanted us to kick shit out of the staff. Now f*** off. Go and talk to Ian Johnstone (then the first XV skipper and my ex teacher) he’ll tell you where I was until I was 16. Then speak to Tony Carr (I knew he was a policeman and club founder) ask him if I’m known to the law, then have a chat with Phil Troth. He’ll tell you I’ve been an ever present as an apprentice at HDA since leaving school.’
My tirade over I threw my boots on the floor clearly upset, by now the riveted eyes had disappeared and the official disappeared mumbling apologies.
I guess my reaction would mean that I definitely wouldn’t play another game for Redditch and to be honest, I didn’t care. I sat head in hands for a moment almost in tears and sensed someone sitting next to me a hand rested on my shoulder ‘You alright?’ It was Pete Wilkinson, the days captain ‘I have to ask…..’ he began.
‘Not you as well’ I thought.
‘I have to ask if you are available for Saturday, if you didn’t know it, everyone thought you had a good game and I’m going to recommend you be in the seconds this Saturday.’
‘After what I’ve just said?’
‘Even more so’ said Pete ‘now come on let’s go and have some beers.’
I couldn’t help but laugh and did have a few beers and a number of people did come up to me and say ‘well done’. Later the club official, who after all had probably been pushed into asking me the awkwardest of questions and in a way had bravely done so, apologized again.
I didn’t realized it then, nor could I have anticipated that I would be playing rugby and later refereeing into the 1990’s, thus stepping on to the rugby field in four decades.
Excuse me if I stroll down Memory Lane for a moment and indulge in a few numbers but when I started playing rugby in the autumn of 1967 I was just entering my fourth year as an apprentice at High Duty Alloys Limited (now Mettis). I had just turned 19 years of age and my weekly take home pay was about six pounds. Subscriptions were 2 pounds 10 shillings (2.50 new money), match fees 2 and 6 pence (12.5 p), a club tie was 18 and 6 pence (85 p.), a pint of beer was less than three bob (15 p.), a gallon of petrol was 4 and11 (less than 25 p.) You could buy a tray of chips for 6 pence (2.5p.) and a second class stamp was 3 pence. (Just over 1 new penny) which brings me neatly to how we knew what team we were playing in.
(The pricing back in the day was a far cry from our card machine and contactless transactions. I remember working behind the bar and the expectation was that you kept the running total in your head and were able to tell the punter the total as you presented him with the last drink. The price of a half and pint were on a tiny label on the back of the pump. None of the getting the till to add it up and calculate the change. Skippy)
1967 was pre mobile phones and in some cases (like me) pre landline phones. We couldn’t imagine e-mail or other modern communication wizardry, so unless you were at training on Tuesday night or popped down to the club to see the team posted on the clubhouse window you had to wait until Thursday or Friday when you received a pre-printed card informing you of where you were playing next or as a final back-up you could see the teams printed in the Redditch Indicator which came out on Friday. So if you were unavailable, injured or you had to cry off for other commitments there was little time to inform the appropriate skipper and he in turn and other skippers had little time to get their teams in order. More often than not this was done on Saturday itself because some players in the lower order teams who found themselves not selected turned up, kit in hand, in the hope of filling a gap. The real problem however, was if an away team was short there were only two alternatives travel a man short (in the hope your hosts will help you out by providing a player) or drag in a player due to play at home who could be ‘persuaded’ to turn up earlier than planned an at short notice (sound familiar?). There were not many who were able to do this, either because they were difficult to contact (no phone again) or lived too far from the club but I was one who could be dragged in at the last minute. I lived a 10-minute walk from the club (2 minutes by car if you are keeping notes) so it was not uncommon to have a knock on the door that prefaced a ‘come on you’re playing for the seconds let’s go!’
Personally I didn’t mind this although I realized that it wasn’t because I was:
a) the best player in the team below or
b) a straightforward like-for-like – it’s just that I was the easiest option to make up the numbers, easily picked like low hanging fruit.
Thus it was that for the first seven weeks of the season (I know this because I have referred to my fixture card where I religiously filled in the results of the games I played in). Thus it was that I seemed to play away nearly every week. One game I particularly remember was at Shipston on Stour, a place I had never been to before and a game that was very much in the balance right up to the last minute. This rural area had been subject to foot and mouth travel restrictions which had been lifted only a day or two earlier. The pitch we were due to play on was out of town, consequently there had been no opportunity to cut the grass to a playable level during much of the summer. We changed in a pavilion attached to the local sports ground and then we had to travel to some remote farmers field. Luckily, two lads in our team, Richard and John Mountford, knew the area well because their mother lived in Shipston and knew where we had to go. Then journey to the pitch was hilarious as John stood on the passenger seat with the upper part of his body poking out of the sunroof (as Dick drove) looking for all the world like a tank commander giving directions, startling cattle in adjacent fields and nearly forcing open-mouthed on-coming drivers into taking evasive action and not parking their cars in a hedge or a ditch.
As I mentioned earlier the grass had just been cut, not with a mower but with a side-mounted scissor scythe which just laid the grass in great two feet long swathes which really should have been collected for hay. There was no time to do this and the lines were creosoted over the lain grass. Needless to say within a short period of time as thirty rugby players chugged around the pitch the grass was kicked over and the lines disappeared. This was particularly a problem when deciding if a ball, or a player with a ball was in touch but a hastily convened committee meeting between the ref and both teams usually sorted this out (most often than not we needed a breather anyway).
There was however a player in our team called Graham Holmes (we later became very good friends) he was a biggish chap who could have been a front row on his own. I remember one occasion he ran laterally across the field handing off their entire back division one by one before flopping over for a try.
I was in the second row for this game and had just bought one of those ridiculous scrum-caps that tied under the chin. I wore it only once, for this game when an opponent grabbed It when I was in full flight (honestly!) and nearly yanked my head off.
But there were other considerations. Back to the grass, when it was cut it concealed it semi-dried piles of cow shit more often than not you emerged from a loose maul with grass sticking out of every nook and cranny and a dab of cow shit on the end of your nose.
There was a journo who worked for a Welsh newspaper, I think the Western Mail. He had written a book called ‘The Art of Coarse Rugby’ and this match could easily have sat in the pages of that tome.
We won 17-3, brushed off the pats of cow shit before we drove back to change and then to repair to one of those lovely half-timbered pubs in the middle of Shipston. The clocks had not yet been turned back so there was still a fair bit of daylight left when we went into the pub but it was well and truly dark when we left. The beer had been good, the company better and the juke box belted out the songs of the day. There was one that I had never heard before – it sounded like a group who had their nuts trapped when slamming down a dustbin lid. It was the first time I heard the Bee Gees singing Massachusetts and I had a bet that they would be a one-hit wonder!
Here’s another stroll down Memory Lane – go on indulge me! Then a try, a penalty and a drop-goal were all worth three points and a conversion two. There was none of this bend – touch – pause – engage business in the scrums, packs formed several yards apart and charged liked rutting stags, line-outs were a mess, bodies sometimes compressing into a space that you could cover with a blanket, lifting was illegal and I once saw a photograph in our local paper where all eight – yes all eight forwards were off their feet jumping at a line-out. You could kick the ball into touch from anywhere on the field and the ensuing line-out was from where the ball left the field of play. This particular law was changed (I think it was called the dispensation law) and I didn’t know it then but this was to have a very influential impact on my playing position in years hence, but I get ahead of myself. (Archie refers to the Australian Dispensation which brought in the restriction limiting kicking out on the full to within the 25 yard line. This was played a couple of seasons in Australia before being adopted elsewhere in 1968 from memory. Skippy)