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I moved to Worcester at the beginning of 2007, having moved for work with NatWest from West Wales. I grew up and went to school in Brecon and all through my time at University in Cardiff and working in Aberystwyth, I travelled to Brecon to play rugby. I could have joined UWIC rugby or Aberystwyth rugby club, but I was happy with what and who I knew. We were playing a good standard and I was playing week in week out. I had seen so many youngsters come through, see the lights, go play for a bigger club and just sit on the bench. A few years later, they had finished playing altogether and I have seen so many talented players go to waste over the years.
When my wife and I moved to Worcester, there was no reason to move clubs. I had a company car so the miles to travel back to Brecon were irrelevant and it meant we got to see family and friends over the weekend. It was mid 2009 and I got invited to a networking club called ‘Piggies.’ To join the club however, I had to pass an initiation which involved eating in a pub, which sounded right up my street. Not knowing what to expect, I turned up at the Kings Head, Sidbury on a Thursday night and found a gathering of mainly men drinking, talking, laughing and most importantly welcoming. During the evening, I was introduced to a little Irish fella, his name escaped me at first as I am useless with names but later turned out to be the Director of Rugby at Worcester Wanderers, Stuart James. We got on well and he asked where I was currenty playing and asked would I come and play for Worcester. I said thank you and that I would think about it.
November internationals were upon us in 2009 which meant no rugby in Wales. My wife had the idea of decorating the lounge - a job that I detest. Under duress, we completed the painting and I needed an escape. I put the waterproofs on and went to Westons to watch Worcester Wanderers 1 st team play. It was monsoon weather, a complete mud bath and although conditions were far from ideal, Worcester came out on top and put on a good
show. I remember looking at the props, Earls, Ralphy and Drewey and thinking, they are small props. Either they are very strong, the scrums are easy or they have some strong 2nd /back rowers. Time told that it was all of the above, as over the years I was playing, we rarely had a bad day at the coal face.
It was April 2010 and my wife and I had found out that we were expecting our first child. I had to make a decision on what to do about rugby as travelling back to Brecon for rugby and not getting home until 11pm was not an option. I was about to turn 32 and had played senior rugby for 14 years without injury, the easiest option was to retire. However, that little Irish man kept talking to me when we met and I made the decision to join Worcester Wanderers for the season 2010-11.
I turned up for pre-season training and like the previous 14 seasons, I was not looking forward to it. I was introduced to the Head Coach, Tom Ryder and all seemed to be getting better. He was an ex front rower, who hopefully would not cane us like a lot of previous other coaches had done over the years during pre-season. True to his word, he did not but passed the reins over to a player / coach / fitness guy called Otto who then reminded me why I hated pre-season. Otto made me breathe out of places I never knew I could and always finished me off with a bear crawl – what a brutal ‘exercise.’ I later found out that not only was he one of the fittest in the squad, but he was also the oldest!
As the years went on, he remained one of the fittest and never grew old. A top man and well respected, especially when the likes of Chicken chant ‘Otto, Otto, Otto’ to him. The pre-season continued and Tom brought something to training that I had never experienced before. Working for the Warriors had allowed him to develop his coaching skills so that he bettered ours. For years I had run round the pitch, tackled a bag, run into a shield and hit a scrummage machine. This was all different as it involved thinking and skills – many struggled but it made it interesting and enjoyable. The biggest shock was that we never hit the scrummage machine and in the first season of playing, we only had 3 scrummaging sessions! It was at this stage I was introduced to another gentleman, another Worcester Wanderers man through and through. At the start, it was an eye opener watching him express his feelings both verbally and through his enthusiastic gesticulating but over time and a few stress balls later, he mellowed. I loved completing his drills and watching the likes of Drewey and Ralphy get completely baffled but again, it was enjoyable.
I came home a few weeks into that season and announced to my wife that Worcester were going on tour. Being 8 months pregnant, perhaps my timing was not the best but as an understanding rugby wife, in theory, as long as the baby was ok, she agreed. That was until I mentioned it was to the USA. My daughter Celyn arrived healthy and authorisation was given to go to Boston on tour.
What a tour it was! I got to know many members of the club, made many friends and had the privilege of being captain. There are so many memories to list; from Dr Jim singing on the yellow bus to the female driver, to some of the boys being chain ganged to visit the senator, to being asked for ID for the first time in my life and the daily brutal courtroom sessions. The tour was amazing and I was adamant I would go on the next one.
The 2010-11 season was a positive one. Playing English rugby, although different and not what I was used to, was good. It refreshed and rejuvenated me as I had become stale and the welcome that I received from players, management, committee and the great facilities, made me want to stay. It was nice to lift Tom Richmond and Tim Ohlson in the lineout by their knees as they weren’t the usual 18 stone second rows I was used to. It was a pleasure to work with back rowers who were fast and agile – there were many that played there but the famous back row of Chris Griffiths, Jacob Saddington and Russ Marsland were the dream team (as long as Chris was looking in the right direction and Russ not getting angry). The season ended with the annual club dinner which was a pretty standard one with grapes, cheese and anything else you could put your hand on being thrown. During one of the visits to the toilet, that little Irish man appeared again and asked if I would be Vice-Captain next year to Ally McLoughlin. I did not hesitate and said yes, it would be an honour.
Pre-season training started for season 2011-12 and was the same as the previous one. Otto still made us do the bear crawls, Crawf still confused many and Coach Ryder still played the touch rugby conditioned matches. This season however felt more knitted and we were building a great squad. The season finished strong and better than the previous one but unfortunately, we just missed out on the top spot.
The Annual dinner arrived again and so did that little Irish man – this time he told me that Ally was retiring and asked if I would take on the role of Club Captain. For me, this was more of an honour than captaining my home club of Brecon. With Brecon, I was known and had come up through the Youth. With Worcester however, I was new to the club and there were many people whom I still did not know but this just showed how great the club is and how well I was welcomed.
Season 2012-13. We got off to a great start, winning every match and excelling at home, now named the Wandererdome. We were invincible at home and it was not a place opposition enjoyed coming to. Places we had previously travelled to and lost, we now won at and this gave belief to all those involved, some who were young and just come into the seniors. A great mixture of experience and youthfulness guided by some great coaching led us to winning the league. We had just one more game to play, a play off, to see who got promoted to the National League level 5.
End of year dinner came but due to very bad planning, it was arranged the night before the play off! Very few grapes were thrown and the little Irish man did not appear. Ilkeston were our opposition and due to the fact that we had scored more points than them, it was a home match. I don’t think that I have ever seen so many people at Westons and the day is a bit of a haze still. All I remember is that the first half hour was a blur with Ilkeston constantly coming at us. We held out but it was very much a defensive game than attack and we were behind. None the less, we fought on and the match was close for 80 minutes. We scored in the last quarter to take the lead and we could see the opposition tiring. Our fitness, our pitch, our hunger showed we could beat this team and boy we did. The final whistle was blown and that was it, we had won. We had won the match, we had won the league, we were promoted! The celebrations went long into the night and it really did not
sink in for some time that Worcester Wanderers were now going to be playing at the highest level they had ever played at.
One other thing we did however is go on tour, this time Lisbon. No dramas, we arrived and checked in to this old beautiful building. The room ceilings were very high and contained triple bunk beds which I thought would be interesting for those on top. Sharing a room with Chicken and 7 others was interesting but that only lasted a night. The next morning came and we were in trouble. Due to an unfortunate argument over mistaken identity, we had to vacate the premises. Dick, Lloydy and I had a meeting and we had to find alternative accommodation, fast. We did and checked in to a hostel. Not as nice as residence number one but far more appropriate. It had an outdoor court room with its own shower and the owner loved us. Once again it was a great tour until the final supper. Lloydy had arranged a seafood meal at a restaurant with loads of platters of food and the beers were flowing. Lloydy had to depart as he was catching an early flight home. He put 40 Euros into the kitty, bid us all farewell and departed. We carried on joyfully and eventually asked for the bill. The bill arrived and I nearly fainted – €4,535.75 – just over €100 per person, Lloydy had well and truly stitched us up!
2013-14 season was approaching, we needed to plan. Who would we be playing? The RFU said that due to promotions and relegations, we would be playing in the South West league, not the Midlands as there were too many teams and we were the furthest South. We tried to argue that teams were further south than us, but it did not wash. We needed a meeting to work how we would do this as we were venturing into new waters having not played there before, with teams ranging from Old Pats in Cheltenham to Newton Abbott and from Barnstaple to Amersham. We needed structure and therefore on the 29 th May 2013, Stuart James, Tom Ryder, Niall Crawford, Steve Lloyd and I met at the Coach and Horses. We agreed that Stuart would continue as Director of Rugby, Tom as Head Coach with Niall Crawford, Tim Pickard & Lee Watson supporting. Steve Lloyd would be 1 st team manager and I would be captain with Sam Carter as Vice. We were set up and we now had to go and deliver. We already knew there would be some travelling and that the Wanderdome was formidable, so our first target (a high one) was to win all home games and any away wins were a bonus. The season did not go to plan, but we were competitive. There were some outstanding teams which were a pleasure to play against but we were taught the hard way not to make mistakes. At this level, a missed kick, an easy penalty given away or a general mistake would result in you being punished and we lost a few games because of that. We came to the end of the season and we were fighting not to be relegated. We should never have been in this situation but we were and had to give it all, but it was not enough. The last few games were played in a matter of days. We were tired, beaten and bruised and the boys gave it their all. I could not have asked for more, but it was not good enough. We were relegated.
The biggest memory I had of that season was the transport. We could not afford a coach to each match but wanted to keep the team spirit rather than travelling in cars. We therefore hired 2 x 9-seater buses and named them the fun buses. It meant we got to places just as quick as a car but were together and kept the team spirit. Many a good trip was had on these and there are many memories.
Annual dinner, a few grapes, no little Irish man.
2014-15 season saw us back in the Midlands league. We knew we could compete and stay in the National league and that was our aim, to get back up there. We had lost a few players however and a couple of early loses made for a tough season. We battled away once again and yet again; we won the league! We knew having a home draw would put us in a great position but unfortunately, we were drawn away to a team in Northampton. We made the trip with a great following crowd to try and make promotion once again. The opposition were big once again, but we had seen it all before and were not too worried. There were players playing for Northampton academy but again nothing to worry about. We fought hard and came back from behind, but it wasn’t enough. I really believe that if we had played them at home, we would have won but it was not our day.
That was my last game for the club (apart from tour) as my family and I made the decision to move back to Brecon to be closer to family. I was 37 and wanted a year or 2 back in Brecon. They had been promoted to Division 1 and it was a good test to come back to. The final piece in the jigsaw was to complete what some of us had started at the beginning of 2014 – the separation of assets of the Warriors and Wanderers. It had been discussed for some time but early in 2014, Adrian Harling, Stuart James, Adrian Heffernan, Richard Ralph and I were having regular meetings at the Mug House to discuss the proposition. A lot of work was done by many members of the club, but it was great to be involved in something that would secure the future of the Wanderers and allow it to stand on its own two feet. It would mean a change in the way things were done plus a requirement of more effort of its members, but it secured the future of the club.
I came to the final dinner where I was presented with many gifts as a thank you. I said in a little speech then that the club was and still is an amazing place. On behalf of all the players in all the minis, colts, women’s and men’s teams, I gave a massive thank you to all the background staff. The committee, the coaches and managers, the supporters or anyone one else, any help was great and made the Wanderers a welcoming club that I thoroughly enjoyed being part of.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing (2020) we are in the middle of the Coronavirus 19 pandemic and have lost 2 huge figure heads of Worcester, one well known, Cecil Duckworth and one not so well, Roy Saunders. Both had Worcester at their heart and did a massive amount for their City and club. There are many more like these gentlemen at the Wanderers and long may it continue. I still work in the West Midlands and whenever I go to Worcester, it brings back many happy
Yes – that I did not join Worcester Wanderers RFC when that little Irish man first asked me!
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