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My memories of Worcester Rugby Club date back to my early childhood as my dad played for the club in his younger days alongside such people as George Everton, Bernie Blower, Derek Thompson and many others of that era. My mum and her 2 elder sisters – Janet Everton and Nina Richardson were also very much involved with the club. Janet was married to Don Everton who played for the club, had many important roles in the club and was instrumental in getting Cecil Duckworth involved in the late 1990s. Nina was, and still is, married to Jem Richardson who was Club and 1st XV captain from 1961-65 and 1969-70 (there is a contribution from Jem Richardson elsewhere in this publication. I’m also delighted to see a photo of my Nan – Mary Savage and Auntie Janet amongst those at the bottom of this website page. I believe this photo was taken in the clubhouse at Bevere).
As a family, we moved away from Worcester following Dad’s career with IBM but came back to Worcester for weekends and at holiday time on a regular basis. Most of those trips seemed to revolve around Worcester Rugby Club with mum and Dad propping up the bar with Jem, Nina and others in the clubhouse at Bevere in the 1960s and early 70s. My Dad always said that he helped to build the clubhouse at Bevere although I’m not sure exactly what he did as his construction skills whilst competent, were not professional. I didn’t ever play rugby at Bevere but I remember running around the pitches and changing rooms as a child. From what I can recall the changing rooms each had an ordinary household type bath.
When the club moved to Sixways, my Dad’s great friend – John Morewood – became the “live in” steward so we spent even more time in and around the club at weekends. I remember long Sunday afternoons in the members bar at Sixways with Jem and Nina and many others over the years including Cliff and Hazel Wright, Mike Robins and Roz, Pat Warburton and Eric Grimshaw. When George Everton took over as the Steward we spent just as much time in and around the clubhouse. Prior to becoming the club steward George used to occasional drive one of his HGVs to deliver to places near our home in South London and would stay overnight with us. Another club stalwart of y Dad’s era was Geoff Morey who move to the High Wycombe area. We often met up with him and his family and had a couple of Christmases together. Those rugby friendships seem to last for a lifetime.
My fist involvement as a player at Worcester was as a substitute for the colts in a match v Cardiff in 1980/81, I think. Ron Saunders was captain and Derek Thompson was the team manager. I didn’t get on the park and I think we lost 10-0. I started to play for Birmingham Medics at this stage and was recruited by my uncle Jem to play for Worcester when our fixtures finished at the end of term. I initially played for the 2nd (United) XV under the captaincy of Les Janes. Although I occasionally played for the first XV over the years, I was more often selected for the 2nd XV. Initially Jon Wooten and then later my cousin Richard Everton who were both more proficient than I ever was i.e. they could pass, kick and run which I couldn’t kept me out of 1st XV scrum-half slot! What I could, however, was barrel over from anything less than 5 yards out especially with the protection provided by Stuart Preece, Ian Narraway, Steve Tustin, Chris Johnston, Steve Hickman and Ian Stanton who were most often the back row that I had the luxury of playing behind at that time.
Towards the end of my medical school days I moved from Birmingham to Claines where our local refuse collector was the celebrated tight head prop – Winston Nesbitt. Winston was banned from playing rugby, not because of any rugby misdemeanours but by the local authority because injuries had made him unavailable for work. In those days, the teams were announced in the local paper after the weekly selection meeting. Winston went under the pseudonym of Brian Fox in order to avoid being spotted by his employer. I think that one of the most enjoyable things during that era was the Wednesday evening MEB floodlit tournament which we hosted and for which I still have a winner’s tankard. There was also a second team cup competition played at Kidderminster Carolians on a Sunday in which we were pretty successful. We won it one year with a masterful drop goal from Gareth Hodgson but I also remember being runners up a few years prior to that and drinking the bar dry – a great effort by all!
We have had a number of excellent rugby players come through the ranks at Worcester but arguably the best was Ruben Kruger who later went on to play on the flank for the famous World Cup winning South Africa team in 1995 when he was arguably the player of the tournament. When he came to Worcester he was 19 years old and could barely speak any English – he was a true Afrikaaner. I’m not sure if he ever intended to come and play for Worcester but somehow he appeared on the pitch, standing under the posts at the beginning of a training session. It may be that my uncle Don had arranged for him to come and play for us as uncle Don had connections with the South African wine trade. Anyway Don most definitely made sure that Ruben stayed with us. This must’ve been about 1991. At that time overseas players had to be registered with and play for a club for 6 months before becoming eligible to play in the competitive English leagues. Thus, Ruben played in the 2nd XV for most of the season. Whilst it is fair to say that he bulked up significantly over the subsequent years with SA he was nevertheless an awesome player when he was with us. He had a habit of standing at the first receiver position, which, for me was about 3 yards from my left shoulder (I couldn’t pass to the right!). He would, however, take the ball at pace and then somehow accelerate into, over and through the opposition fly half and more often than not on to score with barely a hand touching him. I’m sure we beat Brecon away by about 50 points to nil with Ruben scoring virtually all our points. Whilst it was a surprise to see him playing for South Africa only a couple of years after he left us, there was no doubt that he was destined for a much higher level of rugby.
Over the years we had a number of interesting and colourful overseas players including Shane, Robbo and Parky, Marty Andrews and Mark Humphries. Shane, in particular was a character and the story of him demolishing the old ticket hut at Sixways by driving the Lada that had been provided for him and his NZ comrades by Kenny the Cat is legendary! I also remember going to play away at Ludlow with Parky and Robbo. They were delighted to see Ludlow castle as the backdrop to the pitch but when it came to the pre-match warm up they were nowhere to be seen, then someone heard them shouting from the castle ramparts. I think they made it back down just in time for kick off.
Most of my memories of playing rugby at Worcester are somewhat hazy. I presume that is at least in part due to the amount of beer consumed after matches. In the early days I would often get a lift back home late at night from Mike (Scoop) Robins. I remember waking up one Sunday morning to the sound of my next-door neighbour saying “Good Morning Doctor”. When I opened my eyes and came to, I was lying on my back with my feet and legs in the hall but my body and head on the path outside resting on my kit bag! I obviously had managed to get home but not as far as bed. That actually reminds me of one of my Dad’s stories about playing for Worcester. One night he and a friend – maybe John Morewood – had to take Bernie Blower home. They carried him into the house put him in an arm chair and put the fire on to make sure he stayed warm. When he woke up he was in the wrong house!
Obviously I really enjoyed my rugby and playing for Worcester. I actually continued to play up until 2016 when illness cruelly cut short my career but by then I had completed over 35 seasons for the club – admittedly in the latter part of my playing days I was running out of teams to drop down into and had to try and create another team in order to ensure that I could play. One of the best periods at WRFC was when Dave Protherough was coach. Not everybody got on with him but I really like him. He was a hard man – I can imagine him being an animal on the pitch but he was fair and he seemed to have as much respect for me as I did for him. Training sessions with him were tough but they were fun and the banter was great too. At one time he used to make us run around Sixways and then up to the roundabout and on towards Evesham for seemingly miles and then back to the steep bank which is on the left hand side of Pershore Lane just South of the Sixways roundabout. We then had to give someone a piggy back up the bank, jog down and swap over.
Proth had a huge influence within the rugby family and organised some events which I will always remember. In particular there was a 10 a side tournament at Sixways and London Welsh put out a team which included a certain JPR Williams. Admittedly he was at the end (if not beyond the end) of his career but he lined up at centre – opposite me and the first time he got the ball I smashed him onto his backside. I’m sure he said, “Jim that was the hardest tackle anyone has ever made on me!”! Proth also arranged another match which was played at Hawford Lodge. I think Chris Allen might have been teaching there at the time. Anyway he got a few mates to play including Nigel Horton the former England Lock forward who played for Moseley and toured New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions in 1977. He was an absolute monster but it was hugely exciting playing alongside him.
Another guy who made quite an impression on me at Worcester was Peter Shillingford. I think that Dave Protherough was responsible for getting him to come and play for us after he’d finished at Moseley. He was another very hard man but I remember getting worked up at a training session when we were practicing a lineouts. Presumably Shilly was not really expecting it but I was one of those lined up as cannon-fodder opposing the lineout. Anyway, I got him in my sights and knocked him absolutely flat. It was one of my best ever hits. Fortunately he saw the funny side of it. Recently I bumped into Shilly on a flight to see a friend in Bermuda. Pete initially went to Bermuda for a couple of years after he finished playing for us. I believe he went over there to play rugby for the police force and stayed for 17 years. He has promised to make an effort to come and see us at the new clubhouse sometime.
As the club began to climb the leagues in the late 1990s with Cecil Duckworth’s ingestion of money, the recruit of quality players and my advancing years I moved further down the teams but was still very much involved when we created Worcseter Wanderers under the captaincy of Steve Tustin. I enjoyed a good many years as Wanderers second team captain with John Yarwood (Senior – otherwise known as Jack) as team manager. We had a lot of fun and actually played some decent rugby with youngsters such as AJ Mills joining us. I was sorry to have to hang up my boots in 2016 but I think that they were pretty worn out by then anyway. I have enjoyed a number of tours, particularly with Dick and Stu although the tours to Dublin in the late 1990s were also pretty epic – from what I remember!
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