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Arriving at Sixways at the end of September 1976 was indeed quite a shock for a young man used to playing his rugby initially in the villages of deepest West Wales for St David's RFC and then in the dark, often wet, coal tip strewn valleys of South Wales, for Cardiff College of Education.
Sixways was beginning its second season as the home of Worcester Rugby Union Football Club after relocating from Bevere, in the centre of Worcester. It looked squeaky clean and tidy. Four pitches, all perfectly flat and well maintained, two with floodlights, a spacious car park and a clubhouse that easily accommodated up to 8 rugby teams at a time, together with their supporters. The changing rooms, however, were no more than adequate for 17 rugby players of all shapes and sizes to change into their rugby kit. In our case the shirts were navy with yellow collars, navy shirts and navy socks with yellow tops. Following the game there was a large communal bath which was shared by over a hundred mud-splattered players and a very small number of showers. Every team wanted to be the first one to finish so they could get into the bath first. Health and safety, what health and safety? It wasn’t on the agenda in those days. On retiring to the clubhouse one of the team collected the match subs, an extortionate 75 pence each, three times the amount I used to pay in Wales, and to top it all, only the visiting teams were offered a post-match meal. Home players had to buy their own meal after the visitors had finished theirs if they so wished.
I'd moved to the area a few months previously to start my teaching career in a residential special school situated near Kidderminster. The job was full on with having to work evenings and weekends on top of a normal school day. Playing rugby hadn't really come into my mind until I received a phone call from Dave Robins asking me if I would like to come down and play for Worcester. Alan Roberts, the 1st/2nd team outside half, and contemporary of mine at Cardiff College of Education had passed on my contact details. Two days later Dave picked me up as I wasn’t driving at that time, and I played for the 2nd team against St Paul's College, Cheltenham under the Sixways' lights as an openside flanker. I must have impressed as I was selected to play for the 1st team against Lichfield at No 8 the following Saturday. Andy Gebhart was the incumbent openside so I played my first ever game in the middle of the back row. This was the beginning of 4 extremely enjoyable seasons playing rugby for Worcester Rugby Union Football Club.
Training took place on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and, because I didn’t drive, Dave arranged for Duncan McClellan to pick me up on his way through from Bewdley. The training pitch wasn't as squeaky clean and immaculate as I had first thought. After it had rained it tended to hold water and over the following winter months it turned rather muddy. All the pitches had this capability but the training pitch took a hammering with three evenings of training and a match being played on it every Saturday taking its toll. On a few occasions I remember playing first team matches at Perdiswell due to the wet weather and poor drainage on the Sixways' pitches.
Within a month I was fortunate enough to be selected to play for the Worcester and Hereford County Under 23's team, together with Worcester teammates Martin Pocock, and Glyn Griffiths. The team won every game in the 6 Counties Championship that season as did the Senior County team which I was selected to play for later in the season. I had the great privilege to having Redditch's Toby Allchurch and Stourbridge’s Oscar Higley pack down with me in the Under 23's backrow and Dudley Kingswinford's Brian Williams and Bromsgrove's John Hunt in the Senior's backrow. I was also selected for the North Midlands Under 23 squad, but didn’t play any games for them as I entered hospital for a leg operation.
Duncan and myself became good friends and I was very grateful to him for not only the lifts to and from the rugby club, but also being a very encouraging training partner in St Gilbert's School gym, where I taught. He was also a very good tight head prop who wouldn’t stand any nonsense from any of the opposition. I still have a lasting vision of Duncan, his face splattered in blood, being sent off in a battle against Torquay at Sixways. Torquay were a good rugby team but on this day they just wanted to fight and Duncan was having none of it. How the referee singled out Duncan I don’t know. It was a travesty.
Duncan was also sent off in the game against Warrington on the pitch where the Warriors Stadium was built later. He wasn't the only one though as he was accompanied to the dressing rooms by the 29 other players on the pitch, after the referee, Derek Thompson, had enough of the running battles on the pitch and, rightly so, called time half way through the first half. Derek, a Worcester committee man, had stepped in at the last moment to officiate when the designated referee failed to arrive. We'd played Warrington on a number of occasions. They were always hard matches and we were evenly matched. I think both teams took advantage of the situation regarding the referee and after showering and changing we retired to the bar and had a great night together. That’s rugby for you.
Apart from Warrington we played a number of teams from the North West. Preston Grasshoppers, Leigh, St Helens and Widnes come to mind. People often ask where you were when Elvis died or when President Kennedy was assassinated. Nobody asks where you were when Paul Ringer got sent off playing for Wales against England in February 1980. I remember it well. I was waiting for the referee to blow the whistle to start a match in Widnes. It was a dark, dank, dingy day and I wanted to watch the international. In Wales all rugby was cancelled on international day. In England they didn’t have the same rule. I wasn't happy and things got worse when, just prior to blowing the whistle to start the game, the referee, with a huge, broad smile gleefully uttered the words, "Ringer’s just been sent off!" I didn't have the best of games and we lost a game we should have won. Wales lost also, but isn’t it funny how a couple of pints with good friends soon turn things around and nothing else matters. The mandatory stop off in Stoke on the way home helped as well and thankfully I managed to be one of those who got on the coach on time before it left on its journey to Worcester. A number didn’t... again.
Other fixtures took us towards the South East to play teams from Reading and Streatham and Croydon and to the South West with matches against Weston Super Mare, Bridgewater and Taunton. It was in a match at Bridgewater that our captain, Neville South, broke his leg after a collision with our outside half, Peter Wakefield. Nearer to home we played Stourbridge, Dudley Kingswinford and Hereford. We had the edge over Stourbridge during my time at Worcester, were on a par with Dudley and after a really tough match against a hyped up Hereford we came off the pitch with a win.
Dudley were our opponents in the North Midlands Cup Final in 1977. The game was played at Moseley’s ground, The Reddings. We lost the game 13 – 10, with Graham Atherton scoring a try for Dudley in the last minute to break our hearts. A game which we should have won easily. We went ahead early on with a try by Andy Gebhart with the rest of our points being kicked by eccentric fullback Richard Loughran. We had a good try, in my opinion, ruled out by referee John Burgum for a forward pass from me to winger John West. I’d taken a pop pass on the burst from outside half, Mark Davies and ran 40 yards before drawing Dudley fullback, Roger Griffiths, before passing to John who ran in unopposed. There was no way the referee could have been anywhere near to see the pass. Where was the TMO when we needed him?
We reached the final at the Reddings again in 1978 and beat Camp Hill to win the North Midlands Cup for the first time. Not a memorable game but it gained us entry in to the John Player Cup competition, where we were drawn to play away to Chesterfield. Another game to forget. We didn’t turn up and got beaten easily. To finish off a successful season, Worcester also won the North Midlands 7's Competition.
Our midweek Floodlight Competition gave us the opportunity to play against first class clubs. First of all we had to beat smaller clubs, which we usually did quite easily except, in 1980, we took a well-deserved beating from Droitwich who showed us how to play rugby with passion. In previous seasons we had run Coventry close, lost to a sudden death score in extra time to Ebbw Vale and beaten Tredegar easily.
During the summer of 1977 we took part in a multi-sports competition against other sports teams from Worcester. This took place over about 6 weeks. Each club set up a competition based on their own sport. I took part in three of these sports. Alan Roberts and I won the canoe slalom race on the River Severn, I won the 400 metres and Long Jump, and John West won the 100 metres in the athletics competition and the team won the basketball tournament. Wyn Griffiths, a skilful 1st team centre and a fellow Pembrokeshire man and PE teacher was one name I remember playing in that team. Together with other favourable results in the other sports, Worcester Rugby Football Club was the overall winners of the competition.
I enjoyed a very enjoyable 4 seasons playing for Worcester. I played under three coaches, Andy Hamill, Dave Robbins and Paul Holland and under three captains, Neville South, Micky Knott and Bob Lloyd. I played the greater majority of my games at Number 8, but I played on the wing for three-quarters of my 3rd season, and even had a game at outside half for the 4th team on my return from injury. Other players who I also played with in the 1st team and not mentioned previously were Phil Collins, Roger Humphries, Geoff Monaghan, Jeff Sergeant, Chris Fincher, Brian Gunston, Micky Bottomley, Dave Richardson, Keith Plain, Wally Waldron, Winston Nesbitt, John Smith, Phil Millington, Guy Griffiths, Terry Hackling, Bob Orledge, Alan Williams, Andy Ellis, John Greatrex, Ron Titt, Chris Johnston, and youngsters Jeremy Matts, Bruce Mercer and Alex Jammal.
I have fond memories of my time playing for Worcester, a great club and great people, some unfortunately who are no longer with us. How the club has progressed since then is fantastic. It always had the potential. Very proud to have worn the 3 pears on my shirt.
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