Club Dinners

There is a tradition in rugby clubs that there is an end of season dinner.

These usually consist of pre-dinner aperitifs, dinner – with wine, speeches from club members and a couple of guests, port and cheese followed by coffee and liqueurs. Put like that it all sounds terribly civilised – in reality it is anything but!

This is not just at Askeans I hasten to add – I have over the years been at a number of dinners hosted by other clubs – they all end up equally shambolic (and a true delight!). These days I believe the dinners at some clubs may actually include partners – not so in my day – these were stag do’s! (which in view of the proceedings was just as well)

It all starts out quite well – even during the dinner – although throwing of bread rolls (and often more substantial objects) seems to be de rigueur during the first course.

Naturally things become mainly coarse during the main course when wine tends to be consumed with the same alacrity as is usually associated with beer.

By the time a dessert is chucked down on the table – inevitably the long suffering waitresses have by now had enough of the rather suggestive proposals – any attempt at a sophisticated evening has gone out of the window (along with some of the plates!).

This, of course, is merely the entrée to the main event – the speeches. The main interest here is not the content but rather the chance to win some cash. At each table a book is run – the betting on how long all the speakers will take. This is from the time the first guy stands up until the last speaker sits down. The stop watches are all primed and ready to go and this adds more interest, even to the most awful of presenters. It is not unheard of for some diners to try and prolong applause if their predicted  time is getting too far distant. Speakers should never think that the amount (or lack) of clapping has anything to do with the reaction to their stories and anecdotes..

A good speech will silence the crowd (albeit only for a short interlude) – members are especially deferential to any well- known rugby figure – although only a former international rather than an alickadoo (obviously).

The Club Captain will usually get a bit of a hearing as he gives a review of the season but should be wary of droning on too long as despite his vaunted role will nevertheless not be immune to a bread roll barrage (or whatever is left to hand at the time). This is especially true if he is not going to be captain next season.

The toughest speech tends to be for the poor sod who has to reply to a speech on behalf of the guests. This is a thankless task and is reserved for a club member who has unwittingly agreed to take on the role (and the rolls!).

I found myself in this position on several occasions – once is daft, twice stupid – any more is down- right moronic – please say hello to Shutey who makes a moron look like Stephen Hawkin (albeit with better diction)

The first time I was talked into it by Dunky who was club secretary (or something) back then. I was nervous but felt that my skills honed in the world of marketing and ad presentations would serve me well – boy  I couldn’t have been more wrong!

I’d prepared carefully, rehearsed and tried out my jokes on the wife. She thought they were quite unfunny and disgusting – which I took to be a good sign for a stag dinner.

I could hardly eat the meal – which from the look of the food put me in good company.

It was almost my turn – just one chap to go – he was introduced as Dick Hills. I knew he was an accomplished player in his day, captaining Kent and I had played alongside him in the EX A’s in what is euphemistically called his Autumn years. I also got on well with his son – Paul – a useful fly half. What I didn’t know was that he was one half of the writing team for Morecambe and Wise (before Eddie Braben came along).

Dick stood up, shoved his hands in his pockets and without notes silenced the crowd by being bloody hysterical for 20 minutes. However, he wasn’t as hysterical as I was becoming, knowing I was up next.

Finally it was my turn – I stood up with my notes shaking in my hand – the audience scented blood…

It was a nightmare and still sends a shiver down my spine.

After that experience you would have thought I’d never let myself be badgered into it again wouldn’t you.

Dunky, however could be very persuasive and during one drunken away trip to the end of season a couple of years later I found that I was once again on the list of turns.

Dunky assured me that Dick would not be there and I have no idea why I felt re-assured by this.

Come the fateful evening it wasn’t Dick who preceded me this time – Dunky had recruited Sid Green who just happened to be Dick’s writing partner for Eric and Ernie. I later discovered that Sid was also an Askean and was, if anything, funnier than Dick! (at least on that night). I died a death for the second time and vowed never to agree to speak at a Club dinner again or ever to give a pass to Dunky, except for the hospital variety (which to be fair would be hard to distinguish from my normal passing!)

You may be surprised to learn that, despite these experiences, I did agree to speak at a couple more dinners over the years – they may not have exactly been triumphs but they were certainly less embarrassing than the first two.

In addition I had more pleasant experiences giving forth in speeches at Duke’s club dinners – the only team that hosted its own events I believe.

I also spoke on a couple of occasions at pre-match lunches after I’d given up playing.

I was even invited as a guest speaker at the Brockleians dinner one year – I’d quite forgotten but in looking through my box of rugby junk I found the notes for my speech – and it wasn’t as bad as I might have imagined – which isn’t to say it was any good!

Brocks dinners were famous for a particular reason – in at least one previous year the top table had been served the normal fare for these do’s – but the rest of the members were treated to fish and chips from the local chippie – still wrapped in paper! I’m not making this up – and to be honest I suspect that they were actually better off foodwise  than the Guests and Alickadoos!

The two best Askean after dinner speakers I saw (excluding the Morecambe and Wise script writers obviously) were Farrelley and Lunny. Faralley was well known for his presentations and was invited to speak (and did so) at many local clubs as well as at Askeans. He would stand up and reel off a series of jokes as good as many professional stand-ups – tailoring the anecdotes to members of the club where he was speaking.

I heard Lunny speak at two Askean dinners – 2009 and 2011 (I think) – he was on the committee at the club and was very funny – a lot of it off the cuff in response to heckles from the unruly crowd.

The club held a special dinner at the Café Royal (in about 1980 something) to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Askean rugby. It was a black tie do with our WAGS (I never thought I’d ever use that term – and will, no doubt, regret it if my wife ever reads this thing). I can’t remember much about the evening – so I guess it must have been pretty good. My only regret is that I seem to have lost my copy of the photo of our table that evening. I remember that Locks, Askew and Vic were on the same table as us. Maybe it will turn up if I ever get round to tidying up all my junk (pretty unlikely then!)

Before finishing this post I wanted to say a few words (Ha! Ha!) about some of the rugby dinners I’ve been to where proper sportsmen (from rugby and others) have been the main speakers. These were formal affairs (often black tie) – I went to a few ‘Sportsman’s’ events in Edinburgh on the evening before the Scotland v England games at Murrayfield.

The drinking at these affairs was very heavy and every two years a bunch of us attended courtesy of John Nicolson (see Jock + 1 chapter). John was Marketing Director at Scottish & Newcastle at the time and I was fortunate also to attend International matches in Dublin and Twickenham as his guest – as well as several Formula One Grand Prix around Europe.

There was a huge satisfaction in going to these events and having free beer forced upon you. I tried hard not to resist too much.

These ‘Sportsman Dinners’ dinners in Edinburgh always had great speakers, mainly from rugby but also on occasion from other sports – Geoff Miller, the England cricketer and now selector was extremely funny. Among the rugby speakers Gordon Brown (from Troon not Westminster) gave the best and most emotional speech that I ever heard – he was already in a wheelchair but his inner strength shone through like a beacon – on top of which he was really very funny too! He got a well- deserved standing ovation and I suspect that some of the Scottish players must have been there – since they beat England the following day against all the odds!

At one of these affairs Phil France (Dunstonians and Jock + 1) had arrived early in the day and with John Nic we’d trawled round the Edinburgh bars before putting on black ties for the dinner. We were more pissed than usual that time – and the three of us very nearly bought a set of old wooden golf clubs in the auction. These clubs were supposed to have some significant heritage but looked so battered that they were unlikely to improve my handicap (not that a set from Rory or Tiger would help me much either to be honest)

The noise from our table coincided with the bidding and because of flailing arms as we got more raucous we found ourselves out in front with a bid of £1,500!

To be honest John and I were more worried about explaining to our respective wives than finding the cash, Phil appeared to have no such qualms and we forcibly had to restrain him from upping the offer!

Before, during and after the game the next day we were entertained royally at the S & N offices (free bar) before heading back into town.

For some obscure reason they wouldn’t let us into one of the bars – this seemed a shame as that week John had been personally responsible for paying some several hundred million for the company that owned the chain of bars. I explained this to the doorman (bouncer) who seemed less than impressed – this continued even after we found the bar manager who acknowledged John’s status but told us to come back the next day when we were less inebriated (he’s obviously never been on one of Jock’s weekends!)

I found the idea of John being barred from one of his own bars so funny that I had the story printed the next week in Marketing Week magazine. Our ignominy was complete when John’s 18 year old daughter was horrified – not that we’d been barred but because she used that bar and couldn’t believe that her dad went there!

I also attended one of the Martin Johnson farewell dinners in New Zealand on the 2005 Lions Tour (as a supporter not in the squad – in case you were wondering). Lions tours with Gullivers were exceptional and I’ll probably post sometime with a few details.

The farewell dinner was in Wellington on the eve of the second test (where we actually took the lead at one point!) and was one of three dinners with Johnno as guest of honour. The top table that night included Colin Meads, Johnno (obviously), Jack Hobbs, Martin Bayfield, Eric Rush, Peter Wheeler and Jason Leonard.

My wife and I had spent the afternoon in a pub on the quay chatting with a friendly group of Kiwis. So friendly in fact that we ended up drinking a gallon of beer each. Consequently we were in no great state when we had to race back to the hotel to get changed for the dinner.

We made it on time and had a great evening where I continued my efforts to sample as much New Zealand wine as possible (with some considerable success I may add). There was the usual charity raffle with some excellent rugby memorabilia on offer. However I’d learned my lesson from the so very nearly purchased tatty golf clubs and I managed to keep my arms to myself.

This was a case of so far so good however – for the last 3 items Martin B was offering up a Lions shirt signed by Johnno himself. He announced that this would be a reverse auction – this appealed to me as I imagined this meant the lowest bid would win (wrong).

What happens is that everyone in the room has to stand up and Bayers would gradually increase the bid – if you didn’t want to pay that amount you sat down – the last three standing go the shirts (and the bill!).

I think you’re way ahead of me here aren’t you – yes, despite my wife’s frantic attempts to pull me back into my chair I found myself as one of the lucky three! I had forked out several hundred NZ$ for the privilege and my wife looked absolutely delighted as I hunted for my Amexcard. Telling her that it gave me airmiles didn’t seem to improve her mood much.

I got Martin B to sign it as well and now, despite Emirates best efforts to lose my luggage on the trip home, the shirt is now framed and sits proudly on the wall in my office. As I’ve recorded before this was when Mike Aird sent round an e-mail indicating that the airline were looking for a badly dressed Arab – it has to be said that Mike has a good handle on my sartorial elegance.

Also on the Lions tour to New Zealand we had the pleasure of hearing All Black Eric Rush speaking at two events on successive weeks – Eric totally belied the saying that after dinner speakers use the same script each time (presumably in the anticipation that no one turns up more than once.)

In his second speech he used only one story that he had the previous week – thus proving that he had at least two prepared scripts. Oh yes, and he was hilarious on both occasions. I was fortunate to chat to him afterwards and quizzed him on the veracity of his stories – he confessed that, similar to my own tales, he exaggerated for effect – but everything was based on true stories. It was a pleasure to listen to him.

Finally, I feel I should mention the dinner that the Dukes held. It was unusual for one side in a club to have their own dinner, but our Vets side proved to be so popular (and successful) that I remember us having a dinner that was surprisingly well attended.

I know that I spoke on that occasion and was smart and experienced enough to ensure that I pre-ceeded Farralley who was, as usual, brilliant. Farralley took little notice of the fact that the wives were present (including his own – Jan) and proceeded to tell some very blue jokes. I needn’t have been concerned since the wives led the continuous laughter that greeted his stream of anecdotes and stories.

Maybe wives should be invited to club dinners after all – but then again perhaps Askean wives are an exceptional bunch – in my experience they are!

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Saying Goodbye to Good Friends

As the more astute amongst you may have noticed this is not a sentimental tome. Having said that I do want to take time in this blog to tell you about some friends who are no longer with us.

As you get older you come to accept the inevitable passing of your parents and older relatives. It’s not much fun but ‘tempus fuckit’ as Mr Thomas, my old Latin master never said.

What you don’t expect is to lose some of your contempories – guys you played alongside – guys you laughed with – guys you never expected to have to say good bye to.

I want you to meet some of these – blokes who meant a lot to me and to others – more worryingly who went long before their time – I don’t think any of them reached their 60th birthday.

Steve Dunmore

Dunky was well known in Kent rugby circles and had good mates in clubs like Blackheath, Dartfordians, Rosslyn Park and Brockleians as well as at Askeans.

Larger than life (and in life). Dunky was a scrum half who was built more like a hooker (and more like many of our actual hookers – he had more than a passing resemblance to Richard Hibberd, the Welsh and Lions front row). It was from a photo of Dunky that one of the characters for the Askean Jubilee brochure that is used for the wallpaper here was drawn (the one on the right!)

He always played like his life depended on it.

He scored many tries picking up from the base of the scrum and barrelling over from a few yards out (this inevitably became more like half the length of the pitch when he told you about it in the bar afterwards). Often in the bar you might also find him dancing naked on a table to ‘Zulu Warrior’ much to the delight of any ladies there (including my sister in law who went out with him for a while). If you’d ever been there you could see why he was so popular with the female supporters.

Dunky was just short of his 50th birthday and still playing in the December. Not feeling too well he went for a check-up just before Christmas.

The next week he was transferred to a cancer clinic and left us a few short weeks later.

The funeral was at a church in New Cross – it was a big old place which was just as well as it filled up quickly with standing room only – and not just with family and Askeans.

I had the honour of being one of the pall bearers along with Graham Evans, Dave Evans (no relation – to Graham not me obviously), Kevin Murphy (who had been Dunky’s best man), Nick Lockyer and Brian Orford.

You may remember the solemnity of Diana’s funeral and the dignified and syncronicity of the army officers who carried her coffin. This wasn’t anything like that.

For a start I couldn’t believe how heavy it was – Dunky wasn’t that big and there were 6 of us!

It didn’t help that it was only being held on our shoulders at the four corners – Dave and Kev were shorter than the rest of us and like the pillars in St Pauls – they turned out only to be for show.

Worse still Graham was taller than Nick and I (on the right side) and Brian a tad shorter on the left behind the redundant Kev and the towering Graham.

We were a second row, prop, full back, 2 x fly halves and a centre – it would have been a lot easier if we were all short squat props!

So it was we shuffled and stumbled our way into the packed church and up the aisle. Somehow we managed to put it on the stand for the service and a very moving tribute to Steve from Kevin.

There followed another bout of shuffling and almost tripping as we retraced our steps – made harder by the unashamed tears from ourselves and those all around us. We finally made it to the hearse where we replaced Steve and job done (we thought) hugged each other(in a manly way obviously.)

The family were to go to the cemetery some miles away before joining everyone at the wake.

It was then that Brian insisted that it should be us six who should carry our friend to his final resting place. Nick and I just looked at each other and I seem to remember rubbing my already bruised shoulder. Before we could say anything Brian was marshalling us into the cars.

At the cemetery we made an even more ungainly bunch as we carried our mate over the uneven and frozen ground. Luckily we made it without a complete mishap and held the coffin on straps over the sad space.

Inevitably, as we lowered the coffin, we let it slip and it landed askew (no relation to Pete). There was a painful silence which I know would have been broken by Dunky’s wonderful laugh had he been there. However the air was actually shattered by Brian starting to sing the school song.

Now I imagine this could have been quite poignant and even appropriate if this had been a solemn or stirring hymn. In fact the school song is a tale about the end of term and a secret meeting with a girl at the sandbin which was on a roundabout in New Cross opposite the school gates. It was sung at the final end of term assembly each year always finished with everyone yelling and shouting (and frequently a melee where you sought to settle old scores).

Slowly we all joined in with Brian – I couldn’t look at Nick who was opposite me – I was terrified I might start giggling.

Fortunately the song finished without the usual free for all and after another awkward silence we all moved off.

At the wake Kevin pointed out that Dunky would have approved and found the whole thing hilarious – maybe he and Brian planned it that way.

I could relate many more stories about Dunky but I’ll just tell one.

Ron Bainbridge was a centre/wing who had joined us in the 70s from somewhere ‘t’up north’ and played mostly  in the 1st XV and Princes.

He married Sue in the summer (no self-respecting Askean got hitched in the season) and a crowd of us were at the reception at a restaurant on Blackheath (‘Around the Corner’ owned by Chunky and Graham Smith – incestuous? Us?).

The restaurant was on two levels – we had drinks upstairs and the then we were to repair to the lower level for the wedding breakfast (me either – it was after all gone 2pm!).

Dunky and I were the last two and about to head down the spiral stairs when he spotted two trays of sherry – still untouched (bit surprising I know – after all every beer glass was empty!).

One of us (almost certainly him) challenged the other to a race – this was not that smart since we’d already been drinking for some time. Have you ever downed 15 sherries in about half a minute?

A word of advice – don’t! I did once gulp 26 oysters in 29 seconds but that’s another unwholesome story (which I may tell you about sometime)

I can’t remember who won the Amontillado challenge (or indeed much else – things became a bit blurry although I do recall the chef chasing us out when we tried to join the others downstairs via the dumb waiter.

The only other thing that is crystal was waking up on the Heath, shivering and with a bit of  a headache.

I was a bit annoyed to find that my wife had left sometime earlier and when I finally made it home I was surprised not to get an apology (hard to believe I know – even more amazing I’ve put up with it for over 40 years).

I didn’t drink sherry again (or before to be truthful) – I can’t speak for Dunky!

Bus Clewley

Mark ‘Bus’ (see nicknames) Clewley didn’t go to Aske’s school, which was a bit of a surprise since his old man was Frank the headmaster.

I can’t imagine he failed the interview (I was living proof that the standard for being accepted was not much of a challenge). I suspect Frank didn’t want to show any favouritism or that he misplaced his son’s application.

Bus was a very funny guy who joined the club as soon as he left whatever school he did go to and was soon playing for the top couple of sides. He was a pretty useful winger and could fill in easily at open side where his speed was more than a little handy.

Like Dunky there are numerous funny stories involving Bus – he featured prominently in several Askean games of ‘Runaway Indian’  – notably in Bognor and Penarth where his pace mostly ensured a clean getaway.

One time in Penarth (where he earned his public transport sobriquet) we were playing a rather tame (it had been a heavy night) drinking game of ‘Who Am I?’.

Bus had us all stumped with his description – male, alive, an entertainer and philanthropist. Eventually we gave up – ‘John Christie’ he beamed. I can’t believe we didn’t get it – although on reflection maybe he would have failed the school interview.

On another occasion I arrived late for a Duke’s match which had already kicked off. I was sprinting (alright jogging slowly) down to the pitch when I met Bus coming the other way – he grinned and told me to get a move on.

It was another ten minutes or so before he re-joined the match looking a bit sheepish (which if we were in Wales would have been worrying).

I later found out that he’d had a very hot curry on the night before the big game – washed down with numerous Heinekens (I was shocked I can tell you – a Friday and they didn’t have any Kingfisher?).

Soon after the match had started he’d been tackled around the midriff and had suffered a bit of an accident. He’d had to go off to sort himself out and his biggest fear was not embarrassment but that the opposition might have thought he’d been ‘scared’.

As with Dunky’s send off the crematorium was jammed and the tributes just as moving. A lot of friendships were re-kindled in the bar afterwards and it was like we’d all seen each other only the previous week – that’s what rugby clubs are like.

Sadly these occasions were to become more frequent.

Johnny Marshgreen

For a bloke with only one eye, Johnny was surprisingly aggressive both in attack and defence. He played on the right wing and I always assumed that his left eye was the good one – but knowing Askeans it might not have been. Anyway it never seemed to hinder him and he played better than many of us who were blessed with both ocular organs.

If he’d taken up refereeing he would have been genuinely myopic!

Johnny ran a very successful insurance business with Doggy Dessent and before I landed a company car they covered my various vehicles. I think they were probably more delighted than I was when I finally got a Company one since I had a succession of claims that must have been a drain on their profits.

Johnny was on the tour in Bournemouth (as Kidbooke Wanderers) – the one where Doggy got his alternative nickname of ‘Westminster’. It was the first night and quelle horreur the hotel (why on earth do they accept bookings from rugby clubs?) decided to close the bar at 3am.

Up til then we had been reasonably well behaved. At the shock announcement of the barman Johnny went to the top of the stairs leading down to the bar and dived head first onto a table full of drinks – claiming as he sailed through the air “I now declare this hotel open!”

The bar was hurriedly re-opened as Johnny (apparently none the worse for wear) went round making a collection for the broken table (I don’t know if he also got enough for the spilled drinks). Needless to say the hotel bar was open for most of the weekend and I’m sure their profits were way above normal for an Easter weekend. Incidentally the stair dive became a feature of the drinking games that weekend but not everyone escaped as uninjured as Johnny.

Some years after we’d both retired form rugby I used to see Johnny at the Esporta gym in Croydon – I realised then that his business was continuing to flourish as he had a personal trainer who charged an exorbitant amount to try and make him collapse and throw up. I always thought this was an extravagant waste of money – eight pints and a Jalfreizi always worked for me!

Johnny died in 2005 – I remember it clearly as we were away at the time in New Zealand following the Lions tour and sadly didn’t make it back to say good bye to him.

Like the others mentioned here he went long before his time and is sadly missed.

Mick Murray

I never played rugby with Mick – I’m not sure anyone did, but he was a regular supporter of the club and frequently turned up on the touchline on away games.

It was a shame he never played as he must have weighed in at about 19 stone (which would have made him a real asset – even on the wing). He was also very strong – possibly because he was a very handy handyman and worked hard for a living.

He may not have been in a team on the pitch but he was an invaluable member of our ‘Boat Race’ team – with a personal best of less than 4 seconds. For the uninitiated a boat race consists of 7 members – who each have to drink a pint as fast as possible – one after another down the line – the last member has to down two, one after another and then it goes back down the line. The first team to finish all 14 pints (no spilling) wins. This deserves an entry all of its own and at some point I will make sure you get full details of what was probably the most successful Askean team of all time.

The Askean team at the time was never beaten and regularly finished in a time of less than 50 seconds (I promise you this is true) – we might be rubbish on the field but we could take on anyone in the bar.

Mick was a key member of that squad.

Kevin Murphy

Kev had been best man for Dunky and had given a moving speech at his funeral. All too soon we were once more pitching up to say goodbye to an old friend.

Kev could play at scrum half or flyhalf – and his sleight build enabled him to slip through the tiniest of gaps (sometimes with the ball).

I remember one 1st XV game against London Hospital where he won it for us almost single handed. I was inside centre and every time he passed to me I got obliterated by my opposite number. We later found out that this was David Burcher the British Lion, who also happened to be a doctor!

After this had happened several times Kevin started to dummy to me (an appropriate term that I acknowledge) – Burcher still took me out (no – not like that!) but Kev ran through to score – 3 times. He also kicked the conversions and several penalties.

He gained a lot of praise for his performance (quite rightly too), although I always felt that some credit should have been given to me (and my battered body) for running interference (my own obviously)

After a short illness Kev passed away and again a huge crowd of Askeans found themselves at a funeral and a sad wake at Kev’s golf club.

It was at the wake that Vic Betts said to me that it was unfortunate that the only time we seemed to meet up was at funerals and we agreed then that we would try and make the Club Dinner each April as a way of keeping in touch.

I haven’t made every dinner since that time but I do get to some – and it is always worth the effort.

Pip Kingston

I don’t know why he was called Pip – maybe his Mum was fond of Dickens. Pip was the youngest of three Askean brothers and played scrum half. I know the middle brother DK – Dave (Kingston obviously) better as we were the same age – Pip being several years younger.

For some reason the Kingstons seemed to take some sort of sadistic pleasure in contributing in no small way to my getting injured. Dave managed this on one memorable occasion – which I posted in the bit about injuries (Getting Hurt).

I didn’t often get to play with Pip but I do recall a game for the Princes where I was fly half. Our forwards were under some pressure in the scrum and the ball was slow getting to Pip.

His pass to me was even slower (and higher) – when it finally reached me I was looking at what appeared to be a photograph of their back row – they looked menacing and any decent photographer would have told them to say cheese. I was severely pounded and ended up with a bloody mouth and heavy bruising. Pip did have the decency to apologise but suggested that I should have side stepped. I won’t repeat my response but it had little to do with thanking him for his advice.

If I’d ever played with the eldest brother (Mick) I might have scored a hat trick of injuries – fortunately Mick and I never managed to be in the same rugby team we did however turn out for the same cricket X1 at school (I still have a team photo with Mick as skipper – at least he’s sitting in the middle of the front row holding a silver chalice of some sort)

All three Kingston brothers are gentlemen and I know that Mick and Dave were devastated when Pip passed on. They are not the only ones who miss him.

Vic Betts

Vic Betts was a class act – in every sense of the word. I first met him when he was playing back row for Westcombe Park. They were local rivals and it was never possible to tell which position any of them played until they came out of the changing room and you got a look at the number on their shirts.

To be honest they all looked like props – athletic ones at that. I can’t tell you how scary it is to look at your opposite number in the centre and realise that he is built like Jason Leonard but can run like Jason Robinson.

Vic was pretty much their star player at the time – he’d been capped by Kent and was being courted to join both Harlequins and London Welsh (it would have had to be either – not both obviously).

Vic was a fireman with a young family and his job would have made it difficult for him to train and play on the other side of London. I’d played with his brother Phil who was captain of the Princes when Ben and I first joined the club – Phil was instrumental in helping us negotiate the brutal initiation into club rugby and helped us avoid getting injured (imagine how much more I’d have been hurt without his advice!)

The lucky thing for us is that Vic chose to join Askeans. We continuously vied with Sidcup to be the number two club in Kent and we had an enviable fixture list (I will explore the importance of this in a blog on Fixtures – called ‘Fixtures’). Vic wanted to test himself against better opposition and we won out where the more celebrated clubs lost.

Whilst playing for Kent Vic found himself shoved into the front row when a prop was injured. He’d been an aggressive flanker – and now he turned out to be equally strong in the front row – and he was quick.

Vic was warmly welcomed at Askeans and played uninterrupted for the 1st XV for many years – and was captain for at least one season.

It now seems ironic that it was Vic who first suggested that we should all meet up each year at the Club Dinner. The next year we sat together at the dinner and drank almost as much wine as we used to drink beer – not big or clever I know – but we had a great evening.

Vic’s job had exposed him to danger and to dangerous materials and he suffered severe lung damage before his 60th birthday.

Once more the crematorium was packed with people spilling out of the back door. The crowd was dominated by rugby players from Askeans, Westcombe Park and Blackheath.

Grown men had tears in their eyes when Vic’s son spoke about his father.

He joined a growing number of guys who left us before they made 60 – all of them are badly missed

Paul Hickford

Hickey was a small bloke – but a giant of a man. Another scrum half to go early in life he played with no thought for his own welfare.

I had the great honour of playing with him in 1st XV colours and for a very successful 7s team.

Hickey was always joking – even in the changing room before a game he never seemed to be serious. In the changing room at Twickenham before we played Richmond in the Middlesex 7s finals in front of a crowd of 70,000 he was the most relaxed member of the squad. His grin didn’t disappear until the kick off – then he was all business.

It was a major shock when Steve Homewood called me to let me know that Hickey had gone.

Another cold day, another packed church and another gathering of Askeans, Blackheath and Dunstonians coming to pay tribute and say goodbye to another good mate. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

Moving speeches from Paul Bushell and John Gilbert filled the pews with little concealed emotion.

I remember the last time I saw Hickey – just about a year before he went. We both inhabited the media world so it was not a great surprise that we bumped into each other in Golden Square, Soho.

Hickey’s face lit up (that never forgotten cheeky grin) and he suggested a quiet drink (an oxymoron if ever there was one). Sadly I was late for a film edit and had to take a rain check.

I never did get to cash that check – I will always regret it.

Brian Orford

I started this blog (originally a book you may remember) by telling you about how Brian helped me to change the original name I had – he was generous with his advice and it was always worth listening to.

Brian set up a successful business in Paris and played most of his rugby career in the tough front row world of French rugby. But he played for the 1sts before he moved across the Channel and later became a stalwart of the Dukes.

I was both honoured and saddened to be asked to deliver the eulogy at his funeral just a few months ago and I have copied just a little of what I said below  –

Saying Goodbye to Brian

Friday 7th June 2013 St Catherine’s

Good Morning everyone,

I’m really standing here today under slightly false pretences – I didn’t know Brian as well as some of you but I was honoured to be asked to do this on behalf of two of his very close friends, Kevin Burnett and Dave Evans who felt that it might be too much of an emotional ordeal for them to talk about Brian today.

I am speaking on their behalf and I will try to do them justice.

I think it’s fair to say that Brian was something of a character and I will tell you some of the stories that Kevin and Dave relayed to me plus a few of my own memories.

I want first to put into context just why, at the far too many Askean funerals, there have been so many friends.

In a preview of the current Lions tour Ian McGeechan told of how rugby friendships are founded  – he said you may not see someone for many years but it only takes a nod for you to return to those days as if you were with them only last week

That’s what Askeans is like – and why so many are here today – it’s a strong bond forged through a lot of laughter and a great deal of messing about – some of it off the pitch.

Some years ago on a day much like this one many of us gathered to say goodbye to another Askean – Steve Dunmore. It was the first of a succession of similar days that have become far too common. (I related the events of that day and Brian’s contribution above in the goodbye to Dunky)

Most of my communications with Brian over the last few years has been via e-mail and the occasional phone call, more recently we have chatted a lot on the phone and as I said at the beginning it was easy to simply fall back into chatting. It was mostly about rugby – with Brian patiently trying to explain to me why anyone would actually want to play in the front row

As I indicated he very kindly gave me some advice about my writing – the most valuable of which was to suggest an alternative title. Brian’s idea for the title was so good that I promised him a few bottles of decent wine if it ever saw the light of day – it is with no pleasure that I find I will never have to honour that promise.

Brian’s last days were spent in hospital surrounded by his loving family and close friends – Kevin told me that despite the pain and knowing his time was close Brian remained cheerful to the end and was a favourite with the doctors and nurses who looked after him. Kevin said that although the conversations were in French – which apparently is like a foreign language to him, the meaning was very clear. Kevin was there at the end and it is no wonder that he and Dave did not feel able to speak today.

One of the chapters I’ve been writing is about saying goodbye to friends – it’s already too long and I know that now I have to add to that chapter and it will be with great sadness.

Vic Betts said to me at Kevin Murphy’s funeral that it seemed that we all only meet up nowadays at funerals – on that basis I hope it will be a very long time before I see any of you again

But I don’t think today we should remember how Brian died – we should think about how he lived – and boy did he live

Au Revoir Brian

In the pub after Brian’s Memorial the words of Ian McGeechan resounded in my head as with Ben, Bob (Noble), Lunny, Chunky, Bush, Dave and Kev we  talked about old times and old friends as if we met up like that every Friday. The only real difference was that we drank more coffee and diet coke than lager or Guinness!

 

This has been very difficult to write – but nowhere near as difficult as it has been for the families of these great friends who left us long before their time. Our thoughts are with Mhairi, Maggie, Odile,Joanne, Sue, Sinead and the rest of their families.

I feel deeply privileged to have known them, and to have played rugby with them – but mostly I will remember how we laughed – oh how we laughed!

Graham Terry

At the lunch yesterday I learned of the sad passing of another Askean, Graham Terry.

I’m not sure I ever played with Graham, he had a few years on me, although it is quite possible that Ben, Jimmy and myself might well have trotted out with him in our first season at the club – probably in the Ex As.

Graham was a stalwart of the club for many years and worked tirelessly with guys like George Martin and Mick Sedgewick to improve the 1st XV fixture list in the days before leagues were introduced. He was bloody successful at this, getting us games against the then first class Welsh sides like Abertillery, Ebbw Vale, Cross Keys and Penarth as well as Rugby, Hull and East Riding, Blackheath and Richmond. He also managed to pit us against the top two PE colleges in the UK – St Luke’s and Loughborough.

Facing up to current internationals and British Lions in these games was always a bit daunting but it certainly helped to raise our skill levels and reputation. Graham did a great job for the club.

I also knew him from his job as a TV producer for an international ad agency and he worked on some famous ad campaigns.

Like others, he will be sadly missed.

 

Loyalty

Back in the pre professional era, there was a camaraderie and friendship in rugby clubs like the Askeans that was pretty unique. As I’ve indicated before this always involved a lot of piss taking and practical jokes, but it was rarely predatory and was the foundation of real and long lasting friendships.

Loyalty to clubs inevitably changed with the advent of professionalism (I never counted ‘boot money’ – which I don’t suppose took much counting anyway). The only time I was offered payment by Askeans was if I would go and play for someone else – and before the RFU get all huffy – that was meant to be a joke, much like my passing!

In my day there wasn’t a lot of movement between clubs (wasn’t that much movement on a Saturday afternoon in the Ex As either). Now and then the best players went to senior clubs like Blackheath, Harlequins or London Irish – this caused little resentment because we knew that they’d return a few years later – richer in experience and sometimes with a couple of mates.

In my time we lost Paddy Norton, Tom Hennessey and Kevin Acott plus several others – all of whom played with distinction in the first class game before returning to play in Askean colours. The same was true for other local clubs – Brocks lost Peter Wheeler, Ricky Bodenham, Eric Bignell and others to first class clubs.

Coming in the other direction we gained Tony Bond, Ian Williamson, Stewart McKinney, Rolley Hill and a number of other experienced players. Chunky returned from Blackheath to captain the club and instill an aggression to our play that would have made Hannibal Lecter wince!

For a period we also gained a number of first class players including Jeff Probyn and several All Blacks (more about this in a later post)

But there were also many guys who could have gone to bigger clubs but chose instead to stay at Askeans (obviously this didn’t include me – I stayed because nobody else was interested. In fact I think the Askeans only tolerated me because I was in the Boat Race squad). The most talented Askean I ever played with was Des Kirby – bearing in mind I also played alongside John Gallagher, Paddy Norton, Chas Wickens, Graham Smith, Chunky, Bert, Bush, Locks and Boney this is no small accolade (even from me). There are others who stood out as very good players but I’m now too old to remember all the names (so if you think I missed you by accident –  let’s just say that I did!)

Des captained Kent and had numerous offers to join senior clubs, I heard that when he played with Dickie Jeeps (I think for the Barbarians) he was encouraged to further his career to higher levels. I wonder if he ever regrets not finding out how far he could have gone? Personally I try not to dwell too much on whether I didn’t live up to my potential.

I have no doubt that John Gallagher was at least equivalent to Des in ability (as his World Cup Winner’s medal will testify) but he was just out of school when I partnered him in the 1st XV centre and, as talented as he so obviously was, I never imagined he’d become an All Black (but then, as we’ve already established, WTF do I know).

And in any case he did manage to make me look good – so that was a bit of a clue wasn’t it!

John turned out for Askeans on a trip home from NZ after he’d played in the World Cup final and it was obvious that he was a class apart from everyone else on the pitch (mind you I wasn’t playing that day).

John is now headmaster at Colfe’s and I’ve often wondered if he’s made it any easier to get in – I just  hope he’s chucked out that stupid geography test for under 11s (see ‘Where it all started’)

Whilst I don’t see that many of my old playing friends that often these days, the advance of technology does allow us to keep in touch (albeit sporadically) by e-mail and text. Sadly many contacts between us relate to mates who are seriously ill and our get togethers are more often at funerals than other more uplifting occasions (I’m putting together a blog on ‘Saying Goodbye’).

Nevertheless the friendships forged over years of playing for Askeans remain strong and those bonds will never be broken. Of course we don’t always recognise each other instantly – time has not been kind to many of our visages (or waistlines).

I’ve managed to get along to a few club dinners over the last six years and they have, without exception, been very rewarding experiences (I once won second prize in the raffle).

The warmth of meeting up with friends you haven’t seen for many years is palpable. In fact this blog wouldn’t have been half as long without those occasions – the recounting of many funny incidents and stories from our playing days never fails to bring back memories over a few beers – and some of the less libellous and repeatable ones will be included here.

The days of players staying with one club through thick and thin for the whole of their playing career passed quickly following the advent of the professional game – I don’t know if friendships are as deep or last as long, but I’d like to think that at least some of them do.

Stag Nights

There are two kinds of stag nights – well there are probably more in fact, but I’m only talking about the two types that I’ve experienced.

The first is the traditional stag do before some poor sod gets married and the second is the Smoking Concerts that were popular when I first started playing club rugby.

Let’s consider the latter first.

When I first heard after a training session that a smoking concert had been arranged at Askeans I honestly had no idea what it was all about. After all I didn’t smoke (I was slow enough as it was without trying to lose even more pace), however the rest of the guys seemed to get pretty excited about it and I eventually asked someone in the bar what was involved.

It turned out that the evening was a sort of genteel evening musical soiree, but without anything very genteel and not much of the choral or classical quartet usually associated with sophisticated entertainment

What it mainly consisted of was 2 or 3 comedians interspersed with some overweight strippers (none of whom looked like the sort of young lady you’d feel comfortable about taking home to meet Mum) plus a compere and a singer. Usually the evening was supposed to kick off at about 7.30 but rarely got under way until well gone 8 40 pm – by which time we were also pretty well gone.

Consequently the poor singer who was inevitably on first took a load of stick from the now well – oiled audience – especially if any of the strippers had been spotted wandering off to the Ladies to get dressed before treating us to getting undressed a little later.

The compere held it together fairly well – and the comedians were often good value.

I remember we had Mike Reid a couple of times (before he made it big on TV) plus some others who later appeared on comedy programmes. They were well versed in dealing with hecklers and I learned very early not to try and duel with them. I had also been told by some of the older guys that it was dangerous to sit in the front row (when I started writing this rubbish a TV show by Jack Dee had just been launched using this advice as the title of the show). It was a sound suggestion – those who did sit up front (usually the young guys) were subject to predatory abuse from both the comics (verbal) and strippers (physical) – I can confirm that it wasn’t a pretty sight.

Luckily Ben and I decided to listen to the older players to watch our first smoking concert from the back and never regretted that decision.

You’d think that most red blooded young rugby players would be up for watching the strippers but there was very little to compare with the lithe bodies featured at the Bada Bing in the Sopranos. In fact little was definitely not a word that would have been appropriate at these events.

Usually the last stripper on (usually for her second turn) would get some poor lad up on the stage – where she would humiliate him with a combination of squirty cream (the kind from a can obviously) and her rather weighty breasts. As soon as he was up there of course everyone else could relax and enjoy this degrading spectacle – taking it all in so as to be able to prolong his embarrassment by recalling every little (sic) detail at the next training session.The best thing about these evenings was the comedians and the endless consumption of beer.

In addition to the comics who would later become household names on TV’s ‘The Comedians’ we had an odd act which consisted of two guys who did their whole routine sitting on static bikes – sounds odd I know but believe me they were bloody funny.

However the best turn that I ever saw at one of our concerts was, rather surprisingly, a lady – Terri Rogers. She was a big old Doris (although not as large as some of the strippers) and she came on in a swish ball gown holding a dummy (as in Lord Charles style not a rubber stopper!).

She looked very nervous as she sat on her stool and started to say in a rather posh voice that she thought that her agent had booked her into the wrong sort of venue. She amplified this by indicating that she found swearing rather offensive and would never dream of blaspheming herself.

The crowd didn’t much know what to make of this and were surprisingly generous in not heckling this lady who seemed to be about to burst into tears.

It was at this point that the dummy turned his head towards her and said “What a load of bollocks!”

It was a brilliant performance – true to her word she never uttered a single swear word – but the dummy was without doubt the most foul mouthed individual ever to appear at Askeans – and as you can imagine – at a rugby club he was up against some pretty tough competition!

It was the only time I ever saw her perform and it remains a mystery to me why she never became famous like some of the less talented comedians who graced our stage. On reflection however an opening line which included the word “bollocks” may have had something to do with her lack of potential with a family TV audience.

One time I went with my brother in law to a smoking concert at ‘Old Brocks’. I knew many of their players and they were a pretty decent bunch. Before the thing started (late as usual) I bumped into another Askean,-  Bus Clewley in the bar (where else?).

I asked him what he was doing there and he said that he’d seen one of the comedians on the bill before and that the guy was brilliant. He’d come on his own just to see him – this was less of a trial than you might imagine – rugby clubs are welcoming places!

In fact he was right – Michael Barrymore came on and brought the house down. He was not only very funny he never swore once in his whole act.

In the early days Barrymore used to do a very creditable Basil Fawlty impression – one bloke in the audience made the mistake of heckling him – just like Basil dealing with Manuel he marched the guy out of the hall – something he repeated every time the poor sod tried to come back in. I imagine he never tried to heckle another comedian again!

I think the tradition of smoking concerts has all but died out now – regular stand – up comics are just as filthy and there seems to be endless naked females on TV shows most of the time, so I guess there’s not much demand any more.

It seems a shame since the ritual humiliation of young guys in the front row was always a highlight – especially when some fat Doris wiped Anchor cream all over his face using her boobs!

The second sort of stag night is the more traditional booze up on the night (or preferably weekend) before the wedding. Back in our day we only had the one night – nowadays they go off for long weekends or for a week abroad. I have no idea how they survive – or indeed if some don’t!

My own stag was largely forgettable – primarily as I can’t remember much after the first hour or so. It took place at Askeans and involved a lot of drinking (quelle surprise!).

The big problem for me was that after several years of playing rugby I had demonstrated my prime talent on a number of occasions. This talent was ‘speed’ – sadly not on the pitch but was confined to downing a pint. I think my best time was about 2.3 seconds – this I admit is impressive but is simply something you can do or not. Ronnie Bainbridge – one of the cloggies in our team – informed us that up North it was known as having no clack. Personally I always thought this sounded rather vulgar.It did however secure me a place in our Boat race team (more about this some other time)

Anyway on my stag night I was expected to perform this ‘trick’ over and over again. What I didn’t know was that my ‘beer’ had been spiked. Consequently my first memory was waking up in a room that I didn’t recognise and wondering what I had done and why I felt so bloody awful. I lay in the bed desperate for a pee but scared to leave the unfamiliar room. I was rescued when I heard Jimmy Russell’s voice having a rather aggressive tete a tete with his fairly recent bride.

Apparently, Jimmy had turned up in the early hours with me in tow (or rather being carried by himself and a couple of others) Everyone had thought it would be a great jape to wake everyone up in earshot and then to run off (not including Jimmy obviously – who had been left to carry the can, as well as me).

I hurriedly dressed and in News of the World fashion made my excuses and left (even more hurriedly).

I’d love to tell you more about my stag but am unable to comply – from later reports it seems that not many others could oblige either.

There were lots more stag nights in the early 70s and to be fair most of them followed the same pattern (or lack of one). Two exceptions do however spring to mind. First was when Lunny got hitched. At the time he was in the Sweeney (I think) – anyway he was in the flying squad at some point but maybe not then. No matter – his best man (also a copper) had arranged his stag in Soho (I know what you’re thinking – and you are spot on!).

We spent the evening trawling from one strip club to another – and never seemed to pay to get in (or for drinks as far as I can recall). I don’t know if I was surprised at how welcoming the bouncers were (the ones on the door not on stage, sadly), but it all seemed to be very friendly. Our party comprised about 50 – 50 Askeans and police officers (quite a few who played for the Met anyway).

Again I’d like to tell you about the goings on that night but I seemed to have a habit of being used on these occasions as the ‘champion’ of fast pints – especially when there were rivals in the group. The Met featured several competitors who I am proud to say were all soundly trounced. At one point however they produced a monster bloke (I think his name was Mick Crocker) – who then beat me relatively easily, although I am told my time was not much above 3 seconds.

Since I had already ‘performed’ several times I always felt I had been suckered but since Mick was twice my size and a member of the Police Violence (sorry Force) I took my defeat with as much grace as I could muster from my slumped position in the corner.

There was one stag where I do remember more details – well at last I think I do – in fact there was more to that night than usual so it is quite possible that I’ve mixed up two or even several nights out and put them all together. No matter all this happened and I think it was one night but can’t be certain.

Anyway – on with the story – Locks our fly half decided for some unusual reason to organise his do on the night before the nuptials. I don’t know if he was to blame or Tony, the best man – it might even have been the bride to be – perhaps thinking that the close proximity to the service might have toned down the behaviour! (as if!).

There must have been about 20 of us in all that night (or nights) and we were in Central London (again). We met a pub in Oxford Street (although it may have been Regent or somewhere else) – Bush was in charge of the whip and being a Friday night the place was packed – he forced his way to the bar and ordered the drinks – we passed them back and our crowd were drinking outside and on the pavement so that we could get some space. I was right behind him at the bar as the round came to an end – Bush told the barman to ask a couple of guys (at the other side of the bar) what they wanted to drink – as he set off to ascertain their order – so did we!

To the surprise of most of our group we were doing a runner – still holding pints we tore off down the road. It hadn’t been planned – except maybe by Bush and most of our ill- gotten gains were spilt in the rush to get out of there – that and the laughing. I can only imagine that Bush felt he wanted to expand our repertoire from the traditional runner from curry houses!

I will be devoting a full blog to ‘runners’ at some point (anyone wishing not to be named in this section should forward used pound notes in a plain envelope!)

This runner had been an interesting start to the evening. It progressed through several other bars and at some point we found ourselves outside the Hard Rock Café. As always there was a big queue but somehow we managed to get them to allow us to get into the bar. We started a tab and had at least a couple of rounds. By now the beer had got to me and I headed off to the Gents – where I bumped into Dunky. When we came out we were met by the unexpected sight of a nearly empty bar and a several rather large doormen. I have no idea if the others realised that Dunky and I weren’t with them when they repeated the earlier fast exit but I’d like to think we were an oversight. Safe to say Dunky and I had to fork out for the beers before we were allowed to leave. We preferred this to another vist to West End Central – mainly because we didn’t have the protection of Lunny or Mick Crocker.

One thing I do know – don’t drink at the Hard Rock – the beer prices are outrageous, although they may well have taken advantage of our predicament when they were adding up the bill!

This was the age before mobile phones and I can’t remember how we met up with the others again but we did.

There seemed to be little sympathy for our adventure although I’m pretty sure that Bush did compensate us from the beer whip – less a fine for getting caught obviously.

Next stop (or at some point) we were in an underground bar of a hotel in Mayfair – I can’t remember the name but it had a feature of a smallish crocodile in a sort of mini lagoon behind a short glass wall. I have no idea if it is still there (the bar or the croc – it was some 35 years ago and I have no idea how long they live!). Anyway the croc was surrounded by coins where punters had presumably tried to get him to move.

Peety must have been on holiday to Florida at some time because to the shock of the other drinkers– and the delight of our group he took off his shirt and climbed in to wrestle the crocodile.

I remember Kev (Acott) going round trying to collect money from the crowd introducing a man who was going to wrestle a croc with his shirt off – with Bush asking how they got the shirt on the croc in the first place.

It was something of a surprise – and a disappointment to the crowd I believe when – not for the first time (or indeed the last time as it turned out) that we were turned out – and quite forcibly at that!

Later we were in a disco bar (this term probably dates me but I don’t know how else to describe these places) – anyway we were once more asked to leave after Lunny and Peety had taken over from the DJ when he refused to play their requests.

It was a sort of impromptu radio show (though not in a Jimmy Savile way obviously). For some reason the resident DJ got a bit miffed, I can’t imagine why –  he was still getting paid presumably and had the chance of a nice break and to put his feet up for a bit. Some people can’t accept help gracefully!

I think Lunny was a frustrated DJ – he had done much the same thing in a disco bar in Penarth one year. A story for another time I think.

The evening (or evenings) continued in much the same manner until we were full of beer and someone mentioned a curry. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake. We arrived at an Indian and Tony the best man told us to wait over the other side of the road whilst he organised getting us in – this was also somewhat in error (the sign on the door indicated that they had finished serving).

We watched as his negotiating skills became increasingly more persuasive, to the point where the gentleman in the turban retired and locked the door. This did nothing to deter Tony who arranged a new entrance through the front window with the aid of a dustbin. It was somewhat unfortunate that before we could avail ourselves of the opportunity to get in out of the cold a couple of pandas arrived and offered Tony the warmth of their back seat. For good measure they also nicked Nick (the bridegroom to be) as company for the best man!

Deciding that this seemed a trifle unfair we all decamped to Bow Street Police Station to register our dissatisfaction. To our surprise we were given short shrift by the rather overweight desk sergeant who informed us that “we’ve been tracking a group of well- dressed young men all over London so if you don’t want a bed for the night, fuck off”. Hardly Dixon of Dock Green I thought at the time.

The well-dressed reference obviously didn’t apply to me as I’ve never ever been accused of being well attired in my whole life. In fact, as an aside, when my cases went missing on a flight through Dubai, my mate Mike Aird e-mailed everyone that the local constabulary were looking for a badly dressed Arab!

Anyway discretion being the better part of value we dispersed quickly. Still hungry, several of us were delighted to find one of those kerb side vendors of hot dogs and burgers (they don’t exist now – apparently because of salmonella or something). We ordered our feast and I offered the vendor my American Express card. Imagine my shock when he refused to honour it and made us pay cash. I was so annoyed that I broke my card in two and deposited it the nearest drain.

It was only the next day when I realised that this had been a bit of an extreme measure although on the plus side it did amuse the others and gained me some dubious notoriety at the club for a short period.

I have no idea how or when we got home, but early next morning I was awoken by a strange hissing noise – my head was already banging but this was an external audio sound. I staggered into our spare room where I found Kev  standing naked and peering earnestly at the bedside clock urging it to desist from ticking so noisily. I hadn’t realised he’d come home with me but before I could interrogate him in order to fill in the blanks we heard the phone ring and my wife talking to someone.

She called us and indicated that the bride to be (or maybe not!) was on the phone and wanted to know where the groom and best man were as they had not been seen since the previous day.

Thinking on his feet (which was indeed impressive as he hadn’t yet fallen down) Kev called back that they’d got a bed in town for the night as they were tired.

With the wedding only a couple of hours off – we got dressed and headed for the church none of us sure if all of the main participants were going to be able to participate.

It turned out to be okay and the wedding went off  well – so well that we all felt compelled to get back on the beer as soon as it was respectable to do so (this turned out to be in the pub round the corner whilst the photographs were being taken). For some reason Tony and Locks didn’t join us – lightweights!

Finally I want to tell you about a stag night that didn’t happen. Although it wasn’t a rugby do it did involve three Askeans. Bush, Hicky and I were all involved in the advertising and media business in London and one afternoon we met up with Bill Jones who was a media buyer that we all knew and worked with.

Bill was getting married the following week and we were having a small drink to celebrate. Bill wanted to take it a bit slower than is usual for media types because, as he explained, it was his stag do that night and he wanted to at least remember some of it.

Nodding sagely at his request we departed to Susan’s bar in Beachhamp place which was a ‘drinker’ (this was before the more friendly licencing hours). This was at lunchtime – sometime about 6pm Bill indicated that he should probably be heading off.

And so we did – around midnight as it happens – and when we just couldn’t consume any more.

Bill and I lived in Forest Hill at the time and we waved off Bush and Hickey and caught a train from Victoria. I delivered Bill to his house where his soon to be Mrs looked worried and less than chuffed at the state he was in and the fact that the stag party had turned up earlier looking for him.

I can’t imagine why she was so annoyed – if he’d gone on his stag night as planned he’d probably have got into a lot more trouble.

Frankly I thought she should be thanking me, but I didn’t hang around on the off chance of a smile and a cup of coffee.

Stag nights (all types) nearly always ended up with someone getting into trouble and regretting that they’d gone in the first place. Bill Jones should be grateful to Bush, Hickey and me for saving himself from that feeling.

Stag nights rarely end well but that, of course, is most of the fun!

Paddy Power

This morning my e-mail box was packed with interesting communications – several PPI compensation offers, a bunch of Viagra special deals (how do they know?), some extremely generous Nigerian gentlemen who want to share their good fortune with me and last, but by no means least, a nice note from Paddy.

Paddy has lived in Sydney for many years and we used to catch up with him when we went to see my son Rich and his lovely wife Silvana about twice a year. Unfortunately we can’t travel now and so I haven’t seen Paddy for over 4 years but we stay in touch electronically (and you thought I was a luddite – which, incidentally, is a very good make of battery).

The last time we got together was for dinner in Darling Harbour with wives (our own) and it was great fun and very liquid!

Anyway Paddy said he likes the blog (bit surprising since he features quite regularly here!) – more especially he updated me on why Brom was miffed about not being in the ‘Going Open’ post – I should have included him in the recruits from St Jo’s school apparently – my fault entirely I thought he’d been schooled at Askes!

Just goes to show how quickly the Askeans integrated once we stopped being concerned about what blazer they’d worn when they were 13!

Am now working on a new post for later (I know – as if you’re interested!)

Playing Away

Actually this isn’t about matches at other grounds (or trying to get off with your girlfriend’s best mate) – this is about the other clubs I played for over the years.

I first played for Askeans in 1965 whilst still at school and joined the club the following year. I played regularly for various teams until I finally gave up (or rather my body did) in about 1994. I played just two games after that – one for Askeans in the first ‘Steve Dunmore Memorial Match’ in 1999.

My last game ever was for Gulliver’s Sports Travel in 2001 in Australia – I was on a Lions tour (as a supporter not in the squad obviously) with my wife and several mates from Taunton RFC.

It was supposed to be an Over 50s game against an Australian team in Brisbane on the morning before the first test at the Gabba. At 53 I was the only genuine over 50 in our side but most of the others in our side were 40+.

We had several from Taunton playing – Pete ‘Harro’ Harrison (London Irish and Blackheath), Andy Robinson’s brother ‘Robbo’ (also Pete) and Robbie (can’t remember his other name). There were also players from Old Patesians and Upper Clapton(I think). Most importantly we had Finlay Calder as captain. I was feeling reasonably confident in the changing room looking around at all this experience – especially knowing that I would be relatively safe out on the wing. Finlay was one of the former Lions stars who looked after groups of Gulliver’s tourists.

This confidence faltered when the opposition ran out – I’d be surprised if any of them were over 30 much less 50!

The game started and to my horror I found myself underneath a high ball in the first few minutes. I somehow managed to catch it only to find this huge athletic Aussie beach god arriving at what seemed to be Usain Bolt pace. I side stepped neatly into touch and tried to look mortified as if I hadn’t realised how close the touchline was. I had escaped and realised that all those learning experiences for avoiding pain under the guidance of blokes like Scotty hadn’t been entirely wasted.

‘Harro’ wasn’t fooled though and the air rang out with his cry of “Shutey – you wanker!”

As if I cared – I remained in one piece. In any case it wasn’t the first (or as it turned out the last time) that Harro would comment on my nocturnal activities.

They gradually took control and after they scored Finlay called us together and announced that we might not be able to win but that we’d go down fighting. The other 13 (excluding me obviously) took him at his word and it was one of the roughest games I ever played in! Obviously I did far more observing from a safe distance rather than actually playing. There was one nasty moment however when Finlay called his equivalent of  “99” and all 15 of our team (well 14 in reality) raced to get involved in a spot of aggressive discussion with the Aussies. While the others charged towards the melee, I did a sort of moonwalk that gave the appearance of forward movement without actually going anywhere.

Had it actually have been a soft ice cream with a flake in it I’d have naturally been there first!

Anyway, they scored more points on the board but I believe, in boxing parlance, that we won on points!

In between that soiree in Australia and my first game for Askeans back in ‘65 I in fact turned out for a number of other teams (almost invariably only the once).

Bush and I were invited on the Old Brockleians Easter tour (mostly for our drinking reputations I suspect). Phil Diggens, a really good bloke, was their skipper and we knew each other pretty well. Paul and I played for Askeans 1st XV on the Good Friday at Stroud and then drove down to Torquay to join the Brocks.

We played against Kingsbridge on the Saturday and then Salcombe (I think) on Easter Monday. Phil had also invited two of the most well-known Brocks on tour Eric Bignell (then playing for Rosslyn Park and a final England triallist) and Peter Wheeler of Leicester, England and the Lions. Bolstered by these two, the Brocks pack were more than a match for the farmers of the West country.

I can’t remember the games on the pitch but those in the bar were pretty lively and Brocks were certainly up there with Askeans in terms of drinking ability.

After the last game Phil and Eric insisted that we buy several bottles of Royal Irish Mint Liqueur (it is even more sickly than it sounds) and that everyone had to drink shots until we either fell over or the bottles were empty. Such was the constitution of their team that more bottles had to be purchased before the inevitable happened (they were all sick). Luckily Paul and I were driving back and we managed to slip away before too much of the sick(ly) liquid was forced on us.

In any case we’d already represented the Askeans royally in a drinking spree on the Saturday night

I also turned out for Brocks Ravens (their Vets team) on one memorable Sunday afternoon. I’d played on the Saturday and had pitched up to watch Steve, my brother in law, have a run out. I was in the bar drinking with Tommy ‘kin’ Taylor and Phil, when their skipper Bruce came and said they were short and did I have my kit. Thinking swiftly I said no – which didn’t phase Bruce one bit as he informed me – “no problem, we’ll find you something”.

So it was I ended up jogging about when I should have been having a beer (or 7) with ‘Kin’ Tommy (this soubriquet referred to Tommy’s overuse of a particular expletive – you can probably guess which one.) Tommy managed to use it equally effective as a noun, adjective and adverb – I’m surprised he never became an English teacher!

The report of my stellar (as opposed to Stella) performance that afternoon is detailed in the ‘Getting Hurt’ chapter – since I ended up in hospital with broken ribs and a punctured lung. Les Blyth the Askeans 1st XV captain was none too pleased when he found out – but got his own back at the Club Dinner that year when he presented me with a set of spare ribs (from the local butcher). I had anticipated a more rewarding award (although, to be fair, they were quite tasty).

I also turned out for Olney Rugby club alongside Ben and Jimmy Russell when, with our wives, we spent a memorable weekend away with Kev Burnett (who had moved there for some peculiar reason) – he was their star player and had built us up with his team mates. Naturally we disappointed, having spent the Friday evening being introduced by Kevin to all the local ales. We got our own back on the Sunday morning by helping him lay turf for a new front lawn – it was already curling up as we drove away!

On another weekend we (as in Terry, the kids and me – not the rest of the Askeans) visited Bob Hawtree in Hull. Bob was a cloggy and had played scrum half for the 1sts for a couple of years before going back to his roots (presumably to pull them up).

He persuaded me to play for his new club, Beverley – which I did and maintained my mediocre standard without any trouble at all (needless to say I didn’t trouble the scoreboard either).

There was one memorable Easter weekend when Askeans weren’t touring – we played host to a team on the Friday and supposedly had the rest of the weekend off. Naturally I went looking for a game and pitched up at the Old Elthamians Festival hoping to find a team short of players.

This was easier than I had anticipated and ended up playing for a hosts fifteen (or in fact thirteen as it turned out) on Saturday and London French on Easter Monday. Luckily this team were not made up entirely of frogs –my French Master at Aske’s had warned against me ever going abroad to anywhere they didn’t speak perfect English (even though mine wasn’t – perfect that is!)

However, the fact that I could understand some of them made little difference as the set moves all broke down with depressing regularity – this was through incompetence not failure to communicate. If they’d all actually been French I’d have had a better excuse.

Early in my career at the club the Ex A played an Old Rutlishian’s side and in true Michael Green tradition we had 14 players and they only had 10.

Scotty very nobly offered them one of ours (but only after they had threatened not to play). For some reason I found myself volunteering and so swapped my black and blue hooped shirt for a hooped blue and yellow one.

It was odd playing against your mates, but I did somehow manage to score a try. Luckily Askeans went on to win fairly comfortably so I was not ostracised (or worse) in the bar afterwards. Scotty did demand that I pay my subs and into the beer kitty despite having not been in his side. Old Ruts didn’t expect me to pay into their beer collection – which was nice of them – especially as they plied me with quite a lot of the stuff.

At one time there used to be a Vets tournament at Harlequins and I remember some of us plus a few ringers played there a couple of times – I’ll try and include a photo of when we fielded internationals Peter Bell and Peter Wheeler

Much later, just after I’d retired for the third (or maybe fourth time) I turned out for Taunton 3rds (captained by Robbie) – as it was on one of the many alcoholic weekends I spent with guys from Taunton RFC I have very little recollection of my contribution – suffice it to say I was never invited to play for them again!

The only other club I turned out for was a works team – the Sales and Marketing departments at Brooke Bond Oxo had a football and rugby team. These never played at the same time as they were almost exclusively made up of the same players.

Both teams were a mnemonic of the departments – and we were known rather appropriately as ‘SMUT’.

It started out just as football and we did okay – having John Brooks (an England amateur international still playing in a semi-pro league), plus Mike Aird, Chris Lamb, John Nic, David Straughan and several others who played Sunday morning football to a pretty decent standard.

The one team we could never beat was the Company’s team from the computer centre (in those days a bigger building than the head office). We were always suspicious that they brought in ringers (as in not qualified rather than camponologists) but could never prove it.

We got our own back by challenging them to a rugby match.

This was much more fun – our front row included John Evans (Marketing and London Welsh), Tony Pearce (Sales and formerly of Bristol 1st XV) and in addition I also recruited Boney in the centre with me. Boney was much like myself and would go anywhere for a game. He was still turning out regularly well past his 55th birthday! (he probably still keeps his boots in the car just in case).

To make absolutely sure of the right result I talked Dunky into refereeing the game.

At the time we were part of a very successful Askean 1st XV – all three of us would have been in serious trouble with Les and John Pheasey (the Askean coach back then) if they’d found out about us playing in such a spurious match during the regular season.

It was a pretty awesome game and I think all the Askeans (including Dunky who swapped the whistle with one of our guys at half time,)  as well as most of the rest of SMUT got on the score sheet. We had to go to uncontested scrums fairly early on as the front row had completely destroyed their opposite numbers in the first scrum. Oh happy days.

We also did a similar job on their drinkers in the bar games afterwards – which was even less of a contest (lightweights!)

The computer centre resisted all our efforts for a re-match – and to be frank I don’t blame them!

That’s all the other teams that I can remember playing for – a handful of games in thirty odd years of playing almost exclusively in the blue black and white of Askeans.

I did turn up at training at Roundhay a few times when I was working in the North for a couple of years, but they didn’t seem that interested in me (understandably – since I was 40 odd at the time) – at least I don’t think so – to be honest I couldn’t understand much of what they said at all. Calling moves would have been a nightmare (but a good excuse when I inevitably fucked it up I imagine)

I enjoyed playing for all these other teams but none as much as when I turned out in the blue, black and white of Askeans. Despite my catalogue of injuries I played around 400 games in Askean colours, nearly 250 of them in the 1st XV (I know – not as surprised as me I can tell you!)

This didn’t compare with Des (375 1st XV games), Graham Smith (373), Boney (well over 300) or indeed Evergreen Chas who tops the list with an unbeatable 546 appearances for the firsts!

I’d like to pretend that I remember every one of the matches I played  – maybe not, but I do have some great memories from a lot of them.