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!