Wot No Rugby?
STEVE'S BLOG 28
The Musings Of A Happy Old Prop
January 12th 2010
As I sit here at my laptop, I am gazing out onto a Christmas card scene of a foot of snow.
Sky TV are showing cricket in glorious summer weather in South Africa but outside of my window nothing stirs.
Even Cornwall has had a hefty dump of snow and the game against London Welsh couldn’t even be switched to the Mennaye.
All those modern day wise men gathered in Copenhagen must have done something magical, seemingly the entire Northern Hemisphere has been plunged in snow and ice ever since!
By the time you get to read this it will probably all be long gone but my mind inevitably goes back to that incredibly cold winter of 1963.
For those too young to remember it the entire country’s sporting calendar virtually shut down for two months but somehow Penzance seemed to miss the worst of it. Games all over the UK and indeed most of Cornwall were cancelled week after week.
Just when all this was at its very worst a bemused team from Argentina landed in Heathrow straight from a hot South American summer and sat shivering in a London hotel using up their precious savings and worse still — no rugby.
The Pirates came to their aid and a Wednesday afternoon match was hastily arranged on the Mennaye at short notice between the locals and the exotically named “Club Atletico de San Isidro”. I have only vague memories of the game itself - which the visitors won by 12— 6 — but I do still have the match day programme and this brings back all sorts memories of Penzance all those years ago.
Rugby programmes in those days were little more than folded leaflets which gave the teams plus a few notes from the editor who went under such names as ‘Freebooter’ or ‘Gwavas’ but was almost invariably Ben Batten. However unlike those glossy multi-coloured affairs you get these days it only cost threepence (that’s old pence!) and they always followed certain conventions.
Very often teams included a gentleman by the name of A.N.Other who was occasionally joined by his partner-in-crime S.O.Else.
Pirates had one that day who eventually turned out to be Taffy Luke who went on to prop and serve the Pirates for many years.
However, you knew you had really hit the big time if you had an asterisk after your name which meant you were an International and in senior rugby there was always a bit of one-upmanship as to how many asterisks you had on the team lineup. The fact that you had played just one match for Scotland ten years before and had dodgy knees didn’t seem to matter — you still kept that asterisk until the day you died.
Programme editors liked to embellish their lineups with other honours so a player might be listed with things like ‘Barbarian’ or ‘Blue’ in brackets after his name. The one I liked most was added to Gerald Luke’s name just after he had appeared in an England Probables versus Possibles match one season. Sure enough in the next matchday programme old Ben had him listed as G.G.Luke (Trial) which struck me as a somewhat backhanded compliment!
For those of you from Penzance perhaps the most intriguing part of these old programmes are the quaint advertisements.
Of course there were no sponsors in those days but local businesses where the owner had some interest in rugby often took a tiny oblong space on a page for the entire season.
There appears ‘Olive Wesley for all your Duplicating, Typing and Commercial Education needs’ and Pooley and Rogers, Auctioneers Valuers and Estate Agents’.
The ones that caught my eye were ‘Peasgood’s Pharmacy for Symons Pectoral Cough Syrup – Acts like Magic! 3/9d per bottle’ and Worden (Printers) Ltd for ‘Adding Machines, Typewriters and Filing Cabinets’.
Then there was the ubiquitous J.H.Bennetts & Co.who promised programme readers ‘regular clean coal delivered by our special van’. They must have been busy that winter.
As kids we used to compete to get players to autograph our programmes especially when the big touring teams came down in September and April. We became very adept at catching these stars when they least expected it.
A good opportunity was when the Pirates used to play J.M.Williams International XV when he used to bring a bevy of asterisks down to Cornwall for a glorified booze up and a gentle run out against the Pirates and Redruth.
There was quite a long queue for the signature of the imposing six-feet-six-inch lock R.W.D.Marques of Cambridge University, Harlequins and England.
However I managed to outwit the opposition by following him doggedly into the gents toilets behind the stand and thrusting my programme right under his nose just as he was relieving himself. “I say hang on old chap” he said politely in a cut glass accent and then dutifully signed my scruffy — and probably slightly soggy - bit of paper. I wonder whatever happened to it?
Ah the sun has come out — maybe we will get some rugby after all…………..