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About the Author
Rob Harris is the sports editor for the Forester and had been named Gloucestershire Sports Writer of the year. He lives in Cinderford, Gloucestershire.
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The Gloucester Rugby
By Robert Harris
The History PressCopyright © 2012 Robert Harris
All rights reserved.
FIRST EVER GAME
Gloucester Rugby Club was formed in 1873 following a meeting in the city at the Spread Eagle Hotel. Francis Hartley, who previously played for the London-based club Flamingoes, helped assemble a team to take on the college school who, coincidentally, played on the Kingsholm field that Gloucester now call home.
PHIL BLAKEWAY'S FOUR RETIREMENTS
Front-row forward Phil Blakeway broke his neck playing for Gloucester in a midweek game against South Wales Police at Kingsholm in 1977, but his injury was not fully diagnosed until the following weekend – after he had played for Gloucestershire against Cornwall in Camborne.
The greengrocer from Tewkesbury went on to become a key figure in England's 1980 Grand Slam-winning team.
Blakeway actually retired four times in his career. He initially retired in 1977 following that broken neck, then in 1981 because of a back problem. Retirement number three came in 1982, but he quit for real in 1985 because of further neck and back problems.
As a youngster he wanted to be a modern pentathlete rather than a rugby player. He was named as a reserve for the World Junior Championships in 1968 and trained with Robbie Phelps, who was established in the British modern pentathlon team. He began taking rugby seriously when he joined Cheltenham as a speedy young full -back.
TWO LAPS AROUND THE PITCH AND A BATH
Now 86, Ken Daniell is one of Gloucester's oldest surviving players. Ken scored more than 50 tries in a relatively short career which was cut short by a serious knee injury at the age of 24.
Also a talented sprinter, he made his Gloucester debut in 1945 as the club struggled to rebuild after the Second World War.
'It was tough getting going,' he recalled. 'Harold Boughton ran the side when I first went down to Kingsholm, but we were a social side. We met twice a week for training, which was generally two laps of the pitch, then a bath. We were a tight group. The game was so different; the forwards would put the ball on the floor and dribble it down the field while we stood and watched.'
Ken's father played for Gloucester in the 1920s. Daniell Junior took up rugby playing for his works team, Atlas, but quickly made an impression at Gloucester, serving as vice-captain in 1949/50 to Gordon Hudson.
He said: 'The best I played with were half-backs Danny Evans and Willie Jones. Willie was marvellous, very clever and a superb kicker. My most memorable game was against Cardiff. It was absolutely packed out and there were people sat inside the railings on the side of the pitch. Going to Cardiff was lethal because we'd get terrible stick off their supporters. Some players would back out but one who never did was Digger Morris. He got more stick than anyone but he seemed to love it and I don't think he ever missed a game in Cardiff.'
CAN WE HAVE OUR BALLS BACK?
In 1954 Garth and Godfrey Cromwell became the club's first ball boys. They got 2s per game, providing they retrieved all of the balls. That meant knocking on plenty of doors in the streets surrounding Kingsholm. Garth went on to become a top referee and even took charge of matches at Gloucester.
BIZARRE TWIST OF FATE
Gordon Sargent's decision not to go on tour with Lydney resulted in him becoming captain of Gloucester. Sarge played more than 200 games for Gloucester in his career but in 1982, at the age of 32, he opted to return to his hometown club Lydney. At the end of that 1982 season, Lydney went on tour to America but Sarge didn't want to go. Peter Jones, the young Gloucester prop went instead of him, with Sarge agreeing to provide front-row cover for Gloucester in their final two games of the season. He ended up playing in both matches and the players lobbied him to captain them the following season.
He stayed with Gloucester until his retirement at the age of 38. Sargent made his only appearance for England as a replacement in a rare win in Ireland. Ironically, the man he came on for that day was his Gloucester team-mate Phil Blakeway. As well as all those appearances for Gloucester, Sargent also played 358 times for Lydney.
THE HARD MAN'S HARD MAN
Many who played alongside him rate Jack Fowke as one of the hardest men ever to pull on a cherry and white shirt. But who does Jack rate as the toughest opponent he ever faced?
'That would be John O'Shea, the former Cardiff and Newbridge prop,' said Jack.
Jack started life as a hooker with Stroud but played primarily at loosehead prop for Gloucester from 1959 to 1970. His brother Roy (whose son Bobby also represented Gloucester) and brother-in-law Ron Pitt played for Gloucester during the same era.
Though rock-hard on the pitch, Jack showed his soft side by giving plenty of encouragement to young up-and-coming props such as Mike Burton, Keith Richardson and Robin Cowling. Jack said: 'Keith was a back-row when he joined us but he was keen to learn. I remember Mickey Burton when he started out at about 18. He was a very good scrummager and had a bit of flair. I was happy to help anyone who wanted to learn with a few tips.'
Incredibly, Jack says he never received any formal coaching.
'I just learnt as I went on; I soon worked out where to put my arms and what to do. Don Rutherford made you think about the game but I'm not sure he understood much about scrummaging. Scrummaging used to be a bigger part of the game. Personally, I think the old game was better, to me the modern game is more like rugby league. Some of the arts of forward play have died out. I enjoyed my time at Gloucester. When I first went down there we got a bottle of beer and two beer vouchers for the White Hart – three if you were lucky. Our kit was supplied but we had to pay for our own boots.'
PAUL WEBB ON THE PERKS OF BEING AN AMATEUR
'The difference between playing for the firsts and seconds in my day was that in the firsts you got a 22-gallon barrel of beer after the match and chicken and chips. In the seconds it was an 11-gallon barrel of beer with sausage and chips.'
Paul Webb played for Gloucester from 1982 to 1985 and also represented England Colts. He says his most memorable game was versus Auckland at Kingsholm.
'It was so foggy we should never have played,' he said. 'We ran out to applause then there was silence because no one could see us. During the game we got a cheer on the stand side and another on the shed side. Otherwise, the whole match was played in virtual silence.'
UNITED GO ON STRIKE FOR A FULL TEAM
Harold Symonds joined Gloucester from All Blues in 1959 and played for the club until 1972. He captained the United team in 1972, a successful season in which many emerging stars were blooded. One of the young men Harold remembers most fondly from that era is Phil Blakeway, who he rates as the toughest man he saw on a rugby field.
He said: 'Off the pitch Phil was, and still is, an absolute gent, one of the nicest men you will ever meet. But on a rugby pitch he was different. I can't remember how many times I was pulled aside as captain by the referee and told "please control Blakeway."'
Harold joined Gloucester as a tall 6ft 2in centre – a rarity in the 1950s. Within a few weeks he realised he wasn't going to make it as a centre and was all set to return to All Blues, until Roy Sutton encouraged him to stay as a wing forward.
Harold said: 'The club was very different in the 1950s and '60s. The committee was friendly and very hands-on. I wouldn't say training was ad hoc but it was not structured or disciplined. Dare I say it, players in the 1950s played mainly to keep fit. Don Rutherford helped to change things and got us playing seriously. We were often accused of playing 10-man rugby – people said our three-quarters only went along for the ride. Obviously you play to your strengths, but we had some quick guys too. Terry Hopson could slice through any gap when he was on his mettle, but he could be a moody player. Mickey Booth and Terry were outstanding half-backs. We could be on our 25 and Terry would send a superb kick down the field, which would drop just short of their line. I'd run down the pitch past the opposition's forwards and hear them cursing "Flaming Hopson's done it again!"'
Harold is often accused of being the man who took Gloucester out on strike in the early 1960s. He explained: 'The United side back then often found themselves going away – especially over the Severn Bridge into Wales – with 13 or 14 players and it was embarrassing to be getting off the coach at places like Cardiff and Newport and having to ask the locals if they fancied a game. One day we were going into Wales and we had 13 men. I thought this is stupid so I said "I'm going over to the White Hart, if you get 15 come and get me." However, all of the players treated me like a trade union leader and followed me. It hit the press that Gloucester had gone on strike and I got a severe reprimand from the committee, although I think one or two like Digger Morris were secretly behind me. It had a positive effect in that a secretary was appointed to the United team and we didn't go short after that.'
SMALLPOX STOPS PLAY
In 1895/96 several matches were cancelled due to a smallpox epidemic in the city.
MOGGY IDOLISED GORDON BANKS
It's hard to believe but Richard Mogg, one of Gloucester's all-time best backs, didn't take up rugby at any level until he was 16. Within two years he was playing for Gloucester's firsts. He explained: 'I played football at school and for Parry Hall. I supported Stoke City, still do, and although I wasn't a goalkeeper, Gordon Banks was my hero. I didn't like rugby at school. I was too small. I didn't even play for the school team.'
Mogg drifted into rugby when a few of the lads he hung around with started playing for Tredworth. The club launched a colts team just for them, but they hardly won a game and most of the players packed up within a year or two as the team folded. Mogg stood out, however, and began playing for Tredworth's senior team. By 1974 he was playing for Gloucester. He recalled those early days at Kingsholm by saying: 'I made my debut versus Cheltenham and remember looking around the changing room at all these great internationals like Peter Butler and John Watkins. The week before, I had been playing on the Lannet [Tredworth's ground]. Peter Butler was very good to me, he looked after me, but everyone seemed a lot older than I was. I pulled on my cherry and white shirt, this long-haired kid, and it was way too big for me. I don't know what I weighed then, but I was never more than 131/2 stones at any time in my career. Playing for Gloucester was a dream come true but I never ever thought I'd play 510 times.'
Mogg soon realised he had to toughen up to survive at Kingsholm. That applied to everyone. He said: 'When Richard Pascall first joined us we called him a few names. Someone would be lying offside and he'd be shouting "ref, he's offside!" Everyone else knew that if you were on the floor on the wrong side you'd get some aluminium.'
Mogg started out on the wing, but played primarily in the centre. He scored the winning try in the 1978 John Player Cup final, but says beating Gosforth that year in the same competition was an even better result.
'The crowd for that game was enormous. We were trying to shout moves and couldn't hear ourselves. There's a lot of pressure playing in front of a big Kingsholm crowd like that.'
Mogg once scored six tries in a match versus Guy's Hospital, but it doesn't rate highly among his personal list of achievements. He said: 'To be honest, they were that poor I think a local side would have beaten them. Sometimes we used to play against sides knowing beforehand we would win. Some of our opponents just liked the prestige of playing Gloucester. Derbies against local sides were often tougher. We lost to Stroud and had some tough Thursday nights down at Lydney. They were lovely people down there but they did like to get stuck in.'
Mogg believes there were more flair players about in his era than today. He added: 'I admired people like Gerald Davies and David Duckham; it would be interesting to see how they'd cope today. I rated Bob Clewes, too. He wasn't known for his pace but he scored a lot of tries because he was so good at reading the game.
'I think there are flair players still about, just not so many. It's more about size and power today because there's less space. I rate Charlie Sharples though.'
When his Gloucester career was over, Mogg played a season for Cheltenham before returning to the place where it all started, Tredworth. He said: 'Tredworth were always good to me, I wanted to give something back. I played socially. I still enjoyed my rugby but the pace and strength was going. In Gloucester everybody knows everybody and Tredworth RFC has been a big part of my life. I lived just over the road.
'I'm happy with what I achieved in the game and the honours I got. I had a final trial for England but never got a cap. I probably wasn't quite good enough.'
DID YOU KNOW?
The Revd Bill Phillips, one of three clergymen to play for Gloucester in the 1930s, was actually born in India. His parents were both missionaries. Bill, who was born in 1912, played alongside the Revd Christopher Tanner and the Revd Mervyn Hughes at Gloucester. Bill served as an army chaplain in the Second World War and was held as a prisoner of war from 1944 to 1945.
Sadly, Chris 'Kit' Tanner, who won five caps for England from 1930 to 1934, was killed in action during the Second World War. Posted to HMS Fiji as military chaplain he was on board the ship when it was sunk in the Battle of Crete in 1941. Selflessly, he focussed on saving other men before himself, repeatedly going back into the water to rescue others. He died minutes after being pulled out of the water for the final time. His incredible sacrifice earned him the posthumously awarded Albert Medal.
DERRICK MORGAN: IN HIS OWN WORDS
Winger Derrick Morgan played more than 280 games from 1983 to 1993, scoring over 160 tries.
My first glimpse of Kingsholm
'When I was five we moved from Swindon to Denmark Road in Gloucester. We moved on a Wednesday night and there must have been a game on because there was this incredible light in the sky. I remember thinking what the heck is that? As a kid I'd climb a lamppost to get into the ground and sit on the Tump, often with my lifelong friend Malcolm Preedy.'
'My heroes growing up were mostly French, like Sella or Blanco, or perhaps Welsh. I always wanted Wales to beat England as a kid because they played open, running rugby. England just tried to grind teams down with Dusty Hare kicking penalties.'
The Gloucester trials
'I first went to the trials in 1980/81 and I thought I'd done OK but because I never heard anything from Gloucester – I just went back to Longlevens. It was only when I went back a couple of years later that I realised the score. A few people said "where did you disappear to?" The trials were dog-eat-dog because everyone was fighting for a place. It was one of the biggest games of the season. There was a lot at stake and a lot of high tackles.'
The 48–6 cup final defeat to Bath in 1990
'We lost the league the week before and felt under pressure. You could feel it building up through the week. We went down by coach on the day of the match on the hottest day of the year. The air conditioning on the bus was not the best and we were stuck in traffic, wearing blazers, on a boiling hot coach. The boys were drained when we got there. We played well for 15–20 minutes but I think we'd have been better prepared if we had gone down the day before. I think they wanted us to treat it like it was just another game, but it wasn't.'
Breaking into the Gloucester team
'I was playing for the United side when Phil Pritchard broke his leg. They didn't realise he'd broken it at first so I filled in for him in the firsts and carried on playing for the United as well. I think I played versus Coventry on the Saturday, but all in all I played Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Monday.'
Gloucester's underrated backs
'I shared a room with the Leicester boys Barry Evans and Rory Underwood at an England under–23s trial and they said to me "It must be boring playing on the wing for Gloucester." I asked them how many tries they'd got that season and I think Rory said 10 and Barry nine. I said, "well I've got 25 and Nick Price on the other wing has got 30!" Gloucester always had a reputation for its forwards and we had a brilliant pack. But we had good backs too.
The best two centres I played with were Paul Taylor and Richard Mogg. Paul was very underrated. I remember once before we played Bath the press were going on about how Halliday and Guscott would cut Taylor and Mogg to ribbons. We kicked off and the ball came across the back line. Taylor hit Halliday and Mogg crunched into Guscott at the same time. We never saw either of them again. Paul and Moggy were proper centres. They would do their jobs and say to me and Nick Price "you score the tries." It was a team game.'
Excerpted from The Gloucester Rugby by Robert Harris. Copyright © 2012 Robert Harris. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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