Saturday, 3 May 2014

Magical memories of Tamworth Rugby Club

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Tamworth Rugby Club Colts travel to South Wales this weekend on Resolven RFC under-19s – a match that has been a long standing tradition for the past 50 years. The clubs first met on Easter Sunday in 1964. Tamworth Rugby Chairman Keith Borthwick shares some of his fondest memories of the Anglo-Welsh fixture.

AS TAMWORTH Rugby Club Chairman, ex Junior section chairman, ex first-team captain and ex Colts captain, links with Resolven Rugby Club from South Wales are close to my heart and full of fundamental Rugby-based lessons learned in life.

I first joined Tamworth Rugby Club some 38 years ago as a young 15-year-old back in 1975/76 season. I joined many of my Grammar School colleagues who got the Rugby bug from our games master and ex club player Vin Roberts.

We played for the school on Saturday mornings, had a light lunch and started life as a young Tamworth Colt playing on Saturday afternoons travelling around the Midlands.

Our mentor and Colts coach was a small Welsh gentleman called Rhydwyn Evans and I speak for many who will say he played a massive part in our key development years. He always had a broad smile on his face, was truly passionate about the game of Rugby Football and he and his many friends and members of Tamworth Rugby Club, with its large Welsh contingency, enjoyed to sing-song or two after a game whether we had won or lost.

As a young lad from the quiet village of Hopwas we would listen and join in with the songs without knowing all the words but embraced the camaraderie.

Throughout my first season, plans were afoot for the annual Colts match with Rhydwyn’s hometown club Resolven RFC, which was deep in the South Wales valleys. At Easter it was our turn to be visiting them.

We had singing rehearsals after training matches as we got closer to the match and competition for the right to wear a shirt was hard as everyone wanted to play in the team. Rhydwyn taught us a real welsh Classic song called Far Away and it has for all those who played and toured since the early days become a legendary Tamworth song.

Excitement built up to the tour and eventually we got on our way for the coach ride down to South Wales. Other club dignitaries also joined the trips like Mick Pullman and his son Tom.

I was now 16 years of age and this was a first time away from home on a rugby tour. Bonding was something we were not perhaps aware of at this time but later in life we still have a sense of belonging to the group of players and friends who toured. Resolven was an old mining town from recollection set in a picturesque, tree-lined valley and the pitch at Vaughan Fields being the only flat piece of land.

A warm and friendly welcome was extended as we were greeted by the entire Resolven RFC committee, the Colts team and their parents were all happy to see us arrive safely and keen to get as much Brains Beer – the local delicacy – down the opposition as possible. Little did we realise this was a deliberate attempt to nobble our team beforehand.

A disco was held in our honour and we feasted our eyes on the local girls. They quizzed who were our best players: the fastest men etc, and being somewhat naive we hadn’t realised they were skilfully assessing our game plans.

During the evening we had a roll call of names and paired off two Tamworth lads together with one Resolven laddie. My roomie was the fearsome Terry Franks and he and I were treated like royalty by the parents of the Resolven pretty-boy flanker Paul Challenger.

We woke excited and a tad weary but had a hearty breakfast, took in the local valley air and made our way to meet all of our colleagues at the Resolven ground.

I could still name the full Tamworth team that took to the field for this game. We had a really strong pack of forwards who wouldn’t take a backward step and some exceptionally talented backs. We had had a good season playing in the Midlands and as a team were rarely beaten.

However, we were never prepared for the ferocity of the Welsh opponents – they played hard, physical rugby significantly different to our regular games in England and playing, having been on the beer, was a new experience to most of the younger half of the side making their virgin appearances on tour.

We became legends when we snatched victory in a close game – this was a very rare thing on tour, in fact, I am not sure many other visiting Tamworth sides have ever repeated the win – two years on we lost but the following two home trips playing at Wigginton Park we won.

After the match a marvellous meal was held with our opponents. We drank copious amounts of fluids, exchanged club ties and shirts. Rhydwyn assembled us onto the stage, and we gave the clubhouse a strained but passionate rendition of Far Away lead by our leader Rhydwyn – who would be hoarse by the end of the tour due to too much singing and shouting. We would later have a true Welsh version as the team and members all sang beautifully back to us.

We would round the Saturday off with a trip into the City Lights of Neath, a real eye-opener and we’d end the day in a curry house.

The weekend was followed by another game against Tonna or Glyneath and we all joined together for a visit to watch The Barbarians v Swansea on their traditional Easter tour on the Easter Monday.

We would then bid farewell to our new-found best friends – these were the days before mobile phones or e-mails so we rarely met them again till the following season when they came up to Tamworth. We returned the gesture and housed a couple of players each.

The journey back to Tamworth was again memorable with many high jinks and singing on the coach trip home as a happy, victorious group.

Our leader was proud we had won and we were all delighted we had played well and given him the satisfaction of the triumph and returned to England with the trophy.

Once back in the clubhouse we gave a final rendition of Far Away and the tour closed.

In closing this contribution I have lead trips of our 1st XV back to play in a memorial game in honour of Rhydwyn Evans in the 1990s. I was also immensely proud to take a young Tamworth team of under 15s/16s, including both of my twin sons and my roommate Terry Frank’s son Tommy, to kick-start the links between the clubs almost ten years ago in the 2005/2006 season. It is also splendid to see Tommy driving the links forward again and heading up this year’s tour arrangements.

Friends I had when we first toured in the 70s have sons who are friends with our sons and as such – the lifelong relationships and bonding between our players lives on to this day.

On Saturday, Tamworth’s young Colts team embark on a cycle of touring – yes they have been touring for many seasons since juniors, but be ready for something special with a hard game ahead of them. We will all remember absent friends like Rhydywn, Tom Pullman and Dai Evans, who will all be looking down from the ‘Long Lost Goldmine in the Sky’ (key line from the Far Away song).

As Chairman of the club I am honoured to be making the trip with many of my teammates from 1976 and the following seasons, and with the players from the 2013/2014 Tamworth Colts. We’re looking forward to meeting up with old mates like Chippy Lee and Carl Gnayek and telling yarns about how we beat them royally in 1976 and 1977 and trying our best to enjoy the Brains Bitter.

Magical memories of Tamworth Rugby Club

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