Forty years ago: half a lifetime for me, give or take, Sedgley were enjoying their Jubilee Year 1982 under captain Dave Robinson. Dave was a Cumbrian, from Keswick, and a colleague of mine at North Manchester HS, where he taught chemistry. I had persuaded him to come to Park Lane a few years earlier. My own rugby playing days were long over, but I was still a first team cricketer. That winter of 1982, I made the move from Prestwich CC to Newton Heath.
Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and the Falklands War would begin in earnest in April. The first Korean car – the Hyundai Pony – appeared in Britain. A pint of beer cost 60p, and you could buy it with three of the new 20p coins.
What of the rugby landscape in 1982? League rugby was still a few years away, and so too the first World Cup. The Five Nations tournament was won by Ireland, with England and Scotland joint second, Wales and France joint fourth. The competition began with the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield, which ended 9-9, as Andy Irvine landed a late 52-metre penalty. England then lost 15-16 to the Irish at Twickenham, before beating France 27-15 at Parc des Princes, and Wales 17-7 at Twickers. Ireland won the Triple Crown, but defeat in the final game in Paris cost them the Grand Slam.
England’s captain was Fylde’s Bill Beaumont, and there were five other Lancashire players amongst the 21 used in the tournament. They were our own Tony Bond, a centre who played for Sedge as a Colt before moving to Broughton Park and Sale; winger John Carleton, who as an Upholland GS boy was very local to Orrell; Mike Slemen, the classy Liverpool winger; scrum-half Steve Smith from Sale, a Cheshire man who nevertheless played for Lancashire; and lock Jim Sydall of Waterloo, well remembered by the Sedgley lads who played against that club in the Lancashire Cup.
County rugby was still very much a ‘pathway’ to the top, in those days. A player would have to join a club a bit more high profile than Sedgley to get a county cap – the likes of Broughton Park, Preston Grasshoppers, Vale of Lune would do – but County honours could then lead to North of England, and upwards from there. Several of the above mentioned had played for the North in the famous victory over the All Blacks at Otley in November 1979. I was there!
Leicester provided five of the England squad in 1982, and others came from Gloucester, Wasps, Northampton, Bristol, Moseley and Coventry. Three others played their club rugby outside England, two in Wales and one in France. Bath did not feature in the England side that season, though they were a coming force who – with Leicester – would dominate the early days of league rugby. In 1982, Bath played many fixtures against Welsh clubs, most of which they lost. They also lost 44-6 at Leicester.
No Saracens, no Exeter in those days, when it was a very different rugby landscape. No one from Quins, either. Much has been gained over the forty years; some things have been lost. I would say the biggest loss has been the barrier erected between the England side and the ‘recreational’ amateurs. Back then, it felt like one rugby community, and we gathered at Twickenham very much in that spirit.
Are there fewer northerners involved with England these days? A quick glance at the RFU website shows a few contenders in the current set up, beginning with attack coach Martin Gleeson, who had a successful RL career. Tom Curry was born in Hounslow, but attended school in Cheshire and played for Crewe & Nantwich. George Ford’s background with Saddleworth Rangers RL is well documented, and Raffi Quirke was at Broughton Park from under 9s. Bevan Rodd was born in Scotland and raised on the Isle of Man. There is a rugby connection between the Manx clubs and those of the North West, and he attended Sedbergh School as a regular pupil (not on a rugby scholarship), from where he joined Sale Sharks.
Apart from the absent Owen Farrell, England’s final northern lad is Jamie Blamire, the Newcastle Falcons hooker. He is another who played RL, as a kid in Cumbria, but his Union career has progressed through the Falcons’ Academy.
If the Northern connection with the full-strength England XV is slightly tenuous, a real Yorkshire lad did score a try for Wales against Scotland. Tomas Francis has an exotic first name, and a Welsh grandmother, but he was born in York and played for Malton & Norton RUFC before signing professionally with Doncaster Knights. Somehow, he managed to attend both Ampleforth College and Sedbergh School, and his degree is from Leeds University.
I’d call that Yorkshire through and through. As Yorkshire as winning at cricket used to be.