It happened forty years ago…and I was there!
“I’ve got a spare ticket for Saturday, if you’re interested.” That was Bob Macauley, who was Head of PE at North Manchester HS, where I taught maths. Bob was a Lancashire man by birth and upbringing, but had played his senior rugby for Headingley and, I think, for Yorkshire. Big back-row man, schoolboy International.
The ticket was for a game at Otley between the North of England and the All Blacks. It was a match that would change lives. We were not to know that in advance, of course, but it sounded a good way to spend a Saturday. School match in the morning, pub lunch in Otley, a good game potentially, and not that far to drive home in the dark.
So there I was, battling for a spot on the terraces, joining in the hokey-cokey as the crowd mocked the Kiwis’ pale imitation of the Haka. Many of the Blacks looked embarrassed, to attempt something they clearly had not practised. I reckon the Haka shambles was worth an early try to the North.
Of the game itself, I can remember little. Just the gradual realisation that the North were the better team and were going to win, which they did, 21-9. It must be emphasised that this was, near enough, the New Zealand International side, not the mid-week ‘dirt-trackers’, and the North gave them a thoroughly good stuffing, four tries to one.
Within a year, most of our side was playing for England, household names who won the Five Nations Grand Slam under Bill Beaumont in 1980. Included in that roll of honour was Tony Bond, who had played for Sedgley Colts before moving to Broughton Park and thence to Sale. There was a story going around that the Sedgley Colts manager of the day (not Peppy, but a certain little Welshman who kept wicket for Stand CC) had told Bond he would never make a centre as long as he had a hole…you know where.
Bond got two of the tries at Otley that afternoon. Playing centre.
There’s a sad postscript to my story. The last time I saw my friend Bob Macauley was here at Park Lane a couple of years ago, watching the 1st XV, when he told me he had terminal cancer, and only a month or two to live. He was a good man, a quiet man, a gentleman, and a gentle man; at least off the field.
By the time I got to know Bob he had fallen out of love with rugby, a bit. As he explained, he had been playing seriously since his early teens, had had a good career in Leeds, and now in his early thirties he had just about had enough, after almost twenty years. He joined Broughton Park when he arrived in Manchester, but his heart was never in it.
He found it difficult to adapt to a new club, upwardly mobile though they were, around 1970. I remember he came to me the day following a training session. “What the hell is a prime number?” he wanted to know. He was confused by the line-out calls, and didn’t want to admit his ignorance of basic maths to his new teammates.
So he drifted away, flirting briefly with Oldham RL club, where a friend of his from college days was manager/coach. Bob had never even watched rugby league, let alone played it, and he was thirty-five, two years since his last Union game. But his signing was announced as a star capture in the Manchester Evening News! His impression of the club was that it was a complete shambles, the worst training he had ever seen, and the most demotivated players.
He could have played for the first team immediately, because they were struggling to find thirteen who would make the away trip to Workington. He declined, and that was the end of that.