I have been asked to write a few words about my memories of Erdington Ruby Club and initially, I thought this would be quite easy. However, having thought a bit about it, I now realise that this is not going to be an easy task. The reason for this is simply my belief that rugby is the greatest game in the world. I’ll explain more…
My good friend Camel and I started playing rugby at school in 1968 as our school had two choices of winter sport – rugby or if the weather was atrocious, cross country running (which I hated). We both played for various school teams and even at that early stage, I noticed the special bond between the players. The camaraderie, banter and strong bonds of friendships developed from joint experience were there, even at school.
When I left school, I stopped playing sport for a couple of years until one fateful night around 1976, I bumped into Camel in a pub. We reminisced about school and rugby whereupon he told me that he was playing Colts rugby for “the best Colts team in Birmingham”. I must have said that I was interested as shortly after, I ‘got the call’.
Erdington RFC was not an ‘old boys’ club and therefore has never had a natural feed of players leaving school. It was entirely dependant on contacts, friends and word of mouth to attract players – exactly as happened with me. However, in those days, Erdington had a secret weapon as far as recruitment was concerned, namely Tom Rowlands.
Tom was one of the first major characters of the Club that I met and to my delight, he was a fellow Welshman! Tom was an ex-paratrooper who fought at Arnhem during World War 2 and was passionate about his rugby. He was an Erdington man through and through and had been the major recruiter for the Club for many years. He had numerous contacts and his rugby antennae was finely tuned to find and recruit new players, often from under the noses of other rival Clubs, much to their irritation. This meant that there was a constant flow of new, young and talented blood coming into the Club and this, in turn meant that the Club had great strength in depth.
Having had my ego massaged by Tom and further encouragement from Camel, I needed no further persuasion and reported for duty a couple of weeks later at Spring Lane Playing Fields on Saturday afternoon. That was the start of a journey that has taken 44 years to date and is still continuing!
I don’t remember too much about that first game other than scoring on my debut and feeling elated, not just from the game itself (the quality of that team was amazing) but also the after-match socialising. It felt to me like I had always been there and that I belonged. It was a wonderful experience and that is one reason why I believe rugby is the greatest game in the world.
Casting my mind back I can recall many individuals who started their days playing Colts rugby with me for Erdington. My good friend Camel who played hooker and then transformed into a scrum half – we always seemed to understand what the other was going to do on the pitch, I guess because we had played together for a number of years previously. There was Tony Ball and Micky Skinner, two Props who were immovable! The engine room of the pack consisted of Martin ‘Ginger’ Clarke and Dave Humphries – both strong and uncompromising. In the back row, was Rod Lee who had 3 equally large brothers. Also, Graham Rhodes started his days in the Colts and swiftly moved up the ranks to 1st team. He probably remains to this day the longest serving Erdington player having played in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s!
In the late 70’s the Club regularly ran 5 senior men’s teams plus the Colts which often meant 3 teams playing at home. The changing rooms consisted of a wooden building with 6 subdivided areas, one for each team to change in. I can recall even now the feeling of anticipation within those changing rooms. The various aromas wafting around, from horse liniment and ralgex through to the residue of the previous nights beer and curry kindly released by the players! The background murmer, the laughs and then, the brief warm up performed by each team in the changing room. The captain shouting instructions for every team member to follow – the stretching, gripping each other, staring into everyone’s eyes and encouraging each other, and finally jogging on the spot and getting more forceful and louder, counting up to 10 as loudly as possible – partly to try and get the mindset ready for the game and partly to try and intimidate the opposition in the section next door who, of course, were trying to do the same. Then, out onto the pitch and play the game where you all looked after each other and played as team to win.
After the game, there would always be a large jug of steaming hot tea with lots of sugar in it. Strange really because I have never taken sugar in my tea but straight after a game, tea was undrinkable without loads of sugar! Finally, after the tea, we would step into the large bath which was famous at Erdington. I’ve never quite worked out how many players could fit into that bath at once but whatever the number, you soon got to know the person next to you – sometimes quite intimately! Of course, there was always an advantage to being the first game to finish as you would be stepping into a clean bath. However, if you were the last of 90 players stepping into the bath after a wet muddy game, the experience could be quite different. In those days, the boiler was an old coal fired boiler and you always hoped that firstly, the boiler was working or secondly, someone had lit the boiler early enough to warm the water sufficient to heat the water. There were many occasions when a cold or lukewarm bath was had by all!
The clubhouse was also what estate agents would probably call ‘compact and bijou’ or ‘deceptively spacious’ – in other words, it was quite small. Nevertheless, the post match socialising was second to none. You always bought your opposite player a pint and he for you. Players and teams intermingled with each other and the referees . Cross club friendships were made which in some cases still endure. As the evening wore on, the singing would start – invariably led either by Taffy Evans with a rousing rendition of the Erdington Anthem – “One Night in Gay Paree” or Dave Mulhall who would suddenly shout “Say I Believe…..” which everyone answered in unison. Oh my, what memories…..
Playing rugby is not just a game – it teaches life skills as well. Team work, respect for the opposition and officials, control of aggression, lifelong friendships, service and helping others and finally, a bottomless pit of stories to tell. These are all spin offs from our game and for these reasons, I truly believe that rugby is the best game in the world.
A big thank you to Derek for the opening story of what we hope will become a regular feature on the website. Did you play alongside Derek and want to add to his stories? Or did you play in a different era and want to let us know what was different (or the same) about the club? Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your stories.