In the rugby world April, from when Rugby Football was first played, has been a month associated with departures, ends, finish. The onset of a more professional age has altered this slightly, with extended league seasons, play-offs and “warming down”. Today I want to hark back to a different April, that April of old.
In April 1940 the British rugby scene was about to close down for the duration of the Second World War. For Macclesfield that would mark the retirement of Vic Bull who had been playing for 12 years.
Vic (pictured here in a last surviving team photo of the period) was the last of the “originals”, the set of players who had reformed Macclesfield Rugby Club in 1927. A prodigious goal kicker, Vic played in Macclesfield’s first successful Sevens team, twice winning the Crewe Sevens against the likes of Wrexham, Chester and Bowdon. During his long and illustrious career Vic achieved something that will not be bettered many times, if at all, he managed to play three consecutive years without missing a match!
Sadly April 1943 saw the all-to-familiar departure of Richard Sutton. Sometime late in April it is reported that submarine HMS REGENT on patrol in the Strait of Otranto may have attacked a small convoy near Bari, Italy on the 18th April. She failed to return to Beirut at the end of the month and was presumed lost on mines in her patrol area. Richard, aged 26, has no known resting place but is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Hampshire and the Bollington War Memorial.
Having made great play of the “going away” aspect of April in rugby, it would be remiss to not note that April 1959 saw the continuation of an equally traditional arrival aspect of rugby. That of the “student”, “schoolboy” or other innocents filling in for older, season-long wearied, veterans keen to avoid the rigours of hardening grounds and backs intent on throwing the ball around. This particular April was notable for MRUFC, in that debuts were made by Peter Jones (eventually Club President), Alan McInnes (star of Rugby League for Salford and Wigan), and Alan Hanson (eventually Chair of Manchester Rugby Club).
Another fine tradition of rugby’s April, now sadly passing into the mists of time, was the Sevens season. In April 1963 Macclesfield entered two teams in the Stoke Sevens. The ‘A’ seven progressed to the quarter finals before being beaten by Stoke A (the eventual winners). Later in the month this was followed by the Manchester Sevens. This involved playing in a qualifying competition from which Macclesfield emerged as qualifiers following wins over De La Salle and Tyldsley. With Clive Barker, Alan McInnes and Dave Miller beginning to make their presence felt and Peter Holland proving an adept linkman, Macclesfield beat Warrington and New Brighton, eventually to lose to Wigan in the quarter finals. The season concluded with the winning of their own tournament at Tytherington.
The Summer of 1966 is rightly remembered as the year that England won the Football World Cup. They undoubtedly drew their inspiration from Macclesfield RUFC who completed their season in April having played 34 games, winning 28, drawing 2, losing 4 and scoring 577 points whilst conceding only 157 (an average of fewer than 5 a game). The strength and ability of the team was recognised by Cheshire selectors. The Club had many representatives in the East Cheshire trial and eight were selected to play the West in April. The eight included some with long dynasties at the club; Keith Oliver, Peter Holland, John Taylor, Dai Jones, Hughie Croxall and John Robinson. What did England 66 have to do with all this? Well those famous red shirts were manufactured down the road at Cheadle, by Umbro who started their life in Wilmslow.
In the Seventies mini and junior rugby was just beginning to take-off and on April 22nd 1974. Macclesfield played a nine-a-side game against King’s this was the first of its kind to be played in the North West. The young Macclesfield side that day included Graham Jenion and David Taylor. Interestingly both could have played for either team, both went on to represent the first team with great distinction and both went on to play for Sale first team for a number of years.
But the Seventies weren’t just about the emergence of youth, older and more worldy players still had their day in the sun, with the annual President’s Sevens held at the end of the season. April 1977’s version was a vintage – in all senses of the word – occasion as the annual bragging rights came up for grabs. The Bulls Head Kerridge had put together a strong looking squad (probably weakened by their propensity to take on liquids) but strong entries were present from both Police and Post Office. Eventually the winners were a less fancied Kings Old Boys 7 who squeezed past the President’s Seven. As the Old Boys included relatively youthful and current Wilmslow players Dennis Oliver and John Hitch, in retrospect few should have been surprised. But in keeping with the “youth theme” the final was preceded by a curtain-raiser between two local primary schools, Broken Cross and Ivy Bank. It’s a shame that the game is no longer present in our primary schools but some of those players will feature in later articles.
MRUFC is not a club to court controversy but that has not always been the case. Sadly in April 1981 the Rugby Club moved from its customary back page in the local press to the front page. The Express headline “Rugby Club’s Strip Show Didn’t Take Off” gives a hint of what the problem was. The Macclesfield Lions Club had arranged a “stag” night event at the Rugby Club. Whilst the Lions had booked a striptease show through agents no one thought to tell the Lions that the artistes were double booked and unavailable. A sizeable audience was left staring into their pint pots and little else. The Express report was full of double entendres such as “barefaced cheek”, “entertainers caught with pants down”. The whole episode concluded satisfactorily with the artistes agreeing to come back the following week for a “Flower Arranging Evening”, in keeping with the cultural development of the time, this was another euphemism for an adult show.
This review of April started with a note to longevity, that same April 1981 saw the club’s U14s and U16s, start out on another rugby tradition, the Easter Tour, in their case to South Wales. The tourists included a number of future club stalwarts Neil and Justin Thomas, Mike Hall, Rolf Easto, Chris Hehir, and Iain Taylor. They also engaged in another rugby tradition, coming away from South Wales on the end of a thumping, losing 5 out of 6 games. The lasting records of their tour are not the bruises (to body and ego) but the memories and friendships that continue today. And the Club plaques of some of their opposition that still hang in the Club house.
In April 2006 Macclesfield Vets XV travelled to Luton Airport on route for a tour to Antibe South of France. Dressed in blazers, and black berets and all sporting a French moustache they were spotted by Sky TV’s film crew, filming the channels popular Airport. After renditions of Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory to camera, Captain Stephen Branch was asked: “Do you do anything else?” to which Wilkey was pushed forward to perform his legendary ‘Lavender Trousers’ song and dance routine. The team singing and the bizarre performance was edited into the program amme, and aired on Sky more than a dozen times; it prompted the hilarious voice-over sign off from the Sky commentator: “You don’t have to be completely bonkers to play Veteran’s rugby at Macclesfield – but it helps!”.