First-ever Silverware for Macclesfield Rugby Club
By Peter Harper
Macclesfield RUFC President Peter Harper was Captain of the Colts in the 70s and Captain of the 1st XV in the 80s, following is the first of his proudest moments.
Season 1975/76 saw the start of the first regular Colts team at Macclesfield, and I was extremely honoured and proud to be asked by the Coach Robin Pinder, to skipper the side. That season also saw the inaugural Cheshire Colts Cup Competition – named the Cheshire Shield so as not to be confused with the Cheshire Cup (for Seniors).
The first round saw a home quarter-final win against Davenport (now known as Stockport), followed by an epic semi-final win at Tytherington against our local rivals from Wilmslow. This close victory meant Macclesfield Colts now had the chance to be the first side to win a XV a side competition in the Club`s 102 year history, an opportunity we were all keen to grasp.
The final was to be played at Winnington Park`s new ground at Burrows Hill, Hartford and the opposition that day came from the West of the County in the form of Old Anselmians – basically St. Anselms College 1st XV, a hotbed of rugby in the County. All bar 2 of the Macc side were King`s School players, the exceptions being Russell Good (Uppingham) and myself (Bramhall High School), and it promised to be a close game between 2 very well drilled sides.
Coach Robin Pinder, aided by King’s School legendary rugby master – Graham Wilson – made the team selection for the final and came up with the controversial decision to play regular fly half Bill Roberts at the centre with young John Baker slotting in at 10. John was a great player who could play anywhere along the backline and Bill was a classy operator but hardly known for his crash ball running or his head on tackles; (more Phil Bennett than Manu Tuilagi!) and so everyone waited to see if the gamble would work (including me)!
This was a big game for Macclesfield and the team were taken for steak & chips at a hotel in Northwich before the game – unsure if that`s the way teams these days would prepare for a Cup Final, but it certainly made us all feel special. Following a final team talk, it was an emotional moment when we ran out of the changing rooms to see and hear over 150 Macc supporters who had made the journey to Hartford, to hopefully witness the Colts make history. The game started with us kicking off and the crowd were soon encouraged when the first few scrums saw the Macc. front row of Dave Piggott (the smallest Loosehead Prop I`ve ever played with!), Paul Durbin and the giant Joe Barber, dominate the opposition front row. However, a number of lineout and breakdown infringements saw Anselmeians able to relieve the pressure on their line despite our superiority in the pack.
After about 20 minutes of play, we made the first incisive break when Bill Roberts danced past a couple of would-be tacklers, drew the full back and slipped a pass out to Marcus Jennion on the wing. Disappointingly, the pass went astray and with it the chance to score the game`s first try. However, it proved that the Anselmian midfield players were vulnerable and that they didn`t have an openside flanker like Omar Karim to smash the centres in the tackle. We were able to keep the pressure on the opposition, throughout most of the first half, with a steady stream of possession and strong running from threequarters Russel Good, Stuart Robinson and Clive Kershaw, but the last pass or wrong decision making, meant we had no points despite playing in the opposition half for long periods. The first half remained pointless until Anselmians scored from a long-range penalty to sneak into an unlikely 3-0 lead at half time.
The 2 minutes half time break gave us the chance to regather and decide if anything needed changing (no coaches allowed on the park in those days and no tactical substitutions). It was clear we needed to play the same game, by dominating upfront and giving our backs good ball, but we needed to cut out the penalty count which was giving Anselmeians the chance to stay in the game.
The second half saw Macc`s back row of Omar Karim, Steve Bell and yours truly, thwart any attacks from an opposition, rejuvenated by their lead, and with the powerful 2nd row partnership of Plug Waterhouse and Andrew Horsfall dominating the mauls, we were back in the ascendancy. Then tragedy for the Macc supporters as a speculative kick downfield from Anselmians fly-half took a wicked bounce and ended up in the winger’s hands, leaving him with a free run to the line. Good work by Clive Kershaw and Marcus Jennion kept him in the corner making for a difficult conversion, which was missed.
7 points down (4 points for a try back then) with around 20 minutes left and I recall talking to the players under the posts waiting for the conversion, everyone was cool, calm and collected as we knew we still had it in us to win the game. Then the second bit of bad luck struck within 2 minutes of the re-start – Fly Half John Baker lived up to his nickname of
`Glass Ankles` as he went down in a heap after a tackle, then hobbled to his feet, clearly in pain. Dr Baker, John`s Dad, came on to administer the wet sponge, and following a thorough waggling of the suspect ankle, told his son not to be so soft and get on with the game “It`s only a sprain John”. Back then, unless you`d lost a leg or your head had been taken off, replacements weren`t permitted and as JB could hobble around, we made the decision to put him out of the way at full back, move Clive Kershaw to centre and restore Bill Roberts to fly half (it later transpired that John had fractured his ankle and played the last 15 minutes or so in agony).
The large Macclesfield contingent looked concerned, 7 – 0 down, less than 15 minutes left on the clock, and an injured player in the ranks. However, we had other ideas and continued our assault with renewed vigour. A knock-on just inside the Anselmians’ 25-yard line brought a scrum to Macc, and as we had done all afternoon, the pack delivered the quick, clean ball. Howard Thompson at scrum-half, becoming more and more influential in the game, gave a superb flat pass to Bill, who cut inside his opposite number, drew the fullback, once again, and delivered a perfect pass to centre Stuart Robinson to score in the corner. Although the conversion was missed, we were now on the scoreboard and sniffing a win.
From the restart, the ball was secured by the powerful Macc pack and Clive Kershaw sent an Exocet of a kickback into the Anslmians’ 25. A line-out-steal by Plug Waterhouse saw us apply yet more pressure and that man Billy Roberts executed double-dummy scissors, drew the last man and again delivered a killer pass – this time to Clive Kershaw who raced over the line to score Macc Colts 2nd try of the afternoon. The Macclesfield crowd were in raptures as Clive walked back to take the conversion, which sailed just past the posts. We were finally in front 8 – 7 with less than 10 minutes left and the game was ours for the taking. Anselmians threw everything at us in the final few minutes, in a desperate attempt to take back the lead and with that the trophy. However, we dug deep, controlled the game and secured the Club’s first-ever trophy. The crowd went wild with delight when the referee finally blew his whistle to signal a historic win for Macclesfield Rugby Club.
Although Bill had a huge influence on the scoring of the 2 tries, the unanimous decision for Man of the Match went to number 7, Omar Karim who tackled all afternoon like the proverbial ‘brick outhouse’ to snuff out any attacks from the Anselmians’ team.
I was the proudest person in Cheshire as I received the trophy for the team, in front of over 150 Macclesfield supporters, teammates and all the parents. You can imagine the celebrations back in the Clubhouse at Tytherington! I don`t recall a lot from that evening but one memory which sticks in my mind was seeing Billy Roberts attempting to do the Waltz with big Hoss (Andy Horsfall).
Happy Days indeed!