August, for rugby people of the northern hemisphere, is a time of hope and renewal (less so during a pandemic, obviously). A time when the smell of new mown grass, the sight of slightly dodgy whitewashed lines and the gentle creaking of newly erected goalposts preface a new season of derring-do, of successes like no season before. Sadly in keeping with the rather more sombre times of today, my review of Macclesfield Rugby Club in August past starts on a sober note.
The club’s Roll of Honour board contains thirteen names, representing a quarter of the Club’s membership as the Second World War broke out. In some respects it is somehow even more poignant that two of those died during the month of August when in happier times they would have been looking forward to a new season. One was, Oswald Parker later to become Pilot Sergeant Parker, who came to Macclesfield in September 1936 to teach History at King’s School. Oswald played many times for Macclesfield RUFC and eventually left King’s in 1941 to join the R.A.F. as a pilot. He had almost completed his training as a flying instructor, having received his wings, when he was killed on 7th August 1942, in a flying accident in Canada. Oswald’s last resting place is Sherwood Cemetery, Prince Edward Island, Canada.
In August 1944, as the Allies advanced into occupied France from their D Day landing beaches in Normandy, amongst their number was Major John Brazier. Some years before the war John was a key player within the MRUFC A XV, that was credited at the time with being a contributory factor in the success of the Club on and off the field. John eventually graduated to become a 1stXV regular, by the time the Second World War broke out. John was killed in action at Caen, France, 7thAugust 1944. One of those twists of fate that should result in Oswald and John, good friends on and off the rugby field, should meet their end on the same day albeit two years apart. John’s last resting place is Fontenay-Le-Pesnel War Cemetery, Tessel, Calvados, France. John’s last recorded photo at Macclesfield RUFC is the 1938-9 team photo at the start of the last season before the Second World War.
To introduce a more uplifting note, I have adapted Rupert Brooke: “That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever Macclesfield”; and to note what pretty places the last resting places of Oswald Parker and John Brazier are. I mention this because my request for contributions to the 2021 celebration of MRUFC Fallen, last month, has attracted three volunteers already, a quick reminder; the 2020 celebrations of VE Day were overtaken by the pandemic so it is my intention to recognise all thirteen people named on the Club’s Roll of Honour by placing a wreath from the Club at their respective places of commemoration, anyone who would like to assist in this project, in any way, please contact me via the Rugby Club.
So to August 1968, normal service is resumed with the Club announcing that the new season was to be preceded by a novel fund raising event: a Tug of War competition, hosted by British Champions Bosley Wood Treatment. Local teams were to compete against the best available. Bosley Wood Treatment have had a long standing relationship with the Rugby Club, no doubt because sundry ‘strong-in-arm, strong-in-head forwards, believed they could prevail over a team of scrawny chaps from the sticks – pulling on a rope. Happily Bosley were able to show humility in victory and never had the opportunity to show grace in defeat! Some, Glyn Jones, made it in both sports, some, David Owens, ended up making more noise than sense but all of the competitors enjoyed their sport!
August 1968 was the occasion for a once in a while calendar oddity that saw the August Bank Holiday fall on Monday 2nd Sept, so for the first time ever Macclesfield opened their new season on the ‘August’ Bank Holiday, away to Burnage. This was a new fixture list and at that time generally considered to be Macclesfield’s strongest fixture to date, even though second on the fixture list was a mid-week tussle with nearest and dearest, Wilmslow, at Tytherington; old friendships endure, respect continues!
The Club quite rightly lauds its mini/junior section, as so many have made the transition into the senior ranks leading the charge up the Leagues. Even in August 1975 this leadership was evident as the Mini/Junior section announced an unusually early start to their training programme with the under 11s and under 12s commencing training on the 10th August and all others on the 24thAugust. The veterans of the Third team (later to form the core of the official Vets team) led by the original Peter Harper, were left to wonder what all the hurry was about as they were still waiting for their shorts to be returned from the dry cleaners.
Nevertheless, for the senior players with aspirations, new Club captain, Dave Phillips, had arranged two pre-season trial games in August and felt able to pencil in much of his squad for the early season fixtures. Relative old stagers such as Malcolm Lyons, Peter Ord, Terry Rigby, and Tony Close were included whilst even older stagers such as Peter Harper senior, Carl Hancox, and Dave Owens, still considered themselves to be in the mix. Obviously the latter were not sure what the mix was that they were in. Nevertheless optimism abounded as new fixtures with Rodillians and Derby were confirmed alongside the retention of old favourites Oldham and Warrington. There was even talk of an Isle of Man tour in Easter despite the current holiday season still being in full swing!
August 1999 was probably the first time that MRUFC has engaged in serious competitive rugby in the actual month of August. Coach Dean Kenny, still Macclesfield’s only actual All Black (albeit limited to two caps from the bench), led the First team to Rochdale to commence their first ever foray into the National Cup competition. This season it was called the Tetley Bitter Cup, in other years it had been the Pilkington Cup and various other sponsor titles. There was great excitement around the fixture even though most of the excited personnel were still on their summer holidays. As seen from the team that day many ‘famous’ people were turning out including the, now, coach of the Ladies team (Simon Dempsey), the father of current first team starlet Harry Harding (Matthew Harding), Manager and sometime third team stalwart (Simon Grant) and sundry henchmen of the Bostocks fourth team (Steve Mannion and Scott Goodfellow). So the one club ethos actually has a long lifeline! Most notable for was the appearance of John Plant in the centre; John deserves an article all to himself. In an era when the moniker ‘sporting legend’ is freely and mostly inappropriately used, John is, or was, a true legend of Macclesfield Rugby Club. Centre, second row, prop, flanker, prodigious goal kicker, one time Sale player and sometime poet, Renaissance Man! With this ‘legend’ in their midst Macclesfield beat Rochdale in this preliminary round to earn an away tie at Spalding. Sadly Spalding at that time home club of another club starlet, Joe Barber, prevailed 22-17 to end the nascent dreams of a Twickenham visit.
As the 2011-12 season drew into view Macclesfield were looking forward to their second season in the third tier of English rugby. The previous season they had managed to finish in third position, so expectations were high. In the pre-season trials/friendlies, played in August, the first and second teams played Rotherham and Wilmslow respectively. For the Blues it was an impressive 28-21 victory over Championship outfit Rotherham Titans. The Lions took on and lost to a determined Wilmslow side. And so to the first game of the season Wharfedale at home on Saturday 27th August! No need for ‘legends’ to pick up a convincing victory, 31-12. No need for ‘legends’ but it is interesting to wonder, nearly a decade later, where are the stars of yesteryear. The answer is mostly not here, but as the Club seeks to generate its One Club community ethos it’s good to see that the hooker of the day was Sam Moss and the No. 8 Frankie Barker are still hanging in there, whilst inside centre, Tom Davenport, is now involved with club administration.
And so to August 2019, history is in the past not necessarily the dim and distant past! The Cheshire Cup kicked off early with the Blues drawn away at neighbours Sandbach, in a game that was played before August was out! Given that Sandbach were playing at Level 5 (Midlands division bizarrely) Coach Andy Appleyard decided to use the game as a ‘for real’ pre-season run-out. The side was unusually young, average age 21, and contained a high proportion of Macc Lads, twelve of them coming up through the Juniors and Colts. One, Will Davies, secured the 30-31 win courtesy of a last minute penalty. Thus Macclesfield qualified for an extra early season run-out at home to Chester who were playing one level higher. The difference in power told as Macclesfield subsided to a defeat. This game was played 31st August 2019. So as opposed to years past, Macclesfield were able to enjoy a cup run and conclude it all before August was out, what would the Vets of yesteryear have made of that?