RUGBY OCTOBER-FEAST

Last weekend saw another mini-festival of rugby at Priory Park; two days of sport, as all of the squads turned up to join in the Ready4Rugby format of the game. All games were played on the main pitch starting with a morning session of Walking (very quickly) Rugby, with many of the older players welcoming the 15-minute breaks for hand sanitisation. This was followed by the social rugby teams combining with the Ladies, followed by the Senior Squad. The last games of ten-a-side were played on the full-size pitch with 1st teamers and Colts joining in, in what was a fast and furious contest. Sunday saw the entire Mini and Junior sections join in the fun, but only after they had all assembled to remember Patryk Milner of Sandbach Under 8’s who tragically died last week.

Andy Appleyard was very pleased with the weekend’s activity: “Our ‘One Club’ ethos was plain to see over the weekend with the on-pitch banter from the old guys playing Walking Rugby, the Ladies joining in with the men, young girls with muddy faces and Colts taking their first steps to Senior Rugby playing alongside 1st teamers”.

Yet to happen in October 2020 is the Rugby Club, along with Macclesfield Amateur Dramatic Society (MADS), hosting ‘Priory Park Horror’; a three-evening, pre Halloween scare-fest.  From 28th – 30th October groups of 4 to 6 people are invited to discover the hidden secrets of Priory Park’s haunted hallows. Not for the faint-hearted, full details on the Club website.

On a somewhat earlier October date, in October 1876 the various football organisations within the town amalgamated to form Macclesfield Football Club. Initially, alternate rugby and association football matches were played at Boughey Lane but gradually both forms of football were adopted in their own right and for reasons unknown, Rugby football declined in Macclesfield as Association football became the primary form of football. As we move the timeline forward rugby football reappeared in Macclesfield in the mid-1920s. Now the Club was very much a junior, on the local sporting scene, and certainly could not boast any playing facilities that it could call its own. As befits the Club’s early nomadic existence, games were played on any field that they could hire. These fields included Congleton Road, Chester Road opposite the Cock Inn, and Fallibroome (on the same farm land that would later become Priory Park). After the Second World War, pitches on London Road were used and an agreement was reached to build a Clubhouse. The building of the Clubhouse commenced with the cutting of the first sod for the foundations on October 17th, 1949 and was undertaken by members at week-ends.

As sports fans around the world know, a new ground brings with it all the optimism of the sporting world; our team will suddenly become the best ever, more people will be interested in our fate, world domination beckons! And so it was for MRUFC in 1961 when the club moved to Tytherington. The move was expected to deliver two benefits at that time; a better fixture list and more players. Sadly, the first of these became embroiled in the inherent amateurism of the time and took some years to materialise. But on the 14th October 1961 the second was delivered, perhaps not big-style but delivered; as for the first time ever a fourth team was selected. Formally known as the ‘B’ XV they duly established an unbeaten record by winning their first game. In the context of the time, this was a notable result, as the First Team continued their own losing record throughout October, first against Old Hulmesians and finally Burnage. The losing streak was eventually broken by a win against Crewe, a game notable for the debut of schoolboy Mike Welch who set up the winning try for Wilf Potts who himself was continuing to show great promise on the wing. Mike would later feature as a selector for the Club’s senior sides, one of a famous triumvirate; Welch, Pastore and Ashley, all names that younger readers should note for future history lessons! Meanwhile, Wilf continued to demonstrate his sprightly moves, on game Saturdays at Priory Park, whenever the immortal words “can I buy you a drink?” are whispered. The fanfare that had welcomed a new team soon became a cacophony as the ‘B’ XV lost for the first time, at Davenport, before October was out. This sadly momentous event was overshadowed, by the announcement that floodlights had been installed in one area of the grounds to enable dark night training. In keeping with the tradition of not having too much money to spend, the club asked members to pay for the use of the lights on a weekly basis! I’m not sure whether this approach had encouraged or discouraged players to train.  

Given the notable Macclesfield representation within the Cheshire RFU, it is perhaps slightly surprising that senior County honours were rarer than hen’s teeth, although in early October 1962, Alan McInnes, a sporting legend to many Maxonians, and sportsmen per se in the North West, was selected to trial for Cheshire. The trial was held at New Brighton and Alan acquitted himself well, albeit not well enough to achieve selection. Many other ‘Macc Lads’ had achieved this recognition but only after leaving the club a tradition started by T Hough in 1930 who played many times for Cheshire, when after he had moved from Macclesfield to Broughton Park, and then Wilmslow. As it happened the slight of McInnes would not last too long.  Following two years of multiple players appearing in trials, in the 1966-7 season four players: P Holland, D Jones, J Robinson and A Hope, were selected to play in the Cheshire Presidents XV at the County trial. Peter Holland was the only one to get through to the final trial and duly made his County debut against the UAU at Wilmslow, where his fly-half was… Alan McInnes (Alan had left Macclesfield and was playing for Sale). This county pair played for a couple of seasons at Macclesfield, including an outstanding Sevens win at Tytherington. 

One of the traditions, of at least the past 60 years, in most sporting clubs is for players when they get too old, is to begin to believe they are the best players of this and previous generations. A significant part of this tradition is often for someone to suggest that their collective talent be pooled and displayed to an admiring audience on a regular basis. At MRUFC this collective pool of so-called talent first emerged in the late 1960s when a team entitled The Tankards emerged out of the ‘bottom end’ of the club. By 1974 a new-order of Legends-in-their-own-lunchtime replaced the Tankards. This new new-order emerged out of the third team, which became home to a group of still active senior players who no longer wished to play first-team rugby. They were keen to provide an environment for introducing young players into senior rugby but less keen on promoting those players into more senior teams. This much was evident in their success in getting through to the end of October before tasting defeat for the first time. This first defeat, against Old Instonians, was further notable for two other events. It saw the first try conceded by the team and it saw the introduction of a young John Watts, who would later represent the first team with much distinction. The regular team featured a core of old lags, such as Peter Harper senior, Rick Connor, and Ken Culley. Indeed Peter Harper, as captain and selector-in-chief (sole selector actually) soon began reprising the Mike Bannister role of many years earlier. Probably because of his experience on market stalls Peter became an expert cajoler of player,s persuading players, old and new, to turn out for the Third team on an exclusive basis! However his charms did not extend to his own son, Peter junior, who was introduced to senior rugby through the Thirds, but in October 1975 emerged as a first-team regular.

October 1975 provided another highly significant event for rugby in the town. Over the weekend of 18th October teams from Macclesfield had played and won 17 games of rugby. The cumulative result was played 17, won 17, points scored 479 points conceded 43. This astonishing result was achieved when 5 club teams beat Hoylake, 6 Kings teams beat William Hulmes, the Club’s Colts beat Heaton Moor, and 3 mini/junior teams beat Kersal and Ashton on Mersey. 

October 1976 saw the emerging talent of the Under 10s narrowly lose in the final of a competition at Chester despite scoring over 100 points in the competition. Sadly the Chester competition did not complete without some controversy. Forever trying to ensure player safety, particularly young players, the organisers had introduced an additional limitation, that of player weight. Thus players like boxers had to “come in” under a seven stone (c45kilos) weight limit. All went well until Wilmslow asked for a Macclesfield player, Gregory Spenser, to be reweighed. Sad to report Spenser failed the weigh-in and was not allowed to take any further part in the competition! 

In October 1977 Abercynon came touring to the North West, from a dim and distant South Wales. As Abercynon were the ancestral home of Dai Jones, who had played and coached Macclesfield with distinction in the sixties, they were accorded due respect and cordialities. The opposing skippers were discussing the imminent game, and confirming that a neutral referee had been appointed they were interrupted by a shout from Alan Johnson (a future President of the club), confirming his appointment to referee the game. That bit was simple, explaining to Abercynon that Alan was a senior and much respected member of the Manchester Referees Society and just happened to live in a house that backed on to the clubhouse was rather less simple. But Alan was as scrupulous as ever, despite his home town leanings, and Abercynon obtained their win. The end of October saw another dramatic announcement the Club had bought the Royal Oak pub in King Edward Street. The pub was to be run as a separate business entity within a MRUFC business group. The first manager for the pub was named as John Marshall and he was to be assisted by his wife Rhona (And what became of that Ed?).

 


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