By Bob Jenner
This year Macclesfield Rugby Club was unable to mark Remembrance Sunday in their usual way. However, the Club held a ‘reduced numbers’ commemoration, with a representative from every age grade, senior teams, executive committee and the Alikadoos. A record of it can be seen on the Club’s Facebook page. One of the names listed at this service was 2ndLieutenant, Peter Gibbs who was killed in action 23rd November 1944. As well as being a keen rugby man he was a prominent member of Prestbury Cricket Club. His story is one of infinite tragedy through war. Peter joined the Club in season 1937-8 one of a large group from Kings School. His father had gained the Military Cross for bravery during the First World War, dying in action only 3 years after Peter’s birth, his body was never recovered. This was the same fate for Peter who was killed in action on 23rd November 1944, Peter died without seeing his newborn daughter.
Although the formation of MRUFC predates the introduction of rugby at Kings, the Club has always enjoyed a strong link with the King’s School. So when a meeting was called to see if there was any interest in rugby, there was no King’s School to be called on, it was just a ‘bunch of lads’ who fancied a kick-around (although in those days being a ‘hack’ rather than ‘kick’). What has this to do with November I hear some of our more thoughtful readers saying? Well from such an inauspicious start, scraping around for players for the first game (played on 1st January 1926) by November 1927 such was the interest that a second team was fielded. The team for this momentous occasion being: J. Kirkwood, A. Moore, B. Smith, J. Harrison, R. Darlington, R. Bull, C. C. Arnold, G. Rowson, B Hargreaves, F McGowan, W. Snape, S Worthington, W. Geeson, R Parish and N. Pickford; although W Geeson had actually been one of the ‘founders’, and alongside R Bull graduated to the first team the following year.
The Sixties (twentieth-century version) was not short of November news; continuing the link between School and Club, on the 4th November 1961, an ex-Kings School captain and all-round sporting icon, Alan McInnes, made his debut for the Club, away at Bowdon. Alan was one of a long and continuing line of former Kings’ pupils to star for MRUFC. An outstanding sportsman who gave long service to the Cricket Club, played rugby union at Sale and for Cheshire and eventually played and coached Rugby League for Salford and then Wigan.
Of course, it is widely believed that if you remember the Sixties you weren’t there, well the Club managed to invent ways other than illegal substances to induce amnesia – mainly primed by the original Amnesiac Ale, Higsons finest. Over many years it was deemed ‘a good idea’ to hold the annual Club Dinner on a Friday night in November. November 1962 was merely an example of this ‘good idea’ in action. No one should be surprised that the first team lost at home to Davenport (Stockport) on December 1st given that on November the 30th, the night before the game, the Club had held its Annual Dinner! The Macclesfield Express carried reports of “noise from the clubhouse” and “complaints from neighbours”. Inevitably there were several absentees on the following day and few of those present were better for the wear! But surely the truth of the old adage of ‘form is temporary class is permanent’ was exhibited the following year which would be one of the most successful seasons ever for the Club. In November the first team were unbeaten, led by the promising back division that included Peter Jones, Peter Holland and Paul Delight, even beating the representative side Saxons, in a game that starred not for the first time Alan McInnes. And their prowess extended to the biggest win in three seasons, against Whitchurchians, despite the annual dinner the night before!
The 1964-5 season was another highly successful season; by the end of October, the only reverse on the fixture list was a 6-3 defeat against Manchester; a club that enjoyed a senior status in the English game. This fixture against exalted opponents was a reward for Macclesfield winning the Manchester 7s the previous season (yes, elitism pre-dated today’s blazers). The second team went one better than the first team by winning all eight of their games to date. And remarkably on November 7th 1964 all four senior sides won, an event that at the time was as rare as senior clubs granting fixtures to so-called junior clubs. Through this run, the first team’s back division was skilfully led by Paul Delight with a number of sparkling performances from David Miller, Peter Holland, Alan McInnes and Peter Jones. In the middle of that November Macclesfield were awarded another ‘senior’ fixture, Sale ‘A’ team (obviously Sale were even more senior than Manchester). A big crowd turned up to see Macclesfield win this first game, 11-0, and the Macclesfield ‘A’ team narrowly lose to Sale Extra ‘A’ (third team). As an aside, keen observers will note the style of the jersey worn by MRUFC that season; locally it caused a great deal of comment because it looked remarkably like a Rugby League shirt! Happily it didn’t seem to affect their playing rugby union.
Despite all this success on the playing side this particular November confirmed that amateurish administration and mysterious incapacities were still the order of the day. So, having successfully negotiated the rigours of a Friday night Club Dinner in November, the first team turned up at Sheffield University to be told that their first team had actually travelled to play a game in the Yorkshire Cup, but the University second string were ready to fulfil the fixture! Despite some contentious referring and presumably worsening hangovers, they continued their winning sequence, albeit narrowly. After the match the stalwart of the forward pack, Robin Thompstone was reported to be unavailable for 8 weeks due to, quote, ‘indisposition’. Presumably, the medical staff had no magic sponge for ‘indisposition’.
November 1971 saw the formal introduction of another Macclesfield institution, Mini Rugby. Every Sunday morning during the month over 70 Primary School aged boys converged on the Tytherington ground to learn and play Mini-Rugby. This was a form of rugby introduced by the RFU to the game, beyond the traditional private and grammar schools (the blazers beginning to come out of their natural habitat?). Macclesfield was one of the first North-West clubs to introduce Mini-Rugby. Dai Jones, first-team coach and Kings School teacher, led the introduction of Mini-Rugby to Macclesfield, assisted by a number of other Kings masters. At the outset, it was aimed at teaching the game but fairly quickly plans were formulated to extend the sessions into a weekly programme of games and training. The administration was quickly formalised and George Lewis was elected as first Chairman of the Mini-Junior section.
As November 1976 arrived the first team faced a perennial problem, the first weekend scheduled the annual Club Dinner on the Friday evening, Shrewsbury away on the Saturday and Bowdon in the Cheshire Cup on the Sunday. A storm brewing! The result of the first fixture, a loss, could have been written before the game was played. But on the Sunday Geoff Nicholls made a welcome return from injury and Clive Kershaw (another of the King’s School production line) made his first-team debut to help the team beat Bowdon and advance in the Cup. That Sunday also saw a family dynasty being reinforced as the Club’s oldest player (at that time), Peter Harper watched his youngest son, Tim, make his debut for the U11s, then his oldest son, Peter, turning out for the for the first team. Elsewhere another family dynasty was being developed in the junior section where Justin Thomas was turning out for the U12s, Neil Thomas for the U10s, and Brendan Thomas for the U8s. Brendan had the ‘fortune’ to be coached by their father, Terry (later Lord) Thomas. All three boys would go on to play first-team rugby at the Club.
As November 2019 came round the plying fortunes of the second team/Lions were looking decidedly jaded. Through November 2019 the second team suffered a string of reverses and it was clear that strong leadership and sharp focus on the desired outcomes were needed. Fortunately, the second team had ‘men wearing underpants on the outside of their tights’; the leadership triumvirate of Sam Jones (captain) Jim Curtis (manager) and Pete Langley (coach) sat down and discussed how to attack the bad run of form. Their solution was right out of the ‘Old School Playbook’ and presented itself via the upcoming away game at Fylde on the Lancashire coast. Yes! The trip to Fylde was to become one for the charabanc, a step along the way to rebuild team morale. Despite fiscal concerns from T’ Committee and ignoring the fact that because of injuries it was unlikely that enough travellers would pitch up to fill a pony and trap, let alone a modern coach, the bus was ordered. Surprisingly on the anointed day an orderly queue formed to gain entry onto the bus. Unsurprisingly the queue was headed by a strong contingent of Alikadoos, followed by most of the ‘I’m Injured so Can’t Play’ brigade, leaving just enough room for the team. Whilst the result did not go their way (and protocols demand that what went on tour stays on tour) it seems that the opportunity to give the Christmas jumpers a workout and the mandatory wheel inspection in a lay-by somewhere south of Lytham had the desired effect on team morale – Rossendale being duly dismantled at Priory Park the following week. In an astonishing game the Lions managed to hang on to an 8 point lead with 13 men and 10 minutes remaining and so commenced a successful run. I was taught that history provides us lessons for the future, so it was ever thus.
Today the Club has received what is hopefully good news for the New Year. The RFU has developed a new ‘local cluster’ based competition for clubs at level five and below. The format of the game will be that agreed between the RFU and Government, under return to contact rugby protocols and is likely, at least initially, to involve law adaptations. Clubs are being asked to opt-in; on the basis of home and away fixtures being played on what seems to be a flexible basis (from hopefully the New Year). Macclesfield’s cluster would contain the following suggested clubs: Birkenhead Park, Lymm, Northwich, Wilmslow, Waterloo and Wirral.