76 YEARS OF DECEMBER RUGBY

By Bob Jenner

December is just halfway through the northern hemisphere season, in these days of competitive rugby (I wish) it is the ‘turning point’ of the season as the fixture list goes into reverse so its also the start of new and better things (there’s the half full approach) . Sadly, for one of MRUFCs many brave servicemen, it marked the end of life. On 31stDecember 1944 Pilot, Charles Hyde, of 150thSquadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve died during a flying mission over Germany; buried at Reichswald Forest War Cemetery in Germany.  Over the course of this year I have cited all 13 of the players who are named on the Club’s Honours Board.  In May they were to have been commemorated as part of the 75th VE Day celebrations, the pandemic meant that never happened. As part of the ‘New Year, new spirit’ approach I have initiated a project to recognise these 13 and their links to Macclesfield and rugby by laying wreaths for all of them on VE day 2021.  Whilst most are commemorated at the Centotaph in Park Green a number are also commemorated closer to the place they died or on national memorials. For those it might be a little bit special if we could lay a wreath at those places, to misquote Rupert Brooke, “think only this of me: that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever Macclesfield”. I already have support for the wreath laying in the Portsmouth area, so this is a request for contacts in Singapore, Northern France (Calvados region), Limburg in the Netherlands, Runnymeade in Surrey, Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany, Somme in France, and Prince Edward Island in Canada. 

Happier reminisces of December’s past come from the sixties, specifically 1961 when  Bill Mitchell continued to kick goals for the first team whose  playing form was patchy, Mitchell himself did not score a try until the first game played in December. As snow caused games to be cancelled the First Team playing record was: played 13, won 9, lost 4 points scored 174 points conceded 97 hardly a points-fest regardless of the fact that it was only 3 points for a try! The other three teams had remarkably similar playing records. The ‘A’ XV p13, w7, l4, drew2, for 124, against 53; Extra ‘A’ XV p11, w7, l4 for140, against60; ‘B’ XV p6, w4, l2, for120, against 53. Against this patchy playing record the highlight of December was the final game before Christmas which saw another tradition initiated when the first team selected a number of students (former Kings School pupils) returning from university. They duly beat Cheadle Hulme. The first team were already a baby-faced group without the students, and to continue the ‘war poets’ miss-quoting: “age shall not weary them’.

The 1961 team featuring, Wilf Potts and John Taylor alongside their “leader” Bill Mitchell. Looks like Wilf was sporting a bit of a dodgy knee even then!

 

The theme of December first team debuts for students continued into 1963 when another King School starlet Ernie Bowyer made his debut. This was a highly successful season for both of the Club’s top teams with the first team’s run of successes being matched by the second team who by beating Manchester YMCA recorded their 8thwin on the trot. After losing their opening fixtures the first team remained unbeaten through the remainder of the year. The seemingly unbeatable first team nearly crashed at Sheffield Tigers but managed to keep their unbeaten run going with a second draw of the season. They reached the end of the calendar year with a very creditable playing record of played 16, won 10, drawn 2, lost 4.

In December 1965 the first team again were enjoying a successful run but now the darker side of rugby emerged as teams tried everything they could to break the winning sequence. This culminated in a free for all at Leigh with Chris Shingles donating a few teeth to the cause following a stiff arm tackle in the first minute of the game. The game progressed with fists and boots flying everywhere in what many old-timers would recognise as old school rugby. Eventually ‘Dai’ Jones had to be withdrawn to have a wound stitched up. In the face of this adversity Macclesfield did well to draw 11-11. The team then went through the remainder of the season unbeaten picking up notable scalps of Wilmslow and Saxons along the way. In doing so they established a record sequence being unbeaten from December 18th scoring 403 points whilst conceding only 59 points. Over the whole season the playing record has rarely been bettered 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).

Then in December 1967 a Foot and Mouth epidemic in the area created some havoc with the fixture list. Although this did not affect the game at Winnington Park, a defeat! This time the reverse was nothing to do with the Foot and Mouth outbreak or even the “foot in mouth” violence of other years and games. It was more likely related to the foot and mouth of the Annual Dinner the previous night! For the second team the last game of the calendar year was notable for more than a win away at Manchester Old Boys, 9-3. Their back division included for the first time three Joneses, all unrelated; Jack (future Chairman of Mini/Junior section), Peter (future Club President) and Phil (future Assistant Head Groundsman). Their scrum half that day was another in the long line of Kings School students playing for the club during the Christmas break, none other than Steve Smith who would later go on to captain England.

In December 1977 the snow came in and Winter proper commenced, again causing havoc to the fixture list but not before Clive Kershaw racked up 100 points for the season in a narrow loss to Winnington Park. The second team continued their new tradition of fielding not one but two internationals: Peter Glover – England, and Ian Muchie – Scotland B, in their win. 

During the seventies Peter Glover and family had moved to Macclesfield, and played out his remaining years of senior rugby with the Club. He was an extraordinarily big and strong winger for those times (pre Jonah Lomu) and added much needed skill to the Macclesfield back line. One of Peter’s international shirts is included in the collection of artefacts accumulated by the club.

Peter Glover’s swapped Australia shirt

 

As the Winter weather began to result in cancellations it may have been a little surprising that the thirds refused to play Oldham but the fracas of the previous season (which had seen sending offs and hospital visits) was maybe good cause. The first team loss at Oldham saw the introduction of Peter Glover and Nick Hynes into the team adding useful experience and bulk to the young side. And then at the very end of the year, a new 6thteam turned out for the first time, but sadly they lost.

Teams from 1977 to 1979 with Harpo kneeling in front of Peter Glover

In December 1984 the club registered a number of representative places in Cheshire sides. The Cheshire ‘B’ XV that played Lancashire on the 11thDecember contained three representatives from the Blues; David Taylor was hooking, with Club and 1stXV captain Martin Ainsley playing at openside, and a young Steve Henshall on the bench. Meanwhile the Cheshire Schools Under 18s had Mike Hall playing at full back. Mike was a rare specimen in the sense that he was at Fallibroome, not one of the well recognised rugby schools of Cheshire or even Macclesfield. Mike would later go on to play with distinction for the Blues 1stXV. 

Editors Notes

Rugby eventually returned to Priory Park on Saturday, with a Government approved crowd in the stand. The restricted numbers were also allowed to take a drink there from the Sin Bin bar, as long as they were seated!

Matt Thorpe on the charge

 

Macclesfield Blues played Macclesfield Whites in what was a full-blooded affair, full on tackling, played in the adapted format of no scrums and mauls. Other than the players from tier three and the odd injury, it was the full first team squad with a couple of guest appearances. The Whites took the early lead with a couple of tries, the only friendly twist being that the scorer was required to take the conversion; this was evidently not fully explained to Sam Stelmazec, as the Polish international proceeded to fire the ball into the bottom half of the posts for his attempted conversions. It was ‘nip and tuck’ for most of the match, with brotherly contests between the Oliver twins and the Davies brothers. Alex Davies looked particularly sharp at 9, speeding in for a couple of tries, with his brother Will on the opposing team kicking very well. With James Oliver at 7 and his brother at 13 there was the chance of some brotherly needle, I did see one big hit from James but not sure who the recipient was! The props scored a bag of tries between them, with the conversion of the day going to James Cross, who’s kick soared over the top of the posts. All the new boys did well, as did the returnees, with back-row Matt Harrison looking very sharp.

It was a game of four, twenty minute quarters with the lead changing hands several times, the Blues edged it at the death 27 – 25. Head Coach Andy Appleyard was very pleased with the game: “We were itching to get out there; and in the end it turned into quite a good game”. The only downside was my rusty performance on the mic, mixing up players: Simeon Meek, James Cross and Mark Irvin to name but three; plus my “Whaa-Hoo” machine playing just whenever it liked! The next scheduled fixture is 16th January, a warm-up before the first match in our mini merit table on the 23rd; however this may all change after the Christmas festivities – and on that note a “Happy Christmas to all”.


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