By Bob Jenner
Those that have driven past Priory Park during the past 12 months will recognise that this photo is not stage-managed; it is a snap-shot in time, a time when rugby was about to be played at Priory Park. The notice board at the time was advertising the next fixture, versus Wirral, the game became the first victim of the pandemic for Macclesfield, as several of the Wirral squad had contracted or been in contact with those that had contracted COVID-19. The game was postponed, but just one week later the North Premier League season was put to bed and never resurrected. Following the recent Government announcements we now eagerly await the return of this and other full-contact games of rugby.
Rather further back in time, in 1942 actually, the country was in a similar ‘lockdown’ but this time as a response to the global conflict of World War 2. In Macclesfield, as elsewhere, there was no scheduled rugby being played and hadn’t been played for two years, but still, as now, a need for people to entertain themselves, keep fit and stay strong, and to provide relief from the stresses of wartime. So, on the 21st March 1942 a Macclesfield XV played a XV representing the 81stRegiment Royal Artillery. I have written about this game previously because it is/was one of the few times that Rugby Football was played at the Moss Rose. The game featured several notable personalities in Macclesfield Rugby history, plus an Argentine international.
Macclesfield’s Captain that day was G.P.Siggins (brother of W Siggins, one of the ‘Originals’ who had reformed the Club back in 1926). Siggins was the first captain of a Macclesfield second team. Interestingly, the match-day programme featured the forwards as two rows of four, one wonders if they actually played that way or was it the printer’s lack of rugby know-how? Accompanying ‘G.P’ in the front row was AA Arnold who had joined the Club in 1937 when he was a member of the Kings School staff. And to complete the Kings School connection their scrum half, S Taylor, was a studying Kings School boy. All three would serve the Club for many years on-and-off the pitch, but it is unknown if any were as old as the Club President, Peter Harper, when they first wheedled their way into this game of rugby. But the real kudos was the referee that day; a Dr. AC Gilles, ‘Sandy’ Gilles was a Macclesfield player and their first full capped international, having played for Scotland 12 times, including helping them to win their first-ever Grand Slam in 1925. Possibly due to work commitments Sandy, who was a medical doctor, joined Macclesfield in 1929 and never had the opportunity to play for Scotland whilst registered with Macclesfield.
Fast forward to the 10th March 1962, when the first team played their first drawn game in over two years, against Toc H. This was one of the few playing hiccups that season as the team enjoyed a successful first full season at their new facilities in Tytherington. That March the Club had beaten a touring Metropolitan Police side and Cheadle Hulme before losing to Old Sandbachians. They continued to give schoolboys debuts, notably from Wilmslow GS a
young Davenport, who would later play for Sandbach and Norman Galley who would later play piano at the Club’s Annual Carol Service at the Bulls Head, Kerridge. Whilst Kings School pupils remained to the fore, notably Mike Welch, whose brother Peter had been a key member of the Committee that got the Club going again after the Second World War and also no-less-than the quick-silver David Miller who would go on to teach Philip ‘Nemmy’ Jones everything Nemmy ever knew about wing play. It was must have been a lot of knowledge because 10 years later (March 1972) the same Philip Jones scored 29 points for the second team against Crewe.
So March, a month when clocks go forward and old players start to brush down equally old boots, in the hope of a return to equally old playing successes be that in a pick-up game, a second-team fixture at Crewe or just a friendly against a bunch of touring ‘Rozzers’……oh what wouldn’t we give for that now?
Bob continues to unearth historical gems, and who knows March 2021 may gain a small entry in Macclesfield Rugby Club’s history, as from Monday March 29th rugby returns to Priory Park with the first step to the game we have not been able to enjoy for 12 months.