By Bob Jenner
Traditionally April was the Sunset Month for British rugby players; a month that the fifteens season finished, that the short game (sevens) commenced and that wannabe stay-at-homes (those players who found it difficult to be available for away games during the season) suddenly grew made themselves available for such trips as Leamington or Rugby. For Macclesfield, the season never started, although there will be rugby played before next season starts!
In April 1981, the season came to its conclusion in both senses, as Spring ushered in first, unseasonably high rainfall, and then a blizzard! In this meteorological carnage, on the pitch, a young 1st team, beat Bolton to make progress in the Griffon Plaque with Lol Mellor winning Man of Match. The Griffon Plaque was a trophy sponsored by Broughton Park, open to junior clubs in the Manchester area. Apart from the trophy itself, the winners obtained a pre-season friendly with Broughton Park, as the trophy was all part of Broughton Park’s drive to run a rule across talent in the area – that they then might poach. This is why Broughton Park was part of the four-team sequence that opened Priory Park. The first team then managed to record a big win over Shrewsbury before the freak blizzard brought a premature end to the season. Whilst all this was happening the U14s and U16s went on tour to South Wales.
Twenty years earlier (April 1963) a strong Macclesfield Seven appeared in the 31st Manchester Sevens. Over the past sixty years, clubs’ fortunes have ebbed and flowed and so fixtures look more-or-less daunting today, back then Liverpool and St Helens were two different clubs playing at the top end of the game. As were Manchester, Fylde and Broughton Park, with the strong North West clubs such as Waterloo, New Brighton, Preston Grasshoppers all taking part making this a significant competition. The Macclesfield seven featured Dai Jones (Welsh schoolboy Honors), Peter Holland (Cheshire) and two of our own: Peter Jones (father of 1st team coach Richard Jones and David Miller (who has sometimes been confused for Philip ‘Nemmy’ Jones, albeit only in Nemmy’s lunchbox!). This talented squad over ran Old Salfordians 15-3 to advance to a game against Grasshoppers. They squeezed past Grasshoppers 8-5 and then more convincingly Hull and East Riding 9-0. Sadly, they came unstuck against Waterloo, 8-6 in the semi-finals, this being no disgrace as Waterloo went on to thrash Broughton Park 19-8 in the final.
During the following decade, the Club combined end of season sevens with the end of season touring, when in April 1978 a large contingent boarded the Steam Packet for the Isle of Man Easter tournament. Besides returning with some silverware, the Plate, several of the party earned kudos that would never leave them. Abiding by tour rules names are omitted but a former President/Chairman, who “knows most things about most things” and who currently resides in Sandbach earned the moniker “Biggles” for his refusal to return by Steam Packet, and insisted that he would return by plane. This crisis of confidence was seemingly related to digestive problems during the rougher than the usual outbound journey.
In April 1984 the Colts team made another visit to the final of the Colts Shield. This time to play a fancied Birkenhead Park team who had the rare privilege of playing a final on their own turf. Sadly, in an extremely tight affair, the Blues returned home on the wrong side of a 4-3 score-line! The Macclesfield squad that day contained several players who would feature prominently in the Club’s future successes playing for both Club 1st XV and the Senior County side. As well as the Gray brothers, John and Howard, there were two offspring of MRUFC ‘royalty’. David Miller’s son, Chris – a winger with the same nose for the try line as his father; and one of John Taylor’s sons, Iain, destined to become the oldest player to represent the first team at the Club.
In more recent times, April 2005 to be exact, the collision of longevity and touring reached an epoch when the Vets, sadly, no longer existing, went on a ‘classical tour’ of Verona – staying in Venice. Clearly, none can be named for fear of breaching tour rules, and public sensitivities, but a small and unprintable photo does exist of a small group of boater-capped gentlemen serenading and caressing Juliet beneath the famous balcony (Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for the younger fraternity).
Wilkey remembers, what little he can: “It was not an uncommon theme for the Vets’ end of season tour to be based somewhere completely different, to where the game would be played. Marbella to Seville was a bit of a coach-trip but worth it, for a big win and an even bigger post-match drinking party. This was to be topped by the Scandinavian tour, staying in Copenhagen and playing in Sweden. It did not start well; the tourists being booked into a temperance hotel! However, Tour Manager Danny Sheratte redeemed himself with the Dinner venue, finding an ‘Eat and Drink as much as you want’ restaurant. The establishment possibly changing their set-priced menu after the Macc Vets’ gorging! What followed, has gone down in the annals of Vets history, with folk in Sweden, Denmark and the UK, still having sleepless nights. The contest against Malmo was somewhat of an anti-climax, but the impromptu, televised performance, of a tour member’s version of ‘Lavender Trousers’ in front of a large Danish crowd, would seal the tour.
The Vets’ team toured, in April, virtually every year for 40 years many times to Pwllheli, and were unbeaten in mainland Europe, except for being set up against a regional eclectic team in Antibes. Crossing the Irish Sea would be a frequent foray with tours to Cork; one of Kevin Wright’s old clubs, Letterkenny; and the big-bash at Ballymena for Will Montgomery’s swansong. When the Vets could no longer get fixtures some joined forces with the 4th team and the end-of-season tradition continued.”
So, in conclusion, the Fourth’s recent Tour of the Car Park and Sin Bin, is the latest in a long and successful end-of-season tradition and wholly appropriate that it should occur in April 2021 as that marked a whole year of ‘rugby absence’ as it was just over a year since the unprecedented announcement “Last night the RFU, acting upon government advice, suspended all professional and community rugby in England from today 17th March 2020
until Tuesday 14th April, subject to continued review.” And as we now know Tuesday, April 17th 2020 marked the end of rugby activities for a year.