To tour has to be the ambition of all rugby players and it could be said no club takes this more seriously than Old Isleworthians. Our touring began in 1960 shortly after our formation. The first of many trips to the Isle of White was followed in 1968 by our first trip to the continent winning three matches vs. Kituro/Avia in Brussles, RAF Rhendhalen and RAF Laarbruch in Germany. In 1976 we started a tradition of touring twice per season which has lead to an outstanding record of sixty-two tours in past thirty-one years.
Since the advent of league rugby and the demise of playing opposition ‘through the card’ it’s this tradition of touring and encouraging new players to participate that has been a major factor in our continuing success. Where many contemporaries failed we maintained a strong club spirit even in dark days of poor league results and fewer teams being fielded. It’s when players of all standards get to play (everybody who is available gets a game on tour) and socialise together that friendships bonds are made. If it wasn’t for tours some players would seldom meet let alone travel and play together. We like to think it’s in our DNA, none more so than Tony Hawkes who has toured 59 times with OI’s, and Tony Winslade who has toured, and always played, 57 times with OIs.
I wonder if the organisers of those early tours ever imagined we would embark on so many tours taking in some 11 countries on two Continents (Soon to include two more countries on two more Continents) Similarly, nobody thought the ‘once in a lifetime, never to be repeated’ trip to Florida in 1982 to celebrate our 25th season would be repeated 3 more times. (Certainly not the ‘Magnificent 7’ who completed all four, or the American spectator who approached us during a game on the 4th tour asking for a tour ‘t’ shirt for this tour as he ‘had the other three’)
The trouble with talking about tours is so many memories are evoked and it’s difficult to single a few out. OI’s folklore features one Derek Meades en route to Nottingham when the coach departed Scratchwood services without him. Without any money and no clue as to the name of the hotel, he found the boys sometime later by looking for the hotel with the most noise in the bar. Who could forget ‘not avoiding the oncoming bicycle’ in Florida I, or accidentally setting fire to the stand seating during the Sevens in Latvia. Talking of which, Banger Bunce’s flaming hands put on quite a show in Amsterdam, as did Alan Pearce as he fell out of a shopping trolley in RAF Wildenrath. The excellent diagnosis of a broken nose in Madrid (lucky we took an A&E nurse with us); Paddy moving from flank to the wing in the hope the pain from his broken arm would ‘go off’; or Splash looking ‘cool’ in the VIP lounge then landing in a heap at the bottom of the stairs outside. Ingratiating ourselves with the locals seems to have been a trend, the ‘Full Monty’ competitive floor show in Florida IV certainly pleased the audience, as did our success in the ‘bladder bust’. The late Tony McGill communicating his wish to purchase a jock strap in France, not using rudimentary French but by whistling, was something to behold, as was the reaction of the cab drivers when we toured to Bournemouth and then proceeded to pay said cabs about £40 to take us half way back home to play the first match.
Whatever your memories of touring the one overriding thought is always one of being part of something special, where everyday responsibilities fade away and one can live without fear of contradiction by others, except from the all seeing Judge who works tirelessly presiding over his flock to ensure fair play and equality. (Not too mention a full sock)
Andy Brooks, OIRFC President and Tour Judge
Never has there been a faster take up to go on an OIRFC tour which broke the club’s record for the number on tour, the previous record having been set in Sydney in 2007. Fifty-two were booked on tour, but with some volcanic ash aftermath flight cancellations, forty-five made it to Marbella.
We arrived at the PYR hotel in Puerto Banus in time for a late lunch before getting back on the coach to travel half an hour west to Gibraltar RFC’s pitch in Spain, their other pitch being next to the Rock. There was an evening mini tournament involving Gib and Cookstown RFC (on tour from N Ireland) which was supposed to be an easy warm up ready for Saturday’s main fixtures. However, on observing the full on opening match of Gib v Cookstown, all our players realised that they had to step up which they all did in spite of having already been up for 14 hours and had a few drinks en route. In the end OI’s won the tournament by beating Cookstown 5 to 0, and drawing with Gib, which would have been a win had the ref not played on for an extra ten minutes allowing Gib to equalise. Following the post match celebrations it was back to PB for the three S’s, and onwards to the numerous bars which stayed open so late it meant that many of the tourists had been up for almost 24 hours.
On Saturday, we had the first court session chaired by Judge Winslade snr and his deputy Rob Davis, assisted by Clerk of the Court Matthews and Chief Sock Laucht. Corcoran did a fine job as Prosecutor, but Defence Council Brabazon had lost his voice so the defendants didn’t get any help from him, although that was probably a benefit. Clearly the court sessions can not be reported on but the Fags acquitted themselves well with the various tests that were set by Splash Davies.
We then spent most of the afternoon and evening hosted by Marbella Rugby Club where El Don Winslade has played a few games a season for its Veteranos for the past four years. Coincidentally Cookstown RFC was also there, as was a team from Hastings RFC which made for a great rugby event. For only the second time on a tour, OI’s fielded two complete teams, playing Marbella 1sts and Veteranos. Both teams played well, but as a result of the tiring previous day and injuries, and playing in the mid afternoon heat, both matches were lost by a couple of tries. There was the normal post match entertainment, including a combined Fag race, and a Grand Old Duke of York involving over 100 people from the four clubs led by Chairman Wallace.
It was then back to PB for another night in the port. Most people just about made it to the mid day Sunday court session and then spent the afternoon recovering. There was another first with a big mixed Grand Old Duke of York around the pool. This was followed by Splash’s Fag X Factor with a large audience of hotel guests. There were some great performances and the crowd chose Jack Goodenough as the winner. It was then time for the tour party to head back to the airport, although with some planned and some unplanned stop overs there were still a dozen tourists in Spain on the Monday morning!
Despite my main role on tour being one of a bastion of moral correctness and the overseer of fair play and the golden rule that ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’ it would be remiss of me to let the occasion pass without a few memories being evoked. I felt the tour really started when the familiar strains of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ came floating across a bar on the first night in Singapore, Wallace having been persuaded to perform with the local entertainment.
That set us up for our first game which we were obviously taking very seriously when our Captain organised the first training session to get acclimatised to the Singapore heat and humidity in the hotel pool, Singapore Cricket Rugby Club here we come. Unfortunately we had to play on SCC’s second rugby pitch which was a bit contaminated.
From there onto Australia but, notwithstanding all warnings to the contrary, our entry was severely delayed due to many of our number having to clean their boots before we were allowed through immigration, had the ‘mud police’ known the dirt was from a contaminated pitch in Singapore we may never have got in at all.
To Manly, give the Wallabies who were staying in our hotel a few tips on ‘Marmite Sumo’ on the beach and then onto the all night pie shop to clear him out of ‘Ned Kellies’, back to the hotel and wake everybody up with Spiersy’s moonlight sonata on the piano in the lobby.
Thanks to captain Swerdlow’s local knowledge we had some other enjoyable events in Sydney: Harbord surf boat riding; Paddington bare foot bowling; and Randwick Races where we were invited to base ourselves in the Members bar as they were impressed with our smart appearance in no.1s.
Playing Manly RFC was good, apart from the slight dislocation to Bangers elbow, out in the surf boats and then onto play Newport RFC. All was going well until I requested some beer for the bus home, “sorry mate, you’ve drunk it all”, the British national anthem has seldom been sung with such passion.
The OIRFC club song on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge takes some beating (nobody’s ever sung up there before). Similarly, I don’t think the helicopter pilot knew of us before he heard our club song a few hundred feet above the Barrier Reef. Cairns Brothers RFC knew we were there before and after the singing. Shame we didn’t get a chance to sing in Darwin on the way back, maybe next time…
It had been a long time since OIRFC had been on a two week tour (Florida 1982/85/88/92). I am sure all 37 OI tourists had a great time, and this number was swelled by the half a dozen southern hemisphere OI visitors who joined us on our travels. Roll on the next big tour!