Sidmouth RFC staging 1970s reunion on April 7
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Sometimes an email pings in that makes you feel good all day - and that’s exactly how I felt after Terry O’Brien dropped me a line last week, writes Conrad Sutcliffe.
Terry is a doyen of Sidmouth RFC, a club he has had an association with going back more than 50 years.
During his playing heyday in the ’60s and ’70s, Terry was a bit of a flyer up and down the wing.
Having negotiated the slope in front of the stand at the Blackmore a time or two myself, I take my hat off to anyone who can canter up and down it, man and boy, scoring tries on a regular basis over 20 years.
Although Terry will be 70 this year, his enthusiasm for Sidmouth RFC remains undiminished.
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What filled me with joy was the arrival of Terry’s email informing me of a looming 1970s reunion gathering.
It is just the sort of thing old rugby players should do – get together and recall their salad days.
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Half-forgotten matches are replayed over a pint – often with different outcomes from the real thing – and tales of high jinks and japes retold and over-embellished.
Old players’ gatherings are nothing new, but Terry has come up with something a little different by targeting one generation of players.
When I asked him why the 1970s – a period of terrible haircuts and even worse clothes – Terry had a simple answer.
“The 10 years between 1970 and 1980 were something of a golden age for Sidmouth,” said Terry.
“We got into a Devon Cup final and lost to Exeter after an epic win over St Lukes in the semi-final and reached the semi-finals twice.
“The 1970s were the decade when we won the Havill Plate and, in one September month, we defeated Exmouth, Crediton, Weston and Barnstaple.”
I may have mentioned earlier that memories get a little fuggy when old rugby players are gathered together, but there is nothing wrong with Terry’s recall of events.
Back in 1971 Sidmouth became the first club in Devon and one of the first in the country to introduce junior rugby.
From a start of about 40 regulars, this has since grown to well over 200, including a growing number of girls playing the game.
That same season, the Chiefs – all first XVs used to be called that – won more games than they lost for the first time in eight years.
The following year they won 33 matches and defeated Old Heleans to win the Havill Plate, the club’s first trophy for 43 years! In February 1974, players and supporters embarked for Brittany for Sidmouth’s first overseas tour. Tours to Belgium, Holland, Ireland and the United States followed.
In the same year, showers replaced baths in the changing rooms and the following season saw the opening of a new stand. The old one had done stalwart service since 1892.
Ex-Scotland international Alistair McHarg turned up as coach in 1975 and his influence was soon seen on the field.
The following season saw 34 wins – equalling a club record – and the formation of a third XV.
A first Devon Cup final appearance in 47 years was the highlight of the 1977/78 season. Shame about the result.
The colts, benefiting no doubt from the introduction of rugby at Sidmouth School, were narrow losers to Plymouth Albion in their county cup final.
The first XV reached the semi-finals of the Devon Senior Cup in then following two seasons.
In 1978/79, the second team won 29 out of their 34 games, 16 of them played against first team opposition. They went one better, winning a record 30, the following season, albeit from more games.
You can see just why Terry and his old mates see this as a golden age.
The reunion starts before Sidmouth’s home league meeting with Falmouth on Saturday, April 7. A two-course hot buffet will line stomachs before the serious business ahead!
Tickets for the reunion are £12 each. To buy one, call Terry on 01395 577403 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org