Sidmouth Rugby Club - A look at club tours since the first in 1974

Sidmouth Chiefs in Brussels 1975 Picture SRFC

Sidmouth Chiefs in Brussels 1975 Picture SRFC - Credit: Archant

Having organised these tours, I am able to report on them from first-hand experience, though time and alcohol consumed at the time may lead to some blurring of the detail for which I apologise in advance. My solicitor has duly been warned, writes Terry O’Brien.

Sidmouth Chiefs on tour in 1976 at Lannion in France. Picture SRFC

Sidmouth Chiefs on tour in 1976 at Lannion in France. Picture SRFC - Credit: Archant

LANNION, FRANCE: On February 8, 1974, a party of 32 took the ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff. The crossing was so rough that it enabled a competition of projectile vomiting to be organised. This had to be relocated to the deck when the toilets became full! Once ashore with digestive systems reset, we enjoyed the excellent hospitality of ASPTT Lanion.

The match on the Saturday was satisfactorily won 14-4. Following the game, we were treated to an excellent six-course dinner, though the serving of a different wine with each course probably wise. At the end, I used my O-Level French to thank our hosts and invite them to Sidmouth. As they turned up in 1976, Miss Thurman’s teaching had not been in vain. After the dinner, we were invited to a wedding reception. Despite better judgement, we were too polite to decline.

While at the reception, Lester Willmington fell asleep standing up while I was describing the try which I had scored in the match (a rare event).

Fortunately, he was leaning against a wall at the time and slid gracefully to the floor before being carried to the coach to join the other lightweights.

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On the journey home, the tour managers nightmare!

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Dave Richards had lost his passport and was panicking as much as a person whose eyes aren’t focusing could. Somehow, we managed to sneak him through passport control. When he eventually took his coat off the passport slide out of the left sleeve.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM: On Friday, April 4, 1975, we arrived in Brussels for our second overseas tour. On contacting the opposition to confirm our arrival, I found that O-Level French did not cut the mustard with the Flemish speaking club official! The 40-14 victory against Anderlecht was a tribute to the team’s restraint the previous night/powers of recovery and without the need to dispense paracetamol as skipper Gerry Jones had done before a 10am kick off at Penryn back in October (7-31). The 14-8 defeat to Brussels University the following day was attributed to our inexperience of playing on an ATP, probably G1. The surface was devoid of grass, real or artificial. Also, heavy rain did not help our 15-man game.

AMSTERDAM, HOLLAND: On April 15, 1977, we picthed up in Amsterdam. Clive Dwerryhouse and Wes Hall were deployed to the red-light district to negotiate a bulk order discount. Attempt fails as they are unable to assure quality as well as quantity.

Our accommodation was a hostel with 12 to a room in bunk beds. I recall entering a room on the Sunday morning to find 24 sleeping on the floor with all beds dismantled. Don’t ask. Riot Act read!

I returned 15 minutes later to find the room in A1 order. These guys should have been used to build the Nightingale hospitals!

It wasn’t Graham Bess’s finest moment when he decided to climb up a traffic light with a police car under it waiting for the lights to change. Fortunately, we managed to sort matters out in time to catch the ferry home.

Amazingly, on the field we managed to keep a clean sheet across two games as Alkmaar were beaten 68-0 and Den Helder were defeated 20-0.

KILLARNEY, IRELAND: Having played three games over the Easter weekend, we set off on the following Thursday, April 19, 1979. We took the overnight ferry from Swansea to Cork. The sea was calm and, with the bar open, the crossing was convivial. While Sean Dillon was minesweeping, Gary Leeworthy attempted a whiskey drinking contest with Derek Dean with near fatal consequences.

The Friday either passed without incident or there were too many to record. I was in no state to recall and Instagram was a long way in the future.

On Saturday we set off in plenty of time for a 3pm kick off at Tralee. We arrived at the ground at 2pm to find a pitch with no post, grass a foot long and no opposition in sight.

Eventually a car drew up and we were directed to a ground on the other side of town. We arrived at a large field filled with boys playing a mini rugby tournament. There was not a spare piece of ground and the games seemed set to continue for some time.

We were greeted by a couple of officials, who informed us that our match had been moved to the next town with a 6pm kick off.

We arrived at the appointed ground at 5.30pm. There was a pitch and posts, but no line markings and no opposition. A few minutes later, a truck arrived with two men and a few bags of lime but no marking machine.

We all set to, depositing lime by hand to mark out the pitch. Gradually the opposing team arrived, and we eventually kicked off at 7pm. The 12-6 win was a due reward for persistence.

It transpired that the referee was also the club secretary and the barman.

As it was getting late by the time we prepared to leave, we asked the referee/barman what time the pubs closed.

He replied: “Well, sometimes they close for a few hours in October.”

It will come as no surprise that the Sunday game was cancelled, and the tour warm-down was extended by half a day. During this time Lester Willmington and Martin Cooper bonded by holding hands for 24 hours.

LA ROCHE-SUR-YON, FRANCE. For the Centenary season tour, we returned to France. On Friday, April 6, 1984, the party set off to La Roche-sur-Yon on the west coast. The accommodation was in an agricultural college in which the unisex toilets were an interesting introduction to the French way of life.

Another tour manager’s nightmare is the cancellation of the first game.

Most players can manage a certain degree of restraint on the first night before the Saturday game in the hope of one respectable performance but once the game is over full tour mode kicks in.

During the pre-match lunch, we were informed of the cancellation and the first round of drinks was ordered on what would be a long day.

A trip to the coast was arranged with La Rochelle the destination. On arrival, the party split up into groups for ‘sightseeing’. How many got to see the Atlantic Ocean is not known but depended on finding a suitable seaside bar.

Somehow the whole party came together in a bar to gather for the return journey. A famished Richard Trim ordered a ‘pasty’ and was surprised when presented with an aniseed-based aperitif.

An early converted try was our only useful contribution to the game against La Roche-sur-Yon on Sunday afternoon, and we did well to keep the score to 6-26.

This proved to be the club’s last senior tour overseas apart from an Over-35s weekend in Jersey, which proved to be relatively civilised.

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