Rhys Bosley thought some of you might be interested in this after a post I wrote on his recent thread.
I was born in 1947 to a working class family about 30 miles south of London and lived in what Australians call a housing commission estate. My father and mother both worked two jobs but sometimes it was not enough to put food on the table for the four of us – on those days they didn’t eat dinner.
Now, enough of that emotional tripe. Let’s get onto my rugby life.
I played rugby at school, which was a basic government school. I only played one year as I got a butchers delivery round, which paid me 50c a day (about $5 today), which was more than my pocket money (0.00) and was okay with me.
I left school at 15 and started an apprenticeship which my mother thought was astoundingly wonderful. I got into a street fighting gang and we went out looking for fights on Saturday nights. I handed a fair bit out and got beaten up occasionally.
I got into a fight at a dance with a guy who had beaten me up as a kid and they had trouble bringing him round after I knocked him out. Somebody said I’d killed him and that they had called the cops but he regained consciousness.
A few months later, a guy held an axe to my throat. One time, a great friend of mine got shot through the arm after a gun was put to my head, saving my life. So, my options were: going to jail, being killed or changing my ways.
Around this time, a mate asked me if I wanted to play rugby for a local club, I hesitated as I had no transport and it was five miles away. He said, “I’ll get the captain to pick you up.”
Imagine the shock to the neighbours when the captain turned up in an Aston Martin sports car. They were all peeping out of their net curtains and my mother was shocked.
I played one game in third grade, two games in second grade and then at 19 I was in first grade. The other players at the club all spoke with a ‘plummie’ accent as it was called in those days and they all knew my working-class background as soon as I opened my mouth.
Mostly they had been to expensive private schools. One guy went to Eton and some were at uni which was rare in those days. They were mostly upper-middle-class kids or farmer’s sons.
I enjoyed the games very much but the other guys seemed a bit remote to me and although they would talk to me, there were few I could call friends. At the end of the first season, I found I preferred these guys (who I expected to hate) far more than the gang I had hung around with.
Then out of the blue, Clive started talking to me. He was the son of an industrialist who had lost his business in northern England. We had great fun together.
One time on the way back from a game in London, we stopped at a very smart dinner dance club where Clive insisted on having a drink. He skidded to a stop and we got out, up to the bar and ordered beers. The manager came out and said, “Is that your car, sir?” to which Clive said, “Yes, it is.”
“I want you in it and out of here immediately,” said the manger, to which Clive pulled out his notebook and asked: “What’s your bloody name?”
“I bought this place yesterday and on Monday you’re out of a job,” he sneered until Clive told him his name, then he nearly fell over himself in grovelling apologies. As a working-class kid who had seen more than his fair share of this, I laughed my head off.
I gained more friends within the club and although I had no ambition at all, it became clear to me that to be more like my teammates was far better than walking around with a chip on my shoulder hoping for the Communist Revolution.
Clive told me on one occasion that I could make something of myself but not in the UK as it was too old school tie and my working-class background and lack of education would always hold me back.
Over the next couple of years, I had a wonderful time in the club playing and socialising and several of those ‘plummie’ upper-class twits became my friends. I left the UK in 1971 and bummed around the world, playing rugby in South Africa for a couple of seasons and New Zealand for a season, and ended up in Australia. Got a job working for an American IT company, married, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Rugby took me from being a rough working-class kid to a sophisticated old bastard with a large library, an interest in classical music, wine cellar, collections of glass and Japanese Cloisonne, and a reasonable ability to banter with friends.
A deep-felt thank you to that pommie rugby club and Clive, particularly. Without their influence, my life could have ended up in hell.
So, I went from a boy to a man in the best possible way and it was all down to rugby and the deep friendships it generates.
Clive died in April this year, leaving hundreds of millions of pounds to charity, some of which to help poor boys with their education, including the arts, music etc.
I was one of his first acts of kindness.