On Thursday morning the Wharfedale Green Machine set off from Threshfield Avenue on Craig’s “wonder bus” heading for Heysham, across the Irish sea, destined for the Isle of Man, embarking on the first senior club tour for over 7 years. With an intoxicating mix of youth and experience, the squad of 45 compromising of players, officials and a handful of Alacados (See Note), the excitement was building. The mood was jovial, scattered with a few nerves, accompanied by high levels of expectancy for the two experimental teams that would be taking the field for the very first time, over the following 2 days
The tone, impressively set by tour organiser and entertainment guru Alex Driver, emphasised the seriousness of the task in hand. Maintaining a 100% record of all First XV fixtures for touring teams of the past. A proud record spanning over four decades and tours all around the world. After a calm, if somewhat benign crossing, made more pleasurable by refreshments on board, good banter both above and below decks, along with some competitive arm wrestling, where some pride was certainly dented, with spirits high the tourists arrived in Douglas.
After a short journey the party reached their accommodation for the trip. Over the course of the tour some would take more advantage than others of the sleeping facilities at the very comfortable King William College. A hearty feast was served at The George in Castletown where thirsts were further quenched. However, strict playing protocols were adhered to by all those involved in the evening fixture to follow on Friday. Some tourists had set their clocks to Nuuk in Greenland (Soon to be the 51st state), but a good night’s rest was still had by all.
Friday morning was a group BBQ breakfast, kindly provided by Gary Rodgers of Billie Bob’s, consisting of gourmet sausages and black pudding ably cooked by chefs Lockett, Benson & Mason, followed by a Captain’s run out in the grounds of King William College, nestled between the airport and the coast. Fed, watered and rested, with nostrils full of fresh sea air, it was clear that the boys meant business as they ran through their pre-match moves under the watchful eye of head coach Sam Mcguinn. An Italian lunch overlooking Douglas Harbour preceded the short trip to Douglas Rugby Club, the premier team of the Isle. You could feel the anticipation and excitement building as Craig attempted to negotiate his “wonder bus” through the tricky entrance to the ground. After a couple of failed attempts, and to lighten the load, passengers disembarked just outside the venue, walking the last few hundred meters to the club house.
The Douglas ground looked in pristine condition banked by tall trees on all sides. The newly extended club house, offering impressive facilities, would become the venue for the match the following day and host the general tour entertainment that Alex had in store. None of which, as is customary will be revealed, unlike…..
All squad members went to change and warm up whilst non players settled their pre-match nerves with further refreshments. The Douglas team made up largely of first team players had a few representatives from other island clubs. Warming up it appeared, like so many teams Wharfedale have faced over the years, that they were big, fast and strong. The forecast was mixed but the predicted thunderstorm looked to have by passed the island and the match would kick off at 6.00pm as planned.
1. Jack Wells 2. Maddison Hunting 3. Dan Stockdale 4. George Hedgley © 5. Jim Mason 6. Matt Speres 7. Sam Smith 8. James Tyson 9. Sam Gaudie 10. Max Bell 11. Owen Bullock 12. Oscar Canny 13. Tom Mann 14. Oliver Cicognini 15. Ryan Hodgson.
Wharfedale needed to absorb some initial pressure and the backs to the wall defence early on probably helped to blow off some of the cobwebs induced by the previous night’s bonding session. This was a period in which Dale suffered a couple of injuries to Sam Smith and Joe Fawcett and so on came the impressive frame of Dan Benson to steady the ship. It really was a tough start against a very able and highly motivated Douglas side. However, once we managed to get away from our own line Wharfedale managed to start playing some rugby. The scoring was opened by a great finish from Owen Bullock making his first senior rugby start for the club. Once Dale got onto the score board, we started to assert ourselves against a very spirited Douglas side. The front row battle was intense, and our starting line-up had a real battle on their hands. It’s fair to say that Douglas got the better of the early exchanges. But once we got parity in this area, as the Douglas lads tired, we created a good platform from which to launch the impressive Wharfedale back line. Special mention must go to the 4 ex-colts; Ryan Hodgson, Oscar Canny, Maddison Hunting and Owen Bullock, who were all making their debuts for the senior 1st team. They were all immense in both attack and defence in a very tightly contested and highly physical match.
Post-match we enjoyed some great hospitality in the Douglas club house and it is fair to say we put in just as good a performance off the pitch as on it. With some of the older lads taking the baton from the players and setting the standard.
1. Paul Marklew © 2. Ben Rymer 3. Adam Stubbs 4. George Vyvian 5. Josh Clay 6. Tom Rymer 7. Matt Speres 8. Jim Bowers 9. Max Bell 10. Jonathan Davies 11. Tom Eggleston 12. Chris Walker 13. Bradley Viner 14. Joe Buckley 15. Sam “the seal” Arkwright
Match 2 was played against a combined Douglas 2nd team and a Vagabonds team. Inspirational captain Paul “Cabbage” Marklew set the tone for the tourists with a stirring pre match speech. As with the first game our adversaries came out all guns blazing. The locals obviously wanting some revenge for the previous day’s result. Once again, the Wharfedale defence was magnificent. The Douglas side however did not know what had hit them when deep into the second half the immense frame of Mark Viner entered the fray. This was a real end to end game and looked in the balance all the way to the final whistle. A special mention must go to Matt Speres and Max Bell who started this game after also starting the first game the previous day. Also to Elliot Stockton and Dan Benson who also put big shifts in both games coming off the bench early on. The game was nip and tuck and the difference in the end was Wharfedale’s stubborn refusal to lose on tour!
Post-match we were once again looked after in fine style by Douglas rugby club who if we are being super critical should have ordered in more beer!
Sunday was a day of reflection and travelling home. We spent some time to remember a lost friend by placing a Wharfedale plaque and pay our respects at the place Anthony “Clopper” Capstick died 8 years ago whilst visiting the Island. Anthony played over 200 games for the club at second row making a formidable second row partnership with David “Dood” Lister. Clopper himself toured with Wharfedale to Washington in 2000. Tim Lockett said a few words in memory of Clopper. The touring party included several players who played with Clopper including Jonathan Davies, Sam Allen, Jim Mason, Russ Aldersley and Alex Driver. An exceptionally hard worker on the pitch, who also enjoyed the time with his team mates off the pitch, we are sure Clopper would have approved of this tour’s ethos.
All in all a very fine tour was enjoyed by all, we worked hard on the pitch, we played harder off the pitch and we had a reeet good crack. Thank you to all tourists, especially the young ex-colts, who dared to venture away with the older farts, the new boy Mat Speres who was a standout performer in both matches starting both games and didn’t shirk his responsibilities post-match either! Also to coach Mcguinn who combined old fashioned coaching techniques with cutting edge man management. Not forgetting our hosts Douglas RUFC for putting on 2 excellent matches and looking after us after the games in fine fashion.
“The hangers-on around a rugby club. usually ex-players who have an inflated opinion of their own sporting prowess in days gone by”.