We grasp at thin air to find words that capture the character of Michael Harrison. Doubtless we will all try and find those elusive expressions to show our admiration for a truly remarkable man whose life sadly ended earlier this week at the age of 77. Whilst we try and turn our attention to other things our minds return to a state of deep sadness, such was the impact of Michael’s character on all of us. The tragic passing is something that our minds can barely comprehend. The wider rugby world is also in grief.
“Clarty” was and is an extraordinary man, the toughest player with courage and loyalty in extreme measures; a man who commanded respect by his immense contribution and leadership. His family has ensured the future success of Wharfedale as a club and continues to do so. His hard work as a player and administrator has been majestic.
Our chieftain, the father of the house, has passed away but we are sustained by our memories of his mischief, his humour, his tolerance and compassion. He was always respectful and rejected anything that was unfair. We consulted him as the wise man when we were unsure of the best policy.
As a player, if you couldn’t see him, you could hear him charging! Clarty was dedicated to teamwork and was a huge influence on his teammates, achieving victories out of despair, and promoting encouragement out of disappointment. We will all stand to attention to honour the moral force of this leader of men. He was a remarkable competitor with a Wharfedale culture that made him a special man to all of us.
His singing on the bus and at the Players’ Dinner was as interesting as it was notorious. Lobsters come to mind!
Michael made no secret of his three loves – his family, his Dale and his rugby. He demonstrated a compassion and devotion to Wharfedale that will be the subject of our conversation for all our years to come. Our experience in knowing him is immortal. His care for people is an example to us all.
There was no ceremony of occasion. A dislike of dressing up was clear to all, but he always wore the Wharfedale tie with due allegiance and pride. Everything was green and passionately so.
Clarty’s 750 appearances for Wharfedale’s first team tell their own story. He would be the first to acknowledge the assistance of his great friends and lieutenants, John McGuinn, Peter Hartley and Ray Cryer, amongst many others. He also had an incredible understanding on the field with his dear brother, Jimmy. Their talent together was immeasurable. He taught us that the beauty of a team is the friends that frequent it.
Many people have mentioned Michael’s contribution to life off the field. The respect for him as a farmer, sportsman, governor, student, husband and father was outstanding. Humility overwhelmed everything. Enjoyment was an essential part of his life and game – winning was good too!
We remember Clarty with the utmost friendship and love as an extraordinary man. Let us respect him for his loyalty and absolute devotion. We will probably not see the like of him again, but we will regularly enjoy a pint in his memory.
He told me recently that Christine was his angel. We all subscribe to that!
Celebration of life will come eventually but it is incredibly difficult to contemplate it at the moment. I know that many will feel the same. Many strong men will have wept, but we must be steadfast in the contemplation that when Wharfedale win, Michael‘s heart sings and his soul rejoices. That will never alter and we will be with him. He gave us a firm conviction that our Club’s future is massive. That is the belief and reality that Clarty has embedded deep in our club’s heritage.
Sir Bill Beaumont, the chairman of World Rugby, knew Clarty well. Bill was clearly saddened to hear of his passing and remarked that the club could not have been blessed with a more true and faithful servant. Clarty was honoured in 2018 by the Rugby Union Writers’ Club for his services to the game and his club. In his response at the dinner in London, Clarty said, with typical humility, that he would never be able to put back in to the game the enjoyment and experience that it had given to him. He had a damn good try, didn’t he?
Sir Ian McGeechan has also been in touch to convey his condolences having played with and against Clarty. He, too, was anxious to express his feelings about Clarty’s unrivalled contribution to rugby in the county.
To Christine, Dan, Tom and the much wider family, please accept our love and good wishes. Michael will always be in the forefront of the minds of the members of this great club.