Rugby Special ~ Part Three

Reading time: 20 minutes

(If you missed Part Two, click here…)

Football has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.

George Orwell, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, from Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays, Penguin, 2003. Obviously, substitute ‘football’ for ‘rugby’…

…the first twenty minutes of any Merit Table game…was war…

Robert Mankee

As it was…

It’s Thursday, September 29, 1977. Muhammad Ali beats Earnie Shavers over 15 rounds at Madison Square Garden to retain the World Heavyweight Crown. Bianca Jagger publicly denies having an affair with Rod Stewart1. The UK’s largest tin mine, South Crofty, forecasts a pre-tax profit of £4 million for that financial year2.

But none of that matters a damn. Camborne are playing Redruth.

The Game of all Games…

The earliest known photograph of a Camborne-Redruth derby, played at Higher Rosewarne, 1895. Camborne won. The photographer is unknown, but who would bet against it being J. C. Burrow? Courtesy Mark Warren

The rivalry, jealousy, competition, suspicion and one-upmanship between Camborne and Redruth had existed for time out of mind. If one settlement was seen to prosper from its beneficial proximity to Cornwall’s industrial and mining heartland, the other felt itself sulkily hard done-by. If Camborne had a fire brigade, why not Redruth? (Unsurprisingly, the two services disliked each other3.) If Camborne was the proud possessor of a prestigious science and art school, well, should Redruth not have its own4? To presumably avoid any claims to superiority, both Camborne and Redruth’s free libraries were actually declared open on the same day5.

Such rivalry naturally extended to the recreational sphere.

Why, asked a local journalist in September 1877, hasn’t Camborne got a rugby team?

…after all, Redruth have got one…

qtd in Tom Salmon’s The First Hundred Years: The Story of Rugby Football in Cornwall, CRFU, 1983, p41

And the rest, as they say, is history. It was inevitable that the rugby teams of Camborne and Redruth would compete with each other, and, on Boxing Day 1877, Cornwall’s oldest annual sporting fixture was born6:

From the Cornish Telegraph, January 1, 1878, p2

(More will be written on the importance of the Boxing Day matches in due course.)

Thousands would turn up to watch the sporting representatives of the two towns battle to claim bragging rights over the other; sometimes however over-exuberance marred the possibility of an outcome. In 1926, the fifth Camborne-Redruth match of that season was called to a premature halt due to constant fighting between players and spectators, after three participants had been sent off7.

The most partisan, and vocal, area of Redruth RFC’s ground is of course known as ‘Hellfire Corner’

At other times, the fixture failed to live up to its own hype. In April 1977, when the BBC’s Rugby Special crew, fronted by Nigel Starmer-Smith, came to the Rec to film the Camborne-Redruth Merit Table game, it was billed as ‘The Granite Men of Cornwall’. (I’m going on hearsay here; the original recordings were sadly wiped.) Dave Edwards described the game as “crap”, and Malcolm Bennetts said it was a

…rubbish match…no fights…must have been the most boring match ever on the BBC…

Camborne lost, 3-7, and may have suffered stage-fright. At one point, when Town had a penalty, Bob Lees exhorted Chris Durant to not

…bleddy kick the penalty, run it, we’re on bleddy TV…

Durant opted to kick. At least Camborne got on the scoreboard.

The, on reflection, rather optimistic programme notes for the Rugby Special match, April 23, 1977. Courtesy Mark Warren

All of which brings us nicely back to 1977. After the County Council’s controversial amalgamation of Camborne and Redruth in the 1930s8, and the further formation of Kerrier District Council in 1974, the “long-standing” rivalry

…nowadays finds its outlet mainly on the cricket and rugby fields.

West Briton, July 28, 1983, p20

Dave Edwards recalls that the sporting cognoscenti of Camborne “disliked Redruth”, and vice versa. Banter at Crofty, Holmans and Maxam often spilled over into “raw animosity”, he said. This isn’t particularly surprising, when you recall that such establishments employed almost every working man “in a 10 mile radius”, according to Jumbo Reed.

The terraces and grandstand, Camborne Recreation Ground9

Spectators at the matches rivalled in numbers what you would expect for County fixtures, Robert Mankee told me, and they

…bleddy hated each other…

said Chris Durant. They weren’t overly keen on opposition players either. Paul Ranford, who otherwise treated the clash as any other game, endured a lot of verbal abuse from the Redruth faithful, and

…I also had a couple of encounters when coming off the field…I never experienced that at any other club.

(Any ‘encounter’ involving Paul Ranford in such a situation is likely to be brief, and physical.)

Redruth RFC’s grandstand, with Carn Brea in the background10

My uncle John, an ardent Town fan, always closed his eyes whenever travelling through Redruth – which wasn’t often. Another Camborne supporter never watched a game in Redruth; he refused to enter the ground. Redruth man Phil Meyers’ favourite jibe was that his team’s strip was coloured red on account of all the Camborne blood spilt.

In contrast, Malcolm Bennetts had an uncle who never ate a red apple, nor entertained the notion of having them in his home. Another married couple (husband, Camborne, wife, Redruth) would watch derbies with their fellow supporters, rather than with each other.

Camborne men were jealous of Redruth RFC’s status in Cornwall, believed Dave Edwards, and their fans would assert that Redruth was

…the spiritual home of Cornish rugby and the Cornwall team…11

From a young age, Edwards continues, Camborne players had the significance of the fixture drilled into them. The Colts coach, Brian Bray,

…instilled in everyone that Redruth was the ultimate enemy…

Camborne Colts, around 1972. Back, l to r: Brian Bray, Nigel Pellowe, Gregory Robinson, Robert Spargo, Roger Cottell, Nigel Tregenza, Clive Pearce, Gary Hichens, Kevin Lean, Malcolm Bennetts, Colin Cooke, David Proctor. Front, l to r: Robert Tonkin (who later joined Hayle), Dave Edwards, Alan Spurr, Robert Mankee, Kenny Waters, David Sedgman, David ‘Jumbo’ Reed. Courtesy Helen Tonkin

Understandably, then, a Camborne-Redruth rugby match was an occasion to savour, the “most important” fixture, said Jumbo Reed. Chris Durant, for one,

…wouldn’t miss it for the world…

To play, and beat, Redruth, Frank Butler recalls,

…meant everything…

Malcolm Bennetts remembers

The buzz and excitement to run out of either tunnel to a crowd of 2-3,000 spectators cheering – unbelievable…

Robert Mankee confesses that such big clashes served to bring out his inner showman (something that lurks close to the surface with Mankee anyway). He also put it best. Camborne versus Redruth was

The game of all games…

Who’s in, who’s out..?

Redruth RFC match programme, Septamber 29, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

This was the game, said Chris Durant, that everyone wanted to be picked for. Steve Floyd remembers walking down Trelowarren Street to the little noticeboard on the wall of Lloyd’s Bank, where the teamsheets were displayed, and always felt

…very proud…

to see his name there. Likewise Malcolm Bennetts always felt a special “buzz” knowing he’d been picked. Conversely, Jumbo Reed told me that to not be selected left him feeling

…f___king hellish…

And he wouldn’t have been happy with the make-up of the Camborne XV for this match either. Jock Denholm was unavailable, but the selectors had gone with another Navy man, Michael Woods, at prop. Jumbo would have found this bitter news to swallow.

In the days leading up to the match, team selection and form would have been exhaustively discussed underground, on the shop-floor, and in local taverns…

Would Camborne miss Denholm? That’s still pretty much a first-choice pack…Steve Floyd’s at 10, been kicking points for fun and releasing the backs well…is Bob Lees out of position at centre? Taylor’s so solid…Wills is currently unstoppable…Eddy’s had a hat-trick already…how d’you get past Pellowe…bleddy hell…

Redruth’s Terry Pryor (r) chats to Paul Bawden before leaving to captain England B on a Romania tour, 1978. From “CRFU Centenary Special”, Express Western Newspaper Group Souvenir, 1983. Courtesy Phil Meyers

For Redruth, prop Terry Pryor was hitting the form of his life: in 1978, he was on the bench for England in two Five Nations matches, would represent the Barbarians, and skipper England B on a tour of Romania12. Malcolm Bennetts rated Phil Angove “the best, and hardest” scrummager he ever played against. Paul Ranford remembers locks Dave Parsons and Derek Collins as “good guys” and fierce competitors. Yet, for all Redruth’s power up front, Nigel Pellowe reckons Camborne were “not bothered” by any threat posed.

Outside, Frank Butler reckoned 10 Brett Pedley caused him the “most trouble”, though his fellow-flanker David Kingston said he was “easy”. David May recalls their threequarters

…were always being touted as brilliant, but I can’t remember fearing them or ever being bettered by them.

That said, centre Nick Brokenshire was an England colt. And Nigel Pellowe respected his opposite number Mike Downing who, as the man himself will doubtless tell you, was appearing in one of his 36 career derbies, and wouldn’t be phased by anyone. Brian Harvey on the wing was pushing Barry Wills hard for his County spot13. And David May wasn’t picked.

On paper, maybe Camborne had the edge overall.

Form guide…

As we saw last week, Town were on fire14. They’d won 6 of their first 8 games, notching up 252 points and conceding only 61. Along the way, they’d dished out some fearful beatings – just ask Truro. In their last three fixtures, they’d scored 135 points – unanswered. Their two losses had been at the hands of Welsh XVs – Pontypridd and Crawshay’s – who boasted international class wherever you looked. And they’d only just lost to Ponty, no matter what Chris Durant says.

Plus, this would be Camborne’s first Merit Table game of the season, and a good start was imperative.

Although they had recently racked up 76 points against St Austell, with a record 42 of those from the wing John Harvey, Redruth had lost their last three matches. This included a 16-10 defeat by Newquay Hornets, and a brief tour to the Black Country to lose against Stourbridge and Wolverhampton15.

However, as the Redruth match programme for the big game is at pains to point out, the team that lost to the Hornets was “very weakened”, and the touring team was “similarly depleted”.

In other words, Redruth in their own back yard, against Camborne, was a different beast than Redruth anywhere else.

For all that, you’d have to start Camborne as favourites. But it won’t do to predict sport. This, after all, is the derby match in Cornwall, and it’s what you do on the day that counts. Plus, as Dave Edwards reminds us,

During the Centenary, Redruth will have wanted to ruin celebrations, whereas Camborne really needed to better the ‘auld enemy’ to justify the Centenary.

A Centenary Season wouldn’t be a Centenary Season unless you stuffed Redruth.

Grandstand…

Both sides had pre-game setbacks. Terry Pryor pulled out with a rib injury, with John Kitto replacing. Camborne lost Michael Eddy, and played Tanzi Lea out of position on the wing – his daring, creative style may have been put to better use further infield.

Steve Floyd, ever studious, put in “several hours” of kicking practice the evening before the match. Preparations had been made. Tactics discussed. Several thousand people were packed into the Redruth ground, anticipating an exciting affair. The teams were on the pitch, pawing the turf, sizing each other up, geeing each other up. The talk stops here. The referee blew his whistle. The ‘game of all games’ was underway16.

It must have been a dour affair. After an hour’s play, the scores were locked at 0-0. Knock-ons and fluffed passes were “prevalent”, according to the West Briton17.

There were other, more glaring, errors.

Steve Floyd, for all his place-kicking diligence, must have left his boots at home. Three crucial penalty kicks were missed.

Chris Durant, sensing his 10 was having an off-night, opted to take a fourth penalty kick himself, but he was equally unsuccessful.

Things weren’t any prettier elsewhere on the field. Wills and Harvey, billed as the ultimate wing match-up, barely saw the ball, and Tanzi Lea must have been equally wasted.

Downing and Pellowe, who knew the other’s games as well as their own, practically cancelled each other out. The ‘papers gave the verdict on the night to Downing.

And so it was elsewhere, for sixty minutes or so of gridlock. If, for example, Durant and Ranford had the edge in the lineouts, John Kitto made the most of his opportunity to spoil possession.

Frank Butler’s problems with Brett Pedley persisted, as the Redruth fly-half made several breaks, but himself failed to capitalise on them, and his threequarters must have seen as much of the ball as Camborne’s did.

Defeat facing them…

On the hour, Camborne gave away a kickable penalty. With Floyd possibly still ruing his missed chances, John Harvey made no such error. 3-0, Redruth. Hellfire Corner was suddenly the place to be.

This served to slap Town out of their stupor and,

…with defeat facing them at last, [Camborne] let the ball go and several bouts of handling moves gave the crowd something to cheer about.

Packet, October 6, 1977

Paul Ranford came close, perhaps from Camborne’s ‘double diamond’ move (obviously named after the popular lager): Floyd would switch-pass with Colin Taylor at centre, who in turn would switch with Ranford, changing the angle, thundering through the middle, at full gas. It was often a successful ploy, but not tonight. Ranford was brought down short.

Robert Mankee, ever alert for a blind-side break (and the opportunity for some solo heroics), saw his chance and took it. The crowd (or, at least, those from Camborne in the crowd) rose to their feet and hollered him on, as he gloriously scorched over the try-line…

But the linesman’s flag was raised. ‘Mank’ had put a boot in touch. The linesman was in fact Merrill Clymo, Camborne’s own General Secretary, who wrote that he was later “congratulated” by many Redruth clubmen for this “sporting” gesture. Clymo was far from flattered:

Is there anything in the laws of Rugby Football which allows one not to put his flag up when the player is in touch..?

Merrill Clymo, qtd in his programme notes for Camborne v Torquay Athletic, October 8, 1977

In short, Clymo was aghast that it had been assumed he would cheat, and keep his flag down.

Things were getting desperate. With minutes left, Floyd attempted a drop-goal, which struck the posts. Camborne’s pack rushed to regain the ball, and Redruth obstructed. The referee awarded Camborne a penalty, ten yards from goal.

Floyd didn’t miss this time. 3-3. And so it stayed.

Honours even…

From the Packet, October 6, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

Merrill Clymo disagreed:

For all the territorial advantage we had, the game…should have been a cakewalk but once again luck was against us…

Qtd in his programme notes for Camborne v Torquay Athletic, October 8, 1977

As drawn by Ernie Loze

Like it or not, this was a setback for Camborne, a throwback to the previous season, where four of their Merit Table fixtures had ended in draws.

It was not the rugby expected of a Centenary Year XV in a local derby. A possible match-up in the CRFU Cup notwithstanding, Town had the return Merit Table game, on Boxing Day, and an end-of-season finale, to make good. Redruth must have been delighted, and relishing further opportunities to spoil the party.

It was also Barry Wills’ last game for Camborne that season. Several days later, playing for Cornwall against the USA, he sustained a serious knee injury, obviously a “great loss” to the squad, said Merrill Clymo18.

Steve Floyd returned to Loughborough. He’d had a game to forget, and was criticised in the press for standing “too deep” at 10.

He was better than that.

The Marcus Smith of his day…

By Ernie Loze

Still only 20 in 1977 (and playing for Cornwall U21s as well as Loughborough), Floyd had made his 1st XV debut at 17. He was still seen as the “baby” of the side, Alan Truscott told me, and Camborne looked after its young talent. Steve recalls his debut game, where he was badly raked on the head by the opposition:

…the first person to check I was OK was Paul Ranford. He wasn’t happy…

And an unhappy Paul Ranford is bad news for the opposition. Despite his youth, he quickly asserted his authority at 10, marshalling the game, calling the shots, and establishing himself as the first-choice goal-kicker. His team-mates were certainly impressed. Frank Butler noted that Floyd had a

Good eye for the game and a very reliable right boot…

His coach, Alan Truscott, marked him as a

Clever fly-half, good goal-kicker and distributor. Became an excellent first team regular…

David May is even more fulsome in praise. Floyd was the

Marcus Smith of his day. Great footballer, overflowing with flair and natural talent. Could have played at the top…

It’s a shame, then, that due to University commitments, his appearances were limited that season. As he himself says, “it wasn’t to be”.

As for his perceived fault of standing too deep, on reflection it’s apparent that Floyd was an all-round fly-half, arguably Camborne’s most complete 10 at the time, and had an eye for creating chances on the outside. That Cornish – and Camborne’s – rugby of the era was pack-dominated and relatively flair-free, is not his fault.

Weakened..?

Camborne had over a week to put this fixture behind them. Up next was Torquay Athletic, a “leading” Devon club, wrote Merrill Clymo in that game’s programme.

He also noted that Camborne were “weakened”, with Chris Durant and Bobby Tonkin on County duty, both Floyd and lock Ian Moreton back at college, and Wills injured.

Were Camborne about to falter?

Luckily, wing Dave Edwards, a Cornwall U23, had belatedly made himself available…

Find out how it went in Rugby Special ~ Part Four here

Many thanks for reading

References

  1. According to that day’s Daily Mirror, p3
  2. West Briton, September 29, 1977, p1
  3. Cornish Post and Mining News, November 19, 1892, p4, and the Cornish Telegraph, April 5, 1906, p6
  4. Royal Cornwall Gazette, October 5, 1883, p6
  5. Western Evening Herald, May 18, 1893, p4
  6. It has been erroneously claimed that the Boxing Day clash is the oldest rugby fixture in the world; in fact, two Scottish clubs assert that their fixture is older. See: https://www.falmouthpacket.co.uk/sport/10915517.three-generations-of-rodda-family-on-hand-to-see-camborne-claim-roddas-milk-cup/, and https://www.heraldscotland.com/default_content/12765683.oldest-rugby-match-celebrates-150-years/
  7. See the Western Morning News, March 15, 1926, p2, and https://bernarddeacon.com/2021/04/13/camborne-versus-redruth-regrettable-scenes/
  8. The amalgamation was initially opposed by an “overwhelming” majority of Camborne and Redruth residents. See: Cornish Guardian, October 19, 1933, p12, and the Cornishman, November 30, 1933, p2
  9. From: https://www.falmouthpacket.co.uk/news/19253922.camborne-rfc-awarded-funds-grandstand-renovation/
  10. From: https://www.heartofconflict.org.uk/rugby-at-the-front-redruth-rugby-club/
  11. From: https://www.flickr.com/photos/22971142@N06/26678810273
  12. See: https://www.redruthrugbyclub.co.uk/news/terry-pryor–rip-2525196.html
  13. According to the Packet, October 6, 1977
  14. See Rugby Special ~ Part Two HERE
  15. See the West Briton, September 15, 1977, p2, September 22, p5, and September 29, p26
  16. The main narrative of the match is taken from the Packet, October 6, 1977
  17. October 6, 1977, p26
  18. From his programme notes for Camborne v Torquay Athletic, October 8, 1977, also the West Briton, October 6, 1977, p26

9 thoughts on “Rugby Special ~ Part Three

  1. Good read as always. I think the assumption that the Camborne/Redruth Boxing Day game is the oldest in rugby stems from a belief that the game played at Rosewarne on Boxing Day 1877 started an annual event. However, Redruth played Penzance on Boxing Day the following year and then Bodmin in 1879 and 1880. From research I have done so far for Redruth’s 150th anniversary book, the regular Boxing Day fixture does not go back beyond the 20th century.

    Like

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