Christmas Rugby Special

Reading time: 20 minutes

(If you missed Part Five of Rugby Special, click here…)

As it was…

It’s Saturday, December 26, 1977 – Boxing Day. The Christmas No. 1 is ‘Mull of Kintyre’, by Wings. There’s really no accounting for the musical tastes of our ancestors.

Lucky children are playing with their Rubik’s Cubes and Star Wars figures. 28 million people enjoyed yesterday’s Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show1.

Camborne 1st XV’s totemic skipper, Chris Durant, has woken up with a clear head and an empty stomach. For him, Christmas Day is one of abstinence, rather than indulgence. Many of his team have doubtless followed his example – and Durant always led by example.

Why this self-denial? Camborne are playing Redruth. Again.

The Game of all Games…part two…2

Although Camborne RFC and Redruth RFC had first competed on Boxing Day back in 1877, precisely when the fixture became an annual event is currently a matter of conjecture. Suffice that, in 1977 – as today – it’s the most famous rugby match in Cornwall3.

As discussed in Rugby Special ~ Part Three4, a Camborne-Redruth match was “the game of all games” according to Robert Mankee. On Boxing Day, the intensity and local interest rose to fever pitch. To beat Redruth on Boxing Day, said Frank Butler,

…meant everything…

I will give one example, and to do this we will have to travel forward in time, from 1977 to 1994. Featuring in this Boxing Day game – indeed, refereeing – was David May. In the crowd was another member of the 1977-78 XV, Dave Edwards.

Lucky to leave the ground alive…

Here’s David May on the 1994 Boxing Day game. 3,000 spectators were in the Redruth ground5:

The game was fine for 60 minutes, until a couple of Redruth players sniped at me about being a Camborne man. I told them not to be so stupid.

In the last minute, Reds knocked on in front of their posts so I gave a scrum. Absolutely happened but the home players didn’t agree! The prop told me it was a Camborne decision, the hooker muttered ‘cheat’. I still stayed calm and didn’t penalise until the Reds captain shook his head at me.

I penalised him, Camborne kicked the penalty, I blew my whistle and Camborne had stolen a victory!

Camborne won 13-16. Dave Edwards, spectating, turned to the impressionable young man stood beside him and remarked that

…May’ll be lucky to leave the ground alive after that, bleddy hell…

May again:

On the way off, a supporter caught me by the throat with his fist raised. I calmly pointed out that he would never watch another rugby match again and he let go.

Tommy Adams [Camborne’s Captain] came into my changing room to ask if I was ok. He told me that he saw the supporter going to hit me so he hit him in the nuts!

In the bar, I sought out the supporter, who fortunately immediately apologised and bought me a drink…

May was told by the Redruth committee men that he’d never referee a derby game again. In fact, he did, several times, including the 2003 edition at Camborne. One of the more passionate moments of this match was captured by a Times photographer:

The Times caption originally read: “Christmas spirit seemed to be on the back-burner during the Boxing Day friendly between Cornish rivals Camborne and Redruth. Referee David May (far right) looks on bemused as the players become embroiled.” Camborne won, 40-17. Times, December 27, 2003. Courtesy David May6

Season’s greetings…

Back to 1977. The sides’ first meeting of the season had resulted in a 3-3 draw, at Redruth.

Camborne, hosts on Boxing Day, would have seen this as a game they ought to have won. They were the form horses, and a celebration of a hundred years of rugby at the club would not be complete without a good thrashing of Redruth.

On the other hand, Redruth knew this, and beating Camborne in their Centenary Season would be a victory to live long in the memory.

In his programme notes for the match, Camborne’s Committee man Merrill Clymo didn’t hold back…

…although we wish our opponents success in 1978 we hope to send them away as losers today.

Those of you who saw the first game at Redruth (including those Redruth supporters who are honest with themselves) will agree that, although the game ended in a draw, it was a moral victory for Camborne, and but for a bad Refereeing error Camborne would most certainly have been the victors on that occasion.

Merrill Clymo, qtd in the Camborne v Redruth match programme, 26 December 1977. Courtesy Alan Rowling

And Clymo wasn’t even playing…

Made my Christmas…

As you can imagine, both sides were pretty much at full strength:

Courtesy Alan Rowling

Tanzi Lea got the nod over Steve Floyd, who was home from Loughborough. For Redruth, skipper on the day was full-back Mike Downing.

Elsewhere, at the Redruth ground in fact, Jumbo Reed was warming up for the Reserves in the undercard fixture. Then the call came through: Jock Denholm couldn’t play.

Jumbo was needed for the Chiefs. As he said, the news

…made my Christmas…

Unstoppable…

Action from the game: either a line-out, maul, fight, or a combination of all three. Chris Durant (centre) is reaching for the ball…or has just thrown a left hook. Courtesy Paul White

Watching the game was Alan Rowling, and he reckoned that

Camborne’s pack were unstoppable against the Reds…

Maybe so. But, on that Boxing Day, at Camborne, in the Centenary Season, the unthinkable happened.

Camborne lost, 6-9.

The architect of Town’s pain was Mike Downing.

Mighty Mouse…

Mike ‘Mighty Mouse’ Downing in 1980. Redruth have just beaten Penryn 29-0 to win the CRFU Cup. From “CRFU Centenary Special”, Express Western Newspaper Group Souvenir, 1983. Courtesy Phil Meyers

Downing was Redruth’s answer to Nigel Pellowe; indeed, as Pellowe himself conceded, the man

…never dropped a penny…

at 15. He appeared over 700 times for Redruth, and in 36 derbies. And this was his derby, if the headlines are anything to go by:

Packet, 29 December 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

On the day, in front of a vocal crowd jammed to the rafters (only County matches could rival the turn-outs for a Camborne-Redruth fixture), Downing marshalled his troops like a general in a “flawless” performance7.

For all their possession, for all their superiority up-front, Camborne were unable to break Redruth down, and two penalties from Durant were all they had to show for their territorial advantage. It was as if Downing was always a move ahead, and Camborne’s off-colour threequarters certainly made his job easier.

Phil Tiddy scored for the Reds from a Town back-line error, with Harvey converting. Brett Pedley rounded off a fine game at 10 with a drop-goal. Camborne had yet to find a way to neutralise the Redruth fly-half, much to Frank Butler’s chagrin.

A good piss-up…

As Downing himself remarked, Camborne-Redruth relations on the field were dog-eat-dog, and then some. However, whatever happened on the pitch, stayed on the pitch. As ‘Mighty Mouse’ told me,

…there was always a good piss-up down South Terrace afterward…

Well, maybe for Downing: his team had won. They’d beaten Camborne. At Camborne. On Boxing Day. In front of thousands. In Camborne’s Centenary Season.

He, and his team, had earned a drink. Their end of the bar must have been raucous. In contrast, for Camborne’s Robert Mankee at least, the beer stuck in his craw

…like gorse…

Christmas was ruined. Someone probably stuck ‘Mull of Kintyre’ on the jukebox. There was to be no heroes’ welcome at Crofty, or Holman’s, when the holiday season was over. Worse, Camborne had played poorly, and were criticised in the press:

A magnificent forward display by the Camborne pack was wasted by their backs…The Camborne outsides squandered numerous chances…

West Briton, December 29, 1977, p14

Here, incidentally, we see the Camborne RFC myth taking shape, that the Town XV of the era was merely a gargantuan pack, and little outside. We’ll discuss this at a later date.

This was not a team, though, that apportioned blame for a poor performance. You simply

…took it all on the chin,

said Robert Mankee, and cracked on. In fact, there wasn’t time to analyse where it had all gone wrong.

Next day, the 27th, St Austell were due at the Rec.

Trounced…

Packet, December 29, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

The Saints’ skipper, prop Simon Woolnough, was an ex-Camborne man. He may also have been one of the toughest forwards on the circuit, with a disciplinary record to match8.

Though a crowd favourite, this was no fairytale homecoming as Camborne “trounced” his side easily, 26-69. Town’s backs found their legs again, with Edwards and Mankee scoring a brace of tries each.

Camborne then probably forgot all about St Austell. They’d had the beating of them, and would doubtless not play them again that season.

Next to the Rec, on New Year’s Eve, was Penryn.

Too hot to handle…

Undefeated against all Cornish opposition: The Penryn XV of 1967-68. From: Tom Salmon, The First Hundred Years: The Story of Rugby Football in Cornwall, CRFU, 1983, p64

Camborne won their final game of 1977 21-7. Their visitors from the Borough were not the team of yore, and relied heavily on the kicking prowess of Paul ‘The Boot’ Winnan.

With Paul Ranford free to roam at No. 8, the headline said it all:

Packet, January 5, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

As the report makes clear, Ranford was more than a lineout dominator and general enforcer:

The most pleasing feature of the game was the running and interpassing of the Camborne forwards. Tonkin and Ranford are the runners, but the close snap-passing…deserves mention.

Packet, January 5, 1978

Ranford scored twice, taking his tally to 12, wing Chris Nicholas broke from a set-piece move to put in Colin Taylor, and Pellowe at 15 put on something of a show. Durant’s kicking topped off a formidable display.

But what of Penryn’s Paul Winnan?

He was the prey of David Kingston, who

…usually crunched…

Packet, January 5, 1978

the Borough’s kingpin whenever he had the ball. And perhaps when he didn’t…

Kinger…

David Kingston stares down the cameraman. Courtesy Paul White

David Kingston came to Camborne via St Ives and, earlier, Gloucester. At first a centre, he switched to flanker and found the job suited his abrasive, pugnacious style – he was a “cocky bugger”, remembers Paul Ranford. Like his regular partner and wing-forward, Frank Butler, winning the ball and thwarting the opposition was his especial talent. Kingston summarises his role thus:

To kill the half-backs…

He made sure his victims were aware that he was coming for them. Said Jumbo Reed, Kingston

…would always walk past the opposition fly-half and hint that he was going to smash him…

One can only imagine what form this ‘hint’ took.

Alan Truscott also recalls Kingston’s up-and-at-em game. He was

…aggressive, tough in defence and a good ball-carrier…[a] motivator, never liked losing…

Likewise for David May, ‘Kinger’ was an

…abrasive competitor with more talent than most thought…

Frank Butler, too, pays homage to his partner in rugby’s underworld:

David was a tough man, always a fierce competitor who demanded lots from all his team mates…[he] played centre in his early days so had all the skills too…

If you were a back in the Camborne XV, David Kingston was the kind of forward you loved. However, if you were an outside on the opposite side of the line, you probably feared him.

The ultimate No. 7.

Auld lang syne…

So, into 1978. Was all going well for Camborne’s Centenary Season?

On paper, yes. They’d played 24 games, won 18, drawn 1 and lost 5. The 613 points they’d racked up dwarfed the 182 conceded.

But the big Cornish wins eluded them: Redruth and St Ives were their masters. A win against a big touring side would be nice too: the narrow loss to Pontypridd had been Town’s best effort thus far – and that had been back in September.

How fortunate, then, that two big games were coming up. The major team in Devon, Plymouth Albion, were due to visit. And then there was a crunch return fixture in the Merit Table against St Ives.

That was a must-win.

Time for a change of tactics?

Find out in the New Year’s Rugby Special, here

Many thanks for reading

References

  1. According to: https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/history/what-were-you-up-during-14083800
  2. See Rugby Special ~ Part Three here
  3. Nick Serpell, Redruth RFC’s historian, told me that in no way was the Boxing Day fixture a regular feature of the two sides’ calendar in the 1800s and early 1900s. My own research in this area agrees with his. For example, in 1912, Camborne refused to play Redruth on Boxing Day following a “rupture” between the clubs – see the West Briton, September 26, 1912, p8. Until 1965, the two sides would traditionally meet on Boxing Day in Redruth; on Feast Monday in November, Camborne would be hosts – after all, it was the date of their annual feast (see: https://www.cornwallforever.co.uk/year/camborne-feast). After this date, the Feast game was dropped, and the venue was alternated on Boxing Day. However, Frank Butler remembers as many as four Camborne-Redruth fixtures a season in the early 1970s. See the West Briton, July 7, 1992, p20.
  4. Follow the link here.
  5. According to the report in the West Briton, December 29, 1994, p20.
  6. Of course, with the advent of the RFU’s National League system from 1987, and the professionalisation of the game from 1995, the Camborne-Redruth rivalry has become somewhat diluted. As the two sides are no longer in the same league, the Boxing Day game is now a friendly (I use the term loosely), with both sides rarely being at full-strength.
  7. The Packet, December 29, 1977.
  8. See Rugby Special ~ Part Four here
  9. The Packet, December 29, 1977.

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