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Cornwall Writer

Reading time: 10 minutes

A few months back I wangled a platform on the Cornwall Writers website, a “community of writers living in or inspired by Cornwall”. At the time I was looking for ways of promoting myself and, as this site is mainly for up-and-coming authors and writers I thought it would be a good thing for yours truly to be present there too. Check out the homepage, and you can see me, nestled in beside Winston Graham and Rosamund Pilcher, desperately hoping some of their fame and talent will rub off on me.

Of course, neither Graham nor Pilcher sought permission or had to fling themselves through several metaphorical hoops to warrant inclusion on the site. Indeed we’ll never know what they think of their inclusion; the site’s owner has arbitrarily entered their details in the hope of lending the whole affair some status and authenticity. That’s what I think anyway.

I include here some of my more important and relevant responses to the site’s “Author Interview“. The rather more twee questions I haven’t bothered with here and, at the time, only answered them under duress. For any of you looking for my motivations as a writer, especially of fiction, read on.

One deceptively simple lesson I learnt from the Cornwall Writers website is this: build your own website. Then it’s yours, and yours alone.

HHhH, by Laurent Binet. Recommended.

What are your favourite books?

My favourite novel at the moment is “HHhH” by Laurent Binet, about the assassination of the Nazi SS Chief Heydrich by Czech agents of the SOE in 1942. It’s a fascinating and ultimately harrowing tale, but it’s the questions Binet raises about the process of actually writing historical fiction that I find thought-provoking. Binet’s argument is that, to attempt to fictionally reconstruct an historical event (eg. to invent characters, dialogue, thoughts etc) is a pointless exercise that waters down the impact that particular event might have had. Throughout his book he constantly criticises other novels about Heydrich’s death to make his point. As a writer of historical fiction myself, Binet’s criticism of his own genre made me analyse what I was constructing with my own story about the Camborne Riots: should I invent characters? How can I empathise with people who lived nearly 150 years ago? Why not just write the actual facts, as Binet did with Heydrich? Binet, though, has an advantage over me. In writing about the assassination of Heydrich, all the principle characters in his story are well known and documented. In writing about the Camborne Riots, no names or identities of the most important protagonists – the rioters themselves – have come to light. So what else could I do but make some up? Just because none were ever caught, does that mean they shouldn’t be written about in some small way? Writing a story about the Camborne Riots of 1873 without the rioters would be like writing the story of Heydrich’s death without…without, well, Heydrich himself!

Another recent top read of mine is “Gallows Pole” by Benjamin Myers. This is another historical novel, telling the tale of the Cragg Vale Coiners, a ruthless band of 18th century counterfeiters from the Yorkshire Dales. Like my novel, Myers only had the bare newspaper articles and a few stray documents on which to hang his tale, and although some of the language is overwrought with gravitas, he’s managed to create an entirely plausible world in which the story takes place. Myers, of course, lives in Cragg Vale and is intimate with the area and its surrounds. Coming from Camborne and knowing something of the character and culture of the town put me at an advantage when coming to write a story so unique to the area. I could visualise the events so clearly when reading the articles on the riots because, quite simply, I’d grown up on the same streets as which they’d taken place.

Gallows Pole, by Benjamin Myers. Recommended.

What’s your favourite genre?

My favourite genre is obviously historical fiction, but that’s not to say I have issues with the form. A publisher rejected my manuscript on the grounds that my novel lacked a big historical character – in other words, it lacked a selling point. So, police brutality, mob vengeance, street violence and wanton vandalism aren’t good selling points?! I considered writing WG Grace into the cricket match that opens my story, or having Prime Minister Gladstone take the train to Camborne to view the devastation for himself, but then realised that this was an utterly fatuous exercise. A good story should stand alone, and not be propped up by cheap effects. Granted, it seems any novel featuring Hitler (or one of Henry VIII’s wives, say) will be successful, but so should stories that feature the forgotten, the maligned, and the exploited – like the Cragg Vale Coiners. Or the Camborne rioters. Especially a story about how the forgotten, maligned and exploited people get one over on their oppressors – like my novel! Just because an historical novel features a luminary from the past – “Champion”, by Stephen Deutsch, includes the German boxer Max Schmeling, for example – doesn’t necessarily make it a great read.

Staying in with Stephen Deutsch | Linda's Book Bag
Champion, by Stephen Deutsch. Not recommended.

Why do you write?

Generally, I’ve always enjoyed writing, I’ve often been told I’m rather good at it. My job isn’t especially stimulating intellectually and I find writing a decent way of keeping myself fresh. More specifically, I wrote this story about the Camborne Riots of 1873 because I’ve come to believe that representations of Cornwall in the media as a tourist hot-spot marginalise areas of the county that lack traditional tourist attractions. Camborne, with few jobs, no coastline, and no sandy beach, is one of these places. If I couldn’t promote Camborne as a tourist attraction, why not promote the town for what it was once famous for, its mines? I suppose you might argue that my novel promotes Camborne as an anti-tourist attraction, but I believe Cornwall’s mining heritage is as important and as relevant as the tourism industry that props the county’s economy up today.

What inspired your story?

When growing up in Camborne, the last few mines were closing, my dad got made redundant from Compair Holmans (the manufacturer of mining equipment), and my grandad retired from working underground too. Camborne in the 1980s, it seemed to me, was closing down. I was drunk in Camborne’s Red Jackets pub (more than once) back in the 1990s and recall seeing a faux-Victorian newspaper print briefly commemorating the story of the riots tacked to one of the walls. Years later, I found a short online article about the tumult which got my interest going, and I got hold of all the contemporary newspaper articles on the subject. It was fascinating. Brawlers, boozers, corrupt policemen, imprisoned women, Methodist preachers, miners, brutal punch-ups…Camborne, at its boomtown peak, suddenly reappeared. This was Camborne, before it had closed down. It was as if, back in 1873, someone had drafted a story for me to write in the future. Why not, I said to myself, write a story about Camborne as it was, a rich, prosperous, almost lawless town, before the mines closed and tourism came along? The newspapers largely told the story from the perspective of the authorities: the rioters’ activities were generally condemned. Why not write the story from the point of view of the rioters, their lives, their concerns, their motivations? In the end I did two things. I wrote a novel, supposedly the “true” account of the riots, narrated by one of the rioters who also happened to be my great-grandfather. I also launched a website (https://camborneriot1873.com/), which is the historical side to my novel and features most of my research into the subject and analysis of the primary sources. The novel takes the suggestion of complicity, between the townspeople and rioters against the police, that was hinted at in the newspapers, and reveals that, in fact, a plot existed in the town to rid Camborne of the policemen once and for all. For a few short days, the rioters were victorious. And the entire town was involved in hiding the perpetrators’ identities.

What do you find inspiring about Cornwall?

Its history. And here I’m not talking about the various Celtic crosses, Iron Age settlements, dolmens etc, but the other relics of Cornwall’s past: the ruined engine houses, the wastelands where housing estates can’t be built on account of being too undermined, the commemorative buildings of mine dignitaries that are now blocks of flats. So you could say that the Cornish landscape inspires me: the landscape of a dead industry. Another relic that interests me is the Cornish language, and how various words have passed into common usage, even if those who use them fail to recognise them as “Cornish”. All these inspirations find their way into my novel. Cornish culture, or aspects of it, inspire me as well. The importance of sport, especially cricket and rugby, and the local rivalries they give lend to, finds its way into my story: the opening chapter features a cricket match. Cornish insularity and the Cornish people’s traditional mistrust of outsiders is also present in my writing. It’s not insignificant that Camborne’s police chief in 1873 was from the Isle of Wight – you might say that was a mark against him from the start!

Tregenna House, Camborne. Once home to Josiah Thomas, Manager of Dolcoath, the deepest and biggest mine in Britain. Now an old people’s home. Courtesy of Kresen Kernow, ref. corn05093

How do you think Cornwall has shaped your writing?

“The Camborne Riots of 1873” is a grim tale. I’ve been told as much. Yes, it’s earthy, yes, it’s funny, but there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a coarse, grimy, violent slice of life from Victorian England’s underbelly. Did I mean it to be like this? Should I have written a Cornish novel with rugged heroes, windswept heaths and swooning maidens? No, I couldn’t. The Cornwall, the Camborne, that I grew up in, back in the 1980s, could be a grim, grimy place. I suppose it boils down to the old saw: write about what you know. I knew foul language, heavy drinkers, and streetfights, so it followed that this was what I would write about. Camborne’s riots were the perfect inspiration for me to write a novel – it’s the Cornwall I know.

What do you think influenced this story?

In terms of the phonetic dialect which I use throughout, Irvine Welsh and Roddy Doyle. I’ve been told that my use of dialect can challenge the reader (much like Welsh and Doyle) but, after a chapter or so, your reading mind adjusts. The series of Flashman novels proved heavily influential too: a fictional character is inserted into real-life events, and provides the reader with his own, often caustic, observations on these events. But, whereas Flashman was (apart from a shameless cad) a supposedly educated, well-to-do Victorian celebrity, my narrator is an illiterate teenager. George MacDonald Fraser’s level of historical research for his Flashman books have always impressed me and I sought to emulate his eye for authenticity in my own work.

Recommended.
Recommended.
Recommended.

If you would like to discover more about my novel, see my recent post, or contact me!

Many thanks

Rugby Special ~ Part Eleven

Reading time: 20 minutes

(If you missed Part Ten, click here…)

PlayedWonDrawnLostFor Against
Camborne191612373124
Hayle171304228110
St Ives181314336124
Redruth16916257124
Penzance-Newlyn18927223197
Penryn1370615098
Falmouth17818180155
Newquay Hornets16709172219
St Austell152112119330
Truro15211298435
Launceston18101791303
Cornwall RFU Merit Table, from the Packet, March 22, 1978. Camborne’s position is unassailable.

As it was…

It’s Tuesday, March 21, 1978. Kate Bush has made her first trip to the top of the charts with ‘Wuthering Heights’. Britt Ekland states she wants a rock-star for her next boyfriend. Doctors at Treliske Hospital, Truro, have written a letter of complaint to the Social Services Secretary, Mr David Ennals, highlighting the pressures on the hospital’s services1.

Camborne have beaten the students of Cardiff University 27-0.

After the Lord Mayor’s Show…

It’s hard to imagine many of Camborne’s 1st XV made this fixture. The previous day, they’d beaten Falmouth to clinch the CRFU Merit Table; on the Saturday they’d won in Redruth to reach the CRFU Cup Final2.

They’d earned a break. But not for long.

Although Town had already played 38 matches, there were still 15 fixtures scheduled3. From their recent performances, Camborne now had a certain reputation to uphold, as Merrill Clymo realised:

Success brings support and this is very evident at present.

Programme notes, Camborne v Saracens, March 24, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

Not only did the fans expect a high standard of play, the players probably realised they couldn’t ease off either.

Top sides from up the line were due to visit, and Town had yet to notch a victory against this particular brand of opposition.

Plus, their status as Merit Table champions had earned them a place next season in the regional South West Merit Table, where quality upcountry challengers were a matter of course.

In just under a month’s time, Camborne would qualify for the national John Player Knockout Cup4 – provided they beat St Austell in the CRFU Cup Final.

Camborne would want to know what it took to beat such teams.

First up, on the 24th – Good Friday – was Saracens.

Mank’s the name, rugby’s the game…

The team that played Saracens. Back, l to r: David Kingston, David May, Jock Denholm, Richard Thomas, Paul Ranford, Chris Durant (c), Bobby Tonkin. Front, l to r: Bob Lees, Colin Taylor, Nigel Pellowe, Robert Mankee, Frank Butler, Malcolm Bennetts, Derick Taylor, Dave Edwards. Courtesy Paul White

Frank Butler told me that, in the 1970s, Saracens weren’t quite the side they are today, but they were no pushovers either.

In recent seasons Saracens had twice been semi-finalists in the John Player Cup, and therefore were not to be taken lightly5.

The visitors weren’t taking things for granted either, and had identified scrum-half Robert Mankee as the man to target.

Mankee himself remembers the murmurings coming from the Sarries’ camp:

…watch Mankee…he’s like a tumbler in the circus…

The press picked up on this too:

…Saracens quickly discovered that no end of possibilities could be created by putting pressure on Mankee…

Western Morning News, March 25, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

At half-time, it was 3-7 to Saracens. They’d done something a Cornish crowd hadn’t seen in a long time: Camborne’s pack moved backwards.

This obviously rattled Mankee, and Saracens’ try was the result of a panicky clearance kick from him being charged down6.

But you can’t keep a man as irrepressible as ‘Mank’ down for long…

Mankee as a fresh-faced Colt. Courtesy Mark Warren
And here, pictured far right in the early 1980s at Wheal Jane, Baldhu. From left: Jake Tann (Truro RFC), Bill Hobba (Wheal Jane Manager), Mervyn Randlesome (Penryn RFC), Graham Hill (Truro RFC), Paul Thomason (Redruth RFC), Mank. Courtesy of the man himself

Here’s Paul Ranford on the man who used to announce his entry into most changing rooms, and a few bars, with a loud rendition of Mank’s the name…rugby’s the game..! :

…a typical Gerry guy…hard as nails…

‘Gerry’ of course refers to Wheal Gerry, now part of Roskear in Camborne. Here’s Jumbo Reed. Mank was a

…brilliant scrum-half…hard as nails…

David May:

Mercurial…fearless…never beaten…afraid of no-one…great athlete…

Malcolm Bennetts:

Hard…talented…brilliant gymnast…

Frank Butler:

…incredible competitor…very fit…great gymnast…always on the move…fearless in the tackle…always up for a fight…a dream to play with…

‘Always up for a fight’: Gerald Williams, of Crawshay’s, would grudgingly agree7.

Alan Truscott:

…livewire…aggressive…irritated everyone who played against him…quick, strong, mouthy…simply a handful for the opposition and referee…

No-one was safe, not even international scrum-halves:

…he was once playing against Nigel Starmer-Smith and as the two scrum halves crouched side by side at a scrum Mank would knock the ball out of his hands into the scrum which we then won. Starmer-Smith duly complained to the ref but was given short shrift. He then warned Mank implying some physical retribution but Mank’s reply was ‘don’t be silly I’m a hard rock miner’…

Malcolm Tonkin

You get the general impression. Mankee’s talents as a gymnast usually manifested themselves whenever he was playing to the gallery – which was often. Here’s a Camborne fan, Michael Roberts:

I can still picture Mank doing two or three forward rolls before touching down…

Frank Butler and Malcolm Bennetts both told me that, when playing for Cornwall against Gloucestershire, Mankee had actually somersaulted over the Bristol and England flanker Mike Rafter to score.

You may not credit this tale, were there not a photo of the actual event:

Another Mank catchphrase was Is it a bird, is it a plane, no! it’s Camborne and Cornwall’s mercurial scrum half…Courtesy Phil Meyers

Also watching this quitessential ‘Mank’ moment was clubman Malcolm Tonkin:

…Rafter was waiting to attempt to tackle him and was going to go very low and Mank being a gymnast just did a huge leap over him just as the tackle was going in and then did a forward roll afterwards.  It brought a huge cheer. What you might not have been told was that in the clubhouse afterwards Mank wound up Rafter by doing a “Stan Laurel” quizzical look and scratching his head….

He was also once invited to play for Harlequins. Though the ‘quins had stuffed Town by 60 points, after the game Mankee was asked to meet their brass up in the grandstand, where he was offered a run-out for the club, with the promise of a job. For one reason and another, he declined.

Robert Mankee was the heartbeat of the team. You’d hate to play against him. He must have driven the opposition mad. But you’d love to play with him.

Back to the Saracens match. They might have been trailing at half-time, but Town didn’t panic. Teams used to winning don’t panic, especially teams well-drilled in the art of attrition.

In the second half, Camborne took control. Durant nailed a penalty which resulted from a Bob Lees break.

Paul Ranford then scored his 14th try of the season from the ‘1234’ move, bursting through short from a lineout.

Then, who else but Mankee had the last laugh. A patented Mank blindside break put in Richard Thomas, for one of his 12 Centenary tries.

(“A try machine”, is how Jumbo Reed recalls Thomas.)

Action from the game. Bobby Tonkin and Chris Durant fight for – and win – the ball. To the left, Jock Denholm is kindly wiping the nose of a Saracens player with his forearm. Courtesy Paul White

Camborne 16, Saracens 10. A big, prestigious, noteworthy victory.

Camborne take the cake…8

Eccles RFC, 1977. Courtesy Chris Gaffey

Not every touring side to visit Camborne were hard-bitten, experienced and talented XVs looking to run Cornwall’s best off the pitch.

Take, for example, Eccles RFC, from Manchester, who played Camborne the day after Saracens.

Their tour manager was Geoff Wallwork. Brian Griffiths, their skipper, told me that

The scene would have been set by Geoff…He obviously liked Cornwall and arranged several tours to suit himself. He had no doubt built up our reputation in order to get this fixture…

In fact, Wallwork loved Cornwall so much he’d taken a surfboard on tour with him. He also decided to sit out the game at the Rec.

Another player, Andy Brunt, recalls that Camborne were

…a proper senior club with a proper ground, stands and all…

Brian Griffiths backs this up:

…this was, for Camborne, a serious, no-holds-barred first team fixture – we were on tour!

Quite. As the Eccles XV ran up the steps from the changing rooms, one player slipped and went face-first into the mud.

It didn’t get much better for Eccles, who did what touring sides normally do in such situations: lose gamely. A second-string Camborne XV beat them 36-3.

And then they all went to the clubhouse…

Without touching the sides…

Camborne’s clubhouse, with its regular roster of bands organised by Dickie Bray, was always popular – though Nigel Pellowe’s preference was for The Countryman pub, at Peace. For the more adventurous (and less attached), there was always The Flamingo nightclub, on East Hill.

On the dancefloor at The Flamingo, 1970s. From Kernow Beat

Malcolm Bennetts recalls that, after many a game, the opposition would be challenged to drink a pint as quickly as possible: £1 to enter, £5 to the winner, with the surplus kitty being spent on jugs.

Camborne could play this game, said Bennetts, with a loaded deck. One of the team, whose name I’m witholding,

…could down a pint of beer in less than three seconds…People just stood there gobsmacked as it went down his throat without touching the sides…

(Let’s just say I’m printing the legend here.)

Not all post-match socialising was about boozing. David May remembers that the singing

…was of a high standard…

This was led by Colin ‘Seamus’ Taylor, who by all accounts had a fine baritone. The other songbirds were Alan Truscott, Barry Wills, Bobby Tonkin, Derick Taylor and Bob Lees. This choir, said Truscott, was “most impressive”.

So much so that, one season, after a game at Bristol when the opposition were treated to a rendition of such standards as ‘Camborne Hill’ and ‘Little Eyes’, Bristol’s President stood and said that

…they’d played all the best Welsh sides, but this was the best singing they’d ever heard…

David May

Maybe he was being polite. Maybe Camborne had several guest players from a local works’ choir in tow…

*

Camborne’s 13-game winning streak was brought to an end two days later, on Easter Monday. Coventry, John Player Cup Champions in 1973 and 19749, laid them low 13-26. Before you ask, the late, great David Duckham didn’t play, but Coventry were skippered by Barry Ninnes, of Cornwall and England.

Speaking of the John Player Cup, in his notes for the game Merrill Clymo announced who Camborne would be travelling to play in that competition’s preliminary round, provided they beat St Austell in the CRFU Cup Final:

…Matson in Gloucestershire…

Programme notes, Camborne v Coventry, March 27, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

Who?

This was a way off yet. In the meantime, Devonport Services were unable to raise a side on Saturday the 1st. I imagine many players relished the day off. They needed it.

On Thursday the 6th, visiting Wolverhampton were beaten 24-4.

The next day, Dudley Kingswinford came to the Rec, and went home losers, 13-7.

The day after that, Saturday the 8th, came a tough side from the Valleys, Abertillery, who Camborne held to a 6-6 draw.

Pause for breath. A guest Camborne School of Mines XV were no match for Town on Thursday the 13th, losing 20-6.

Appearing for Camborne at 10 was the coach Alan Truscott, who incurred the wrath of Paul Ranford for kicking away too much possession. There were no sacred cows for Ranford, even in a friendly.

In fact, several key men were rested for this fixture, for, that Saturday, a sumptuous feast of rugby was taking place at Camborne.

In the afternoon, England Colts were playing their French counterparts.

And then, at 6pm, arguably the best team in the land were due to take the field.

Cardiff.

The average Welsh player…

Cardiff RFC, 1977-78

The Orrell and Crawshay’s Welsh XV full-back, Dave Gullick, told me that in the 1970s

The average Welsh player was better than the average anywhere else…

This statement is borne out by the mid-70s existence of the ‘Anglo-Welsh Alliance’, an unofficial (ie, not recognised by the RFU or the WRU) league comprising the top English and Welsh clubs10. The Alliance did little more than

…confirm the superiority of Welsh rugby…

Daily Mirror, October 23, 1976, p26

The results, from an English perspective, were “grim”, and made the national selectors “wince”11.

Cardiff weren’t your ‘average’ Welsh club. In the 77-78 season, they only lost nine matches from 46 fixtures. Their fluent, open, fifteen-man ‘total’ rugby scored them over a thousand points, and included a victory over Coventry, the side who’d recently broken Town’s winning run. Hell, in 1975, they’d beaten Australia, and in late 1976, they’d hammered Italy12.

No, Cardiff weren’t average. They were frightening. This was the XV they named for Camborne:

Courtesy Frank Butler

In the event, the great wing Gerald Davies didn’t play. Rumour has it he heard he’d have to mark Dave Edwards, and cried off.

At time of writing, Mr Davies was unavailable for comment.

There was international class everywhere. Over the course of their careers, Pat Daniels (who had played at Camborne for Crawshay’s earlier that season) earned two Welsh caps, Barry Nelmes 6 (for England), Mike Watkins 3, and Ian Robinson 2.

Gareth Davies would play 21 times for Wales, skippering them on five occasions, and also represented the British Lions. Terry Holmes would earn 25 caps, and also play for the Lions, proving an admirable successor to Gareth Edwards13.

In fact, it was the threat of an appearance at Camborne by Edwards that gave Robert Mankee a sleepless night before the match. Not that Mank was afraid of the great man; rather his concern was

…how to prove yourself…

…against the best in the world. How would Mank measure up?

Of course, Edwards didn’t make the trip. A horde of young Camborne ball-boys, including Paul White, Mark Warren, and Martin and Michael Symons, would be denied the spectacle – and his autograph.

(Perhaps Edwards had heard, via Gerald Williams, what Mankee did to Welsh scrum-halves…14)

Gasped and clapped…

The Camborne XV that played Cardiff. Courtesy Frank Butler

The Cardiff game of the season is the one occasion of the Centenary Season that everyone remembers – mainly because everyone was there.

Merrill Clymo, whilst acknowledging Cardiff as the “most famous Rugby Side in the word”, was quietly optimistic of Town’s chances:

It is…a tribute to the Camborne side this season that Cardiff have seen fit to bring their full first team…

Programme notes, Camborne v Cardiff, April 15, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

Camborne may have been good. They may have been very good.

But Cardiff were something else.

Early on, remembers David May, Gareth Davies launched a spiral kick

…to touch so far that the crowd gasped and clapped…

Gareth Davies poised to launch one into the stratosphere for Wales. Image George Herringshaw

That’s how good Cardiff were. Even a simple clearance kick garnered admiration and respect.

In fact, May continues, Cardiff

…were simply awesome…unstoppable…

He also recalls

…watching their first try. One of their players was one-to-one with Nigel [Pellowe], who never missed a tackle, but he never even touched his opponent. I thought, ‘we’re in trouble…’

Note that May ‘watched’ Cardiff’s first try: he was actually playing. However, for much of the game – Cardiff were estimated to have had 85% of possession15 – watch, and admire, was all Camborne could do.

3,000 fans came to the Rec to watch Cardiff play. Courtesy Paul White

David Kingston states they were simply “too good”, and recalls the pitch

…catching fire…

as Cardiff’s wing left everyone for dead.

Malcolm Bennetts remembers the experience of playing in front of such a massive crowd was “amazing”, but Camborne were

…not prepared for the onslaught of rugby…

Cardiff were “in a different class”, and so fast, said Bennetts, their entire XV always seemed five yards ahead of Camborne.

Pat Daniels was usually more than five yards ahead of David May – or anybody. As he scorched past the Camborne 13, leaving him clutching at thin air to score under the posts, a spectator with a loud voice and talent for stating the obvious cried out

Tackles, May!

May turned, hands on hips, and indignantly demanded of the spectator a pair of rocket shoes.

Pat Daniels, for once, is brought down before the try-line – against Australia. Getty images

Bob Lees found himself with a sniff of a try. A searing 50-yard break left him with just the full-back to beat. As Bob planned to feint and swerve around Cardiff’s last man, and then to score against Cardiff, he heard a shout from behind him, loud and clear above the cheering thousands:

Bob! I’m with you!

Lees turned to see prop Jock Denholm, lumbering up from about 15 yards back. It was a mistake.

A split-second later, Lees was crunched, and Cardiff launched a rollicking attack of their own from under the posts.

Jock…

Courtesy Paul White

It was Denholm’s only error that match. Mankee recalls he was “outstanding that night”, and his scrummaging was singled out in the Press16.

Jock was so tough even several of his team-mates confess he was scary. Frank Butler told me he was “brutally strong”. Malcolm Bennetts mentions a game where Jock had to leave the pitch injured:

…his ear was just hanging by a thread of skin…

Bennetts noted Jock’s ailment…then turned white. Five minutes later, Jock was back, head bandaged. He finished the game with blood soaking through his dressings, and only then did he go to A&E to have his ear reattached.

Alan Truscott rated him the toughest, and best, prop in the Westcountry, who gave Camborne’s already intimidating pack a fearsome edge. Launceston’s Mickey Stephens admits their forwards simply couldn’t handle him.

A truly hard man. Were it not for his work that night against Cardiff, the scoreline could have been worse.

Blitzed…

Camborne lost, 3-46. Derick Taylor kicked Town’s token penalty. Cardiff ran in ten tries:

…the Cornishmen were thrust aside in a blitz…

wrote Cardiff’s chairman17. Chris Durant described the scoreline as

…a fair reflection…

Derick Taylor remembers this about his opposite number, Gareth Davies, who

…came onto the pitch looking like a male model with his hair done up…and he came off looking exactly the f__king same…nobody laid a finger on him…

The Packet described the game for Camborne as an “ordeal”18. Malcolm Bennetts reckoned the entire team were “shattered” after eighty minutes of what Dave Edwards and Richard Thomas described as “chasing shadows”.

They had four days to recover. On Wednesday the 19th, in Redruth, it was the CRFU Cup Final, against St Austell.

Easy win…

Until next Sunday, February 5th, cue up the Rugby Special theme…

Many thanks for reading

References

  1. From the Daily Mirror, p1, and the West Briton, March 20, 1978, p3.
  2. See Rugby Special ~ Part Ten here.
  3. Robert Mankee told me that the normal duration for a season at that time was around 35-40 fixtures.
  4. For a brief history of the RFU Cup, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RFU_Knockout_Cup
  5. As mentioned here: https://www.saracens.com/early-days/
  6. Western Morning News, March 25, 1978.
  7. See Rugby Special ~ Part Two here.
  8. From the Packet, March 29, 1978.
  9. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coventry_R.F.C.
  10. See: https://www.gloucesterrugbyheritage.org.uk/content/match_reports-2/match_reports/proposed-anglo-welsh-league-alliance-mid-1970s
  11. Daily Mirror, October 23, 1976, p26.
  12. See: http://cardiffrfc.com/1486-2, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardiff_RFC#1970s
  13. See: http://cardiffrfc.com/internationals
  14. See Rugby Special ~ Part Two here.
  15. According to the Packet, April 20, 1978.
  16. The Packet, April 19, 1978.
  17. From: http://cardiffrfc.com/1486-2
  18. April 20, 1978.

Rugby Special ~ Part Ten

Reading time: twenty minutes

(If you missed Part Nine, click here…)

These are the best two Rugby teams in the county, and included in them are men who have donned the county colours…but the rivalry between the two clubs has sometimes produced a feeling that does harm to sport, and the sooner this lesson is learnt the better it will be for Cornish Rugby…

“Argus”, West Briton, April 29, 1912, p2

…it may possibly be the most important encounter ever between very old rivals…

Programme notes, Redruth v Camborne, CRFU Cup semi-final, March 18, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

As it was…

It’s Saturday, March 18, 1978. In the Five Nations Championship, Wales are hosting France in a Grand Slam decider – for the record, Wales won. (Incidentally, this was Gareth Edwards’ final game for Wales.) At Twickenham, England and Ireland are competing in a dead rubber, which England won.

But. But. As Jerry Clarke wrote,

…all the real Rugby…will be played at Redruth…

Packet, March 15, 1978. Courtesy Alan Rowling

Today is the day of the season’s biggest Cornish rugby fixture to date. Clarke sent a clarion-call to every Cornish rugby fan:

…every true follower of the game in the area will surely desert the clinical atmosphere of the dreaded box for the very real electric atmosphere of the Recreation ground.

Packet, March 15, 1978. Courtesy Alan Rowling

It’s the CRFU Cup semi-final, to be played in Redruth.

It’s Camborne against Redruth.

You’re not missing that, surely.

Courtesy Frank Butler

The Game of all Games…part three…

Let’s set the scene. Throughout their Centenary Season, Camborne have gone from also-rans to be the coming men of Cornish rugby. They’re looking set to win the CRFU Merit Table in three days time.

They’ve won their previous eight fixtures; the last team to beat them was Plymouth Albion, back in early January.

Those eight victories have been the making of Camborne’s season.

The wins have made them virtually untouchable in the Merit Table. As St Ives’ own season unravelled, Town went from a worrying third place to the top spot.

Packet, March 15, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

In those eight games, they’d scored 139 points, and conceded only 39. The big scores seen against touring sides earlier in the season might have dried up, but now, this was a disciplined, clinical, ruthless Camborne XV. Their play was almost relentless and mechanical. At this stage, they genuinely were playing, ball-boy Tim Carr observed,

…like a machine…

Jerry Clarke called their pack the “finest” in Cornwall1. Paul Ranford is more explicit:

…we were just big guys who had ball-handling skills and nastiness thrown into the mix…

Their outsides had received some criticism, but in truth, they had to live in the shadow of their forwards. In that shadow lurked the unpredictable flair of Tanzi Lea, the finishing skills of Edwards and Lees, the astute David May and rock-hard Colin Taylor, the metronomic boot of Derick Taylor and blossoming talent of Steve Floyd, a ballistic missile in Nigel Pellowe, and the mercurial-yet-tough Robert Mankee.

One of those eight wins, over St Ives, had given them this spot in the semi-final.

Camborne were massive. They were iron. No one in Cornwall could live with them.

Except Redruth.

The line-ups. Tanzi Lea was actually unavailable, so Derick Taylor came in at 10, with Pellowe moving to 15. Courtesy Frank Butler

As we saw earlier in the season2, Camborne’s form had meant little or nothing to their oldest, and nearest, rivals.

It was going to mean bugger-all to Redruth today as well.

Today, they couldn’t give a damn that they were fourth in the Merit Table. So what that their titanic prop, Terry Pryor, was on the bench for England up at Twickenham. (What Pryor’s feelings were about warming a seat up in London whilst his club played their biggest fixture for years is sadly unknown.)

Today, all that mattered was beating Camborne.

Hell, they had the form to prove it could be done. The Redruth RFC match programme left one in little doubt as to what the result might be, whilst simultaneously grinding Town’s nose in the dirt:

As a guide to the possible outcome of today’s game the previous matches resulted in a drawn game at Redruth, and a win for Redruth at Camborne on Boxing Day.

Programme notes, Redruth v Camborne, CRFU Cup semi-final, March 18, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

They were the only Cornish side who hadn’t lost to Camborne.

Mike Downing, the Mighty Mouse, had all of Camborne’s play on lockdown from his vantage point at 15.

Fly-half Brett Pedley was in top form, having just been capped for Cornwall U23s; centre Nick Brokenshire was hitting his straps too3.

Locks Dave Parsons and Laurie Spear would relish yet another set-to with their old foes Durant and Ranford. John Kitto, in for Pryor, would be licking his lips at the chance to spoil Camborne’s possession yet again.

Redruth might not be able to stop Camborne from winning the Merit Table, but they could make bleddy sure they denied them a shot at the CRFU Cup.

In no order of significance, what Redruth wanted from this game might be summarised thus:

  • Beat Camborne in their Centenary Season again;
  • Deny Camborne the pleasure of beating Redruth in their Centenary Season;
  • Deny Camborne a shot at the Cup-Merit Table double;
  • Reach the CRFU Cup final and salvage their own season;
  • Have bragging rights – for players and supporters – at such workplaces as South Crofty, Holman’s, Maxam and SWEB for the foreseeable future, if not for all time.

First things first. Beat Camborne.

As Jerry Clarke put it,

…it is going to be one of the hardest games seen in Cornwall this year…

Packet, March 15, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

That remained to be seen, but Clarke was right in his earlier prediction. Photographs of the match, taken by a young Paul White, show a packed Redruth Recreation Ground.

No one stayed in to watch the Five Nations.

This was the Game of all Games.

No one was missing this

Mr Teasy…

From the opening seconds, Camborne were in trouble. Redruth, with Hellfire Corner in full voice, smashed into their guests’ half from the kickoff and rapidly gained possession of the ball in a maul.

Camborne, caught reeling, hadn’t organised themselves. On the blindside, slap-bang on Camborne’s 25, Redruth had three men facing one Camborne tackler.

Brett Pedley, screaming like a banshee for the ball, raced to take the pass from the back of the maul, and all Hellfire Corner screamed with him.

All he had to do was catch the ball, ship it on to his right, and Redruth would be on the scoreboard – and Camborne in the shit – in under a minute.

In the stands, Redruth were already celebrating. Redruth were already in the final.

The pass went out to Pedley.

Waiting for him, was Dave Edwards…

Most improved player, 1977-78. Courtesy of the man himself

Edwards, or “Mr Teasy” as Jumbo Reed called him, scored 17 tries that season, in just over 30 appearances.

Although he recalls being told this was a record, in fact Reg Parnell was the holder with 29 tries, from way back in 1926-7. David Weeks beat this with 30 in 1984-5, then broke his own record the next season with 39. Alex Ducker currently holds the record with 41, notched up in 2018-9.

Record or not, spectators reckoned Edwards’ strike-rate that season was a try every third pass. This made him a ruthless finisher. Frank Butler rated him a

…very fast winger with a great change of pace and side-step…always finished well…

For Jumbo Reed, he had

…great pace and sidestepping ability…

Alan Truscott said he was a wing who

…knew where the try-line was…deceptively quick…

In the Cornwall U23 squad that season, on reflection he was perhaps unlucky not to gain a full senior cap. However, due to cricket commitments he often missed the first games of the season (and, in 77-78 the important County President’s fixture). Some players also reckon that, while a top wing, he maybe lacked speed and size in this respect.

He didn’t lack guts though.

David May described him as “great” in defence, and Nigel Pellowe always praises his covering ability in the back line. Allied to this, said Robert Mankee, Edwards was a

…fiery old bugger…

who could be more than relied on in the tackle…

Cut back to the action. Pedley never made that pass, and Redruth didn’t score in the opening minute.

As Pedley took the ball, Edwards came at him full bore and slammed him in the chest with all he had. He was rapidly joined by David May, and Pedley was pole-axed into the turf.

Stunned silence in Hellfire Corner, followed by a few thousand spectators collectively wincing.

A second later, hellup…

Spectating, on the Redruth side, was Brian Riddle. Although today he diplomatically states he was “too far away” to judge the action on the pitch, he did tell me that the Redruth supporters, en masse,

…cried foul…

amongst other, more unprintable, things.

In the crowd for Camborne was committee man Terry Symons. What he saw is rather different. Edwards

…struck Pedley as he took the ball…it was a fair tackle…the only thing [Edwards] could do to prevent a try…

The referee awarded a penalty to Redruth, which John Harvey missed. Brian Riddle confirms that, from that moment on, Edwards was known in Redruth as

…that dirty bastard with number eleven on his back…

Also watching, both professionally and passionately, was Jerry Clarke. The tackle was

Naughty, perhaps, but…Pedley was seen very little after that…

Packet, March 22, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

Pedley spent the rest of the match in a daze, and was very possibly concussed. Although both Edwards and Nigel Pellowe concur that there was “no plan” to get Pedley, Redruth’s fly-half and key playmaker had effectively been neutralised. Frank Butler told me that

…we always wanted to close [Pedley] down because it stopped Redruth functioning as well…

Over to Paul Ranford.

That’s mine!

“That’s mine!” read the caption in the Packet of March 22, 1978. Paul Ranford wins the space, and wins the ball. Courtesy Frank Butler

With Pedley out of the game, Redruth had no option but to try and beat Camborne up front. To do this, wrote Clarke,

…the effort required was enormous.

Packet, March 22, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

They were playing into Camborne’s, and Paul Ranford’s, hands.

Redruth tried every lineout ploy imaginable, but Ranford was their equal:

…as the game progressed he became more and more dominant, and it remains a total mystery how he came to be ignored by the county selectors this year…

Packet, March 22, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

Clarke kept a tally of the lineouts. In the first half, mainly due to Ranford, Camborne won this battle 10-7. In the second,

…with the red-jerseyed jumpers nearing exhaustion,

Packet, March 22, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

it was 13-6.

Ranford was a monster that day.

Likewise, Bobby Tonkin “foraged endlessly”4 in the loose, and with possession for the home team cut to a minimum, Hellfire Corner became subdued, and then frustrated.

With Harvey missing another two shots at goal, and Nigel Eslick failing with one of his own, the home support’s mood was not improved.

For Camborne, Durant had slammed over two penalties from 35 and 40 metres.

Durant’s eyes follow the path of the ball. Courtesy Paul White
Very possibly the same kick, caught from another angle. Courtesy David May

Harvey finally found his range, and at half-time it was 6-6.

But Redruth were knackered. The writing, reckoned Jerry Clarke,

…was on the wall…

Packet, March 22, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

He was right.

Cheeky bastard…

Mankee flings a pass out to Derick Taylor; Redruth’s deep defensive alignment leaves them wide open to attack. Courtesy Paul White

In the opening minutes of the second half, Nigel Pellowe, who played like a “supreme general”5, torpedoed into the line on the wing and burst over for a try, with Durant converting.

Despite what seems to be half the Redruth team trying to tackle him, Pellowe gets over the line. One can only assume the jubilant spectator is a Camborne fan. Courtesy Frank Butler

6-12, Camborne.

The Redruth faithful, sensing their team was beginning to flag, turned ugly.

How ugly things could get in Hellfire Corner is described by Paul Ranford:

…I’ve been called every name under the sun from there, mainly ’cause I worked with them in Maxam…[One] Redruth supporter, he couldn’t let my name go all the match, coming off the field I leaned over the barrier and told him to meet me behind the stand…he was last seen running out the ground…cheeky bastard…

Colin Taylor is snagged midfield. Courtesy Paul White

Harvey pulled back a penalty, but that was as good as it got for Redruth. Camborne’s ‘machine’ had worn down their hosts, and now the threequarters could be brought into play.

Bob Lees crashed through Pedley and Mike Downing both, right under the nose of Hellfire Corner:

Lees makes the line, with close attention from Mike Downing (left) and Brett Pedley. Courtesy Frank Butler

Though Durant missed the conversion, the barracking was full-on, with Robert Mankee taking umbrage.

Jogging back after putting Lees in, he flicked a time-honoured and heartfelt gesture to the vociferous grandstand, something that earned him criticism in the press6.

To this day, Mankee is unrepentant. He had schooled in Redruth, and many would have seen him as a ‘traitor’ in turning out for the Cherry & Whites. David May dismisses the Redruth supporters of the time as

…obnoxious and one-sided…

Mankee, despite close attention, gets his kick away. In the packed grandstand, Redruth’s fanbase wish him ill. Courtesy Paul White

Towards the end, Edwards crossed in the other corner, after a dramatic – and jubilantly celebrated – fifty-yard dash to the line. Derick Taylor fed him the ball, Mike Downing wore a sharp hand-off to the chin, and it was all over.

…red-hot favourites…

David May (left) watches the Westward News report on the game with glee in the Redruth clubhouse. From the David May Collection

Camborne 20, Redruth 9.

Not only had Camborne beaten Redruth in the biggest game of the season, they’d won in style, and were now in the CRFU Cup Final.

They walked off the pitch being cheered to the rafters, in the warm knowledge of a heroes’ welcome at work on Monday morning.

Nigel Pellowe, whose job often took him into Redruth, vowed to wear his Camborne jersey to work that week. Only a man of Pellowe’s reputation could have done this with impunity.

Not all the Camborne fans, however, were satisfied. Malcolm Bennetts recalls one irate spectator who would not have been happy

…unless we put fifty points past the bastards…

That small caveat aside, Camborne were now

…red-hot favourites…

Packet, March 22, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

to win the CRFU Cup. In the other semi, and what must have been a game devoid of highlights on a waterlogged pitch, St Austell had pulled off the upset of the season to beat Penryn 3-07.

Beating St Austell to lift the trophy in a month’s time would be a doddle.

That coming Monday, though, was Falmouth, and a chance to wrap up the Merit Table.

West Briton, 23 March, 1978, p20

The game at Dracaena Avenue followed a similar pattern to the one at Redruth. Camborne inexorably wore their opponents into submission. At half-time, it was 3-3

Falmouth, whose tactics Stephen Lightfoot remembers were to circumvent Camborne’s force and move the ball wide quickly, failed to take their chances.

Flyer Barry Trevaskis was away and in, until he slipped a yard short of the line8.

Camborne made no such error, with Edwards touching down late on, and Durant converting.

3-9, Camborne. They’d won ugly, but they’d won. The Merit Table was theirs. The double was on. As Merrill Clymo put it,

Everything that could go right is doing so.

Programme notes, Camborne v Saracens, March 24, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler.

But champions have no time to rest on their laurels. Not in a Centenary Season, with fixtures to honour and fans wanting a look at

…the premier club in the Duchy.

Merrill Clymo, programme notes, Camborne v Saracens, March 24, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler.

The day after beating Falmouth, Town were facing Cardiff University.

The following weekend, Easter, had three games, including tough propositions in Saracens and Coventry.

And then, on April 15, a mere four days before the CRFU Cup Final, rugby aristocracy was coming to the Rec.

Cardiff. How would Camborne fare against arguably the best XV in the UK?

Read all about it in Rugby Special ~ Part Eleven here

Many thanks for reading

References

  1. Packet, March 15, 1978.
  2. See Rugby Special ~ Part Three here, and the Christmas Rugby Special here.
  3. Packet, March 15, 1978.
  4. Packet, March 22, 1978.
  5. Packet, March 22, 1978.
  6. Packet, March 22, 1978.
  7. West Briton, March 23, 1978, p20.
  8. Western Morning News, March 21, 1978.

Rugby Special ~ Part Nine

Reading time: 20 minutes

(If you missed Part Eight, click here…)

As it was…

It’s Tuesday, 31st January, 1978. The number one single that week is ‘Uptown Top Ranking’, by Althea and Donna. Tory leader Margaret Thatcher comes under fire from the Labour government for allegedly wanting to use the immigration issue to attract National Front voters to her party. The previous weekend’s 100mph storms had caused extensive damage in West Cornwall, including a 12ft by 10ft plate-glass window a half-inch thick being blown clean out of the shop-front of Cocking’s Drapery, Redruth1.

Camborne have been top of the CRFU Merit Table for three days. That evening, they’re travelling to the club they dislodged from the #1 spot, St Ives, in a CRFU Cup quarter-final tie.

Tonight’s game must be won…

For The Hakes, the boot was now on the other foot. The author of their match programme notes was “D.G.”: Paul Sweeney told me this was Dave Gee, a squad member. He was obviously from the Merill Clymo school of straight shooting. Camborne were

…on top at last thanks to our inept display at Hayle on Saturday…complacency…obviously exists among established players…we have…lacked the consistency, dedication and maturity necessary to achieve any notable lasting successes…

Gee didn’t pull any punches:

Unless we are again to be relegated to “Also-Ran” status, tonight’s game must be won.

St Ives would have perhaps done better to remember that, along with Redruth, they were one of only two Cornish clubs to have bettered Camborne that season.

They also lacked the necessary bounce of knowing that Town considered them their ‘bogey’ team, a side they rarely got the better of.

Put bluntly, they’d had the wind knocked out of them.

It showed.

Packet, February 1, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

St Ives opted for the approach that had brought them success in their twilight Merit Table encounter with Camborne at Alexandra Road2. With gale-force winds and poor lighting, kicking high and long may have seemed an admirable tactic.

You might be able to pull that kind of thing off once against this Camborne side, but not twice. Town knew what was coming, and Nigel Pellowe at 15, with Edwards and Lees in support, had done their homework.

Indeed, the winning move came from the predictability of The Hakes’ play. David May, up swiftly from 13, charged down yet another hopeful punt.

The quick-witted May rapidly regathered and sensed a score. Breaking free, he kicked ahead and gave a metaphorical two-fingered salute to all those who questioned his supposed lack of pace, outsprinting a cover containing such notable gazelles as Roger Randall, to touch down.

Derick Taylor converted, as you would expect. 0-6, Camborne.

Town were now scheduled to play at Redruth in the semi-final: that promised to be a winner-takes-all derby for the ages.

Whoever reached the CRFU Cup Final would probably be playing Penryn. All they had to do was beat St Austell in their respective tie.

Strengthened their grip…

That Saturday, the 5th, St Ives were travelling to Surrey, to play Old Paulines RFC. They had two hopes. First, that Hayle would beat Redruth. Second, that Truro would beat Camborne.

No one really cared if St Ives beat Old Paulines.

In the same way that Hayle had obliged Camborne by doing a number on St Ives, they then threw a crumb of comfort to The Hakes themselves, upsetting Redruth 6-4.

Hayle climbed to third in the Table, enjoying a late – too late? – resurgence. Redruth slipped to fourth.

Camborne were not so charitable. In a performance that

…strengthened their grip…

West Briton, February 9, 1978, p20

on the Merit Table, they beat Truro 6-33.

Action from the Truro game. Robert Mankee flings out a pass to Nigel Pellowe. Outside Pellowe are Colin Taylor, David May and Bob Lees. 5: Durant, 8: Thomas, 6: Butler, 2: Bennetts, 4: David Richards, 3: Denholm
Chris Durant wins yet another lineout despite close attention from Truro. Richard Thomas stands poised to the right
Here, the camera has foreshortened the angle. Pellowe, Taylor, May, and (very deep) Lees hope the decision is taken to run the penalty. Courtesy Paul White

David May and Richard Thomas both scored twice; Frank Butler reckons most of Thomas’s tries that season were set up by him. Bob Lees ran in one, as did, on debut, David Richards.

David Richards, with Ian Moreton on his right, and Mark Regan on his left. Courtesy Martyn Trestrail

Richards was described as being “extremely strong” by Jumbo Reed. ‘Buzby’, as he was known (after the BT mascot of the time, a small fluffy yellow bird), had made a fine showing. Filling in for the injured Paul Ranford, he had big boots to fill…

Ranny…

Paul Ranford on debut for Cornwall against Devon, 1974. Courtesy Mark Warren

Here is a classic from the compendious anthology of Paul Ranford anecdotes, as related by Paul himself:

One Easter Friday we played Wasps…Chris [Durant] and myself agreed that any nonsense from their pack we would step in for one another…I lasted about 6 minutes and got sent off…I hit one or two in that time…

(The conclusion to this story is always the same, no matter who tells it: we beat Wasps with fourteen men…)

Or then there’s this one, courtesy of Nigel Pellowe:

…he got sent off once, was unhappy, took his shirt off and kicked it all the way to the touchline…where he then tripped over it…

Such ‘Ranford’ tales are legion.

In fact, Paul’s two flaws as a rugby player – as he readily admits, discipline and fitness – threaten to overshadow his reputation as one of Cornwall’s finest second rows, both in tight and marauding on the loose.

If all Paul Ranford could do was fight (though he obviously had ability in this area), he would not have won seventeen caps for Cornwall.

Robert Mankee reckoned that, on his day, Ranford was

…the best lineout jumper in the South West…

This was an era when no lifting in lineouts was permitted, and opposing packs stood cheek-by-jowl for throw-ins. Space to jump, and win the ball, therefore, had to be earned – how you went about this depended on your sheer physical presence, and the referee’s powers of observation.

Win the space, win the ball. Paul Ranford stood 6′ 4″ in his socks, making him one of the biggest players around at that time. And he knew it.

With the equally tall and arguably more imposing Chris Durant alongside him, Jumbo Reed is insistent when he describes them both as the

…best two locks in Cornwall by a country mile…

This isn’t just an old soldier talking a couple of comrades up; to this day, their partnership for Camborne and Cornwall both is remembered in hushed tones in bars all over the County.

Allied to this, and like his partner in many a post-match session, Bobby Tonkin, Paul had

…surprisingly good ball skills…

said David May. Alan Truscott likewise appreciated the big man’s “good hands” and turn of speed, utilising them for attacking moves. There was of course the ‘double diamond’ move, where the fly-half would switch-pass with Colin Taylor at 12, who in turn would switch with Ranford bursting out of the lineout at full bore, changing the angle and bearing down on the opposition’s 10.

Then there was the ‘1234’ move. Chris Durant would catch at the front of the lineout, and feed to Bobby, who would be peeling round the short-side. Malcolm Bennetts would grab the opposition hooker and pull him into the line (meaning Bennetts risked “a punch, or worse”), creating a gap for Bobby to pop-pass to Ranford, who would sprint through to score, often

…laughing his head off…

according to Bennetts. Sixteen tries that season, in over 39 appearances, though Paul himself reckons there’s a few more in there somewhere.

However, as Truscott notes, his short fuse was a constant. (Even in training sessions he was known to blow a gasket if a move wasn’t executed perfectly.) Ranford always sought

…immediate retribution if fouled…

remembers Truscott, meaning he became a “target” for the opposition, said Chris Durant, who could be “put off easily”, reckoned clubman Terry Symons. Wind up Ranford…he can’t help himself…get him in trouble…

Even Paul admits that, when he was sent off during that Wasps fixture, they set him up. He knew his temper was a problem:

The problem I had, our fixture list was too diverse, one week Truro etc and next Bristol or Gloucester, the latter teams were more physical, and lower league Cornish teams, players, and committee would whinge…

But he wouldn’t – or couldn’t – change. To rein in his aggression would hamper his play, lose him a lot more lineouts, and a lot of support on the terraces. It was part of who he was on the pitch.

He also had to contend with those on opposition teams who reckoned landing one on Paul Ranford would enhance their own reputation. As he told me,

Every club had chancers, they were bleddy sly guys…numerous times I would be raked or kicked from behind…

Such ‘chancers’ were to be dealt with in one manner only. Paul was a firm believer in the following maxim:

…get your retaliation in first…

Paul Ranford was the kind of player who, if provoked, would aim a haymaker at your jaw in a maul, and then buy you a pint after the game. Big, fast, physical, and with the handling skills of a centre, Paul was arguably the embodiment of pre-professional rugby, who may very well have played

…in the Premiership today…

according to David May.

*

Winter then truly came to Cornwall.

Cancelled…

On February the 11th, Camborne were due to host Hayle. Snow meant the game was cancelled, which is a great shame. Hayle had risen to third in the Merit Table, and had recently done the ‘double’ over St Ives and beaten Redruth.

Camborne, though top, had done neither of those things, and would have been aware that this was a very different Hayle side from the one they’d easily beaten on Christmas Eve.

Another shock slaying may have been on the cards, but it was not to be. Due to Camborne’s cramped schedule, the fixture was never rearranged.

Likewise Town’s match against visiting Brixham on the 18th. That weekend, “not one” senior rugby fixture was played, owing to snow and gales3.

Camborne didn’t play again until February 25th, when they hosted Penzance-Newlyn, and the elements had a say in that game too:

Courtesy Paul White

The dilapidated wreck you see above is Camborne RFC’s grandstand. Over the course of the previous week, storms and high winds had destroyed the roof. If you look closely, you might be able to spot the Wicked Witch of the East’s legs.

Kerrier District Council, the club’s landlords, pointed out the blatantly obvious in declaring the grandstand unfit for use.

Camborne’s grandstand in happier times. Courtesy Mark Warren

This was a setback for Town: repairs would be costly, and revenue would be lost as the ground’s capacity was affected.

But the pitch was playable – and play went on.

Bony old bugger…

The only thing substandard Penzance-Newlyn found about Camborne RFC on the 25th was the grandstand itself.

Although a certain degree of rustiness was evident in Town’s pack, allowing the Pirates’ forwards a late surge, the visitors were sent back down west defeated, 16-12.

Chris Durant always had issues with the Penzance front eight, in particular lock Roger Waters, whom he recalls as a

…bony old bugger…hard as nails…

Durant never enjoyed playing Waters, which I suppose is one of the highest imaginable compliments in Cornish rugby.

But even Waters’ niggardly style couldn’t thwart the hosts. “Quick thinking” (as ever) by David May put Edwards in near the corner, a Bobby Tonkin rampage set up David Kingston, and a ‘Mank’ break by Mankee gave Edwards his second4.

Elsewhere, St Ives threw away a 13-4 lead at Falmouth, to draw 13-all5. Dave Gee’s prophecy was becoming reality.

The Merit Table was looking increasingly like Camborne’s to lose, and Merrill Clymo was determined to make all the cynics and naysayers take notice:

The time will come when the ‘papers will have to acknowledge the fact that Camborne are the top team in Cornwall…

Programme notes, Camborne v Launceston, March 4, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

…eyes fixed on the double…

“Camborne’s eyes are fixed on the double”, ran the Packet on March 8. If this statement can offer any clue, the media had altered its stance regarding Camborne RFC.

On March 4th, they proved far too hot for Launceston, running in seven tries, and running out 33-6 victors.

Launceston couldn’t live with Town’s pack. Their wing that day, Mickey Stephens, told me his forwards were weak, and their lineout

…non-existent…

He described the Camborne front five as “massive”. Launceston couldn’t handle the fearsome Jock Denholm “at all”, and as for Chris Durant, well, you “didn’t mess” with him under any circumstances, and certainly not on a rugby field.

With such superiority, Town’s pack surged

…about the field…and Camborne threw the ball about in great style…

Packet, March 8, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler
Contrary to what has just been said, Launceston appear to have won this lineout, while Paul Ranford’s head towers over them. The grandstand had definitely taken the mother of all batterings.
Here, we might be witnessing a ‘1234’ move. Durant has given the ball to Bobby Tonkin (1), Malcolm Bennetts (2) appears to be lining up the Launceston hooker, Paul Ranford (moustache, on the right) is sniffing a pop-pass to take around the short-side. Courtesy Paul White

In fact, at times Camborne could afford to showboat, with overly intricate passing upsetting some chances – but no matter.

This was a near-complete performance, with a hat-trick for that noted “poacher”, Richard Thomas6, and one apiece for Lees, Pellowe, Colin Taylor and Durant.

Up and coming…

Stephens knew this was an “up and coming” Camborne XV, and the next Saturday, the 11th, the torch was truly passed on.

Falmouth, the previous season’s Merit Table and CRFU Cup winners7, came to Camborne with just under a hundred loyal fans, and were beaten 17-3.

Their lock, Stephen Lightfoot, noted how the hosts had

…improved their discipline and did not give away so many penalties…

Take the discipline, combine it with that pack, and the rock-solid Pellowe at 10 (Nigel started the fixture at fly-half; Tanzi Lea was available and played at full-back), and Falmouth were left hunting for scraps. They found very few.

Camborne’s key score came as the result of an up-an-under launched by Dave Edwards at Falmouth’s 15, Trevor Hewitt. Edwards’ chase was supported by Robert Mankee, who zeroed in on Hewitt at full tilt.

Here’s Mankee. He hit Hewitt

…with the full force of the Mank tackle…it was timed to perfection…

Modestly put. Hewitt lost the ball as a result of Mank’s pinpoint smash, and Edwards was on hand to nip over the line.

Camborne had now won eight games in a row, and each match was a pressure performance, either in the Merit Table, or the Cup. There were no friendly touring teams to boss around.

CRFU Merit Table, top positions, the Packet, March 15, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

Merrill Clymo sensed the team were on the verge of something truly momentous:

A Centenary Season should be something special and this is precisely what our players are providing us with…

Programme notes, Camborne v Falmouth, March 11, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

To win the Merit Table, Camborne had to beat Falmouth again, on Monday the 20th.

To reach the CRFU Cup Final, they of course had first to win their semi, to be played on Saturday the 18th.

Step up, Redruth RFC…

Find out the result of that game in Rugby Special ~ Part Ten here

Many thanks for reading

References

  1. See that day’s Daily Mirror, p2, and the West Briton, January 30, 1978, p3.
  2. See Rugby Special ~ Part Five here.
  3. West Briton, 26 February, 1978, p20.
  4. Packet, March 1, 1978.
  5. West Briton, March 2, 1978, p20.
  6. Packet, March 8, 1978.
  7. See Rugby Special ~ Part One here.

Rugby Special ~ Part Eight

Reading time: 20 minutes

(If you missed the New Year’s Rugby Special, click here)

As it was…

It’s Saturday, January 14, 1978. Donna Summer has released her ‘Greatest Hits’ album. That week, Bobby Charlton opened the hugely successful ‘Discover Cornwall’ tourism exhibition in Manchester1.

In the CRFU Merit Table, third-placed Camborne are hosting the leaders, St Ives.

It’s a must-win for both sides.

Tight…

As we discussed last week2, Camborne had tweaked their formation, moving Bob Lees to the wing, recalling David May at centre, and – the big change – starting Nigel Pellowe at 10.

This reflected Chris Durant’s desire to keep matters “tight” for the big game: half-backs Mankee and Pellowe would, by the physical style of their play, act like extra flankers in a pack-oriented attack.

You can appreciate Town’s risk-free tactics and a wish to play to their big strength. If they lost, the Merit Table went with it.

Although Dave Kingston said that Camborne “were always up for” a clash with St Ives, even the ten year-old ball-boy, Mark Warren, knew full well that ‘The Hakes’ were Town’s “bogey” team.

But there was no need to worry.

This was Tanzi Lea’s game.

Goldenhands…

Tanzi Lea celebrates reaching the milestone of over 10,000 flying hours, mainly in Sea King helicopters3

Lieutenant Commander Paul ‘Tanzi’ Lea joined the Royal Australian Navy from the Royal Navy in the 1990s. He became one of the RAN’s most experienced helicopter pilots, being involved in counter-terrorism operations, a Gulf deployment, fire and flood relief, and tracking nuclear submarines4.

Now retired, he leads a quiet life in New South Wales as a volunteer fireman.

As a rugby player, he represented the Royal Navy at Twickenham (the Duke of Edinburgh presented him with his cap), captained the Combined Services, and once played the All Blacks. “We came second”, he told me.

Courtesy Tanzi Lea

As you can probably imagine, such an adventurous nature was reflected in his play.

Frank Butler recalls that Tanzi was

…always wanting to run everything…

and his high-risk game was not always appreciated by Camborne’s pack. In fact, Frank continues, even Cornish fans of the era frowned upon running rugby – which gives you some idea of how matches were played then.

However, for this particular match, Tanzi was moved to 15. By his own admission, this was his favourite spot:

…where you could express yourself more…

Tanzi himself realises his style went against the grain of Cornish rugby in general, and Camborne rugby in particular. Today he reckons that coach Alan Truscott was given “grey hairs” by him merely

…running around, holding the ball in one hand…

Maybe he was, but Truscott knew talent when he saw it. He describes Tanzi as “unpredictable”, with

…outstanding attacking flair. Class…

“Goldenhands”, was Robert Mankee’s name for him; Paul Ranford remembers him as “flighty”, and Frank Butler acknowledges his qualities:

As a full-back he was ahead of his time as he ran a lot more than he kicked, and caught a lot of teams out with his pace and running ability.

Tanzi was a wildcard, x-factor kind of player: on his day, a matchwinner. Here he was finally given the freedom he craved, at full-back. Camborne had previously handed him several starts at 10, but now, at 15, against St Ives, he was the point of difference in a game where

Very little was tried or ventured…

Packet, January 19, 1978

St Ives were stymied. Slowly throttled by Camborne’s pack, their successful tactics earlier in the season, to kick up-and-unders at Town’s full-back under dodgy floodlights5, would not foil their hosts today. Indeed, whenever they did kick long, Lea would nonchalantly scoop the ball up, check where the cover was, and go for the jugular.

In fact, Tanzi was rampant, and threatened to score more than once. He broke clear to put Dave Edwards (also a menace for St Ives that day) in for a try with a chip ahead, and had the winning score himself.

Mankee, with a copyright blindside break, slipped Lea the pass. In space, with broken play ahead of him, Tanzi was only ever going to score.

Make no mistake, this was a massive win for Camborne:

West Briton, January 19, 1978, p20

Though The Hakes were still top, Town were

…now within easy striking distance should St Ives falter again.

West Briton, January 19, 1978, p20

St Ives would also have to win the Merit Table without their star flanker Peter Hendy: he had broken an ankle during the game, and would be out for the rest of the season.

Suddenly, Camborne were back in the hunt.

David May, recalled for Town at centre, had played his own part in the victory too. When Tanzi made his break to put in Edwards, May assisted by

…illegally pulling back [a St Ives player]…He backhanded me with his fist, splatting my nose and dropping me to the floor…

May pulled himself off the turf, wiping blood and snot from his chacks, just in time to see Edwards touch down.

Funny, but I can’t recall David May ever showing me that particular move when he taught me rugby at school…

Mr May…

David May with the College Road School Rugby Team, 1977. They all played for Camborne RFC Minis section and are seen here in the Cherry and White. Back, l to r: Tony Cox, Andrew Middleton, Shane Tellam, Mr May, Paul Prisk, Richard Bell. Front, l to r: David Dunstan, Jonny Rogers, Martin Symons, Michael Symons, Scott Downing. Courtesy Martin Symons

Frank Butler told me that David “hated” his nickname at the time, so I won’t repeat it here. In any case, his moniker is almost as well-known in Cornish rugby circles as the fact that he devoted most of his adult life to the game, both as a highly successful coach of youth teams and, later, as a respected referee.

In fact, many of the youngsters he coached – myself included – would be surprised to know he was also an integral part of Camborne RFC’s Centenary XV. (That said, how many kids believe their teachers only exist in school?)

Courtesy David May

In 1978, though, all this was in the future, but May had already laid the foundations for Camborne’s mini and junior rugby section. At the inaugural session in 1977, over a hundred keen-as-mustard children showed up, leaving May in a state of “shock” at the level of interest. He continues:

Tens of youngsters would eventually move on to play senior rugby…

Make that County rugby too. Cornwall representatives such as Dave Weeks, Tommy Adams and Darren Chapman were all minis at Camborne RFC.

On the pitch, what qualities May brought to to the Centenary XV are not as clear-cut as some of the more prominent players. Frank Butler admits he was criticised for allegedly being

…the slowest centre ever to play for Camborne…

Chris Durant also noted that May’s confidence was often in need of a boost. May himself confesses

I was famous for always coming off with the cleanest shirt! I wasn’t a hard man or a great tackler…definitely not one of the stars…

However, this was an XV chock-full of hard men and great tacklers – one more or less wasn’t going to make much difference. David may not have had the fastest legs, Frank Butler continues,

…but he had the fastest brain. [May was] dependable and a great talker in the match to help make decisions…

His chattiness during play proved he was a “typical teacher”, reckoned Malcolm Bennetts.

In defence, May in fact would act like a modern 13. As part of a back line that moved up very quickly, he

…would go up just ahead of the others to stop my opponent even getting the ball…

In other words, May would kill off the opposition’s attack, forcing them back inside to face Town’s hard men and great tacklers, including Butler, Kingston, Taylor, Mankee, Pellowe…

On the offensive, May was well aware that he

…had a brain, and used it…

He regularly called the miss-moves in the threequarters, and Alan Truscott acknowledges his

…good hands and timing of the pass…

He was certainly the kind of 13 wing Bob Lees preferred,

…an impact player,

capable of putting the wide men into space and leaving them to do the rest. I give the final word to Launceston’s wing, Mickey Stephens, who saw him in action on many an occasion. David May was an

…underrated man…

Underrated, that is, by those who only watched him play. Not by his team-mates or those who played against him.

As we shall see, he wasn’t all that slow either.

Pellowe for all places..?

Courtesy Frank Butler

Next Saturday, the 21st, Town travelled to Penryn, winning what must have been an underwhelming game 0-10. A Mankee try and two Durant penalties gave them victory.

Their hosts were so devoid of attacking options that, at one point, Paul ‘The Boot’ Winnan attempted a penalty kick from the Paul Thorburnesque range of sixty metres. “Miracles” were in short supply that day, and The Boot’s effort fell short6.

Obviously both sets of outsides had had an off-day, but the journalist Jerry Clarke was particularly scathing of Camborne’s threequarter line. His article in the Packet went out under the following headline:

January 26, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

In his piece, Clarke praises fly-half Nigel Pellowe as Town’s “threequarter star”, but added that

…Camborne have nobody of note – with the exception of Pellowe – outside their outstanding pack of forwards.

Jerry Clarke, Packet, January 26, 1978

That Pellowe distributes the ball wide from 10 so rarely, Clarke reckoned, is simply because there’s no one worth passing to.

Here we have it, the big myth of Camborne’s late-1970s rugby: a huge pack, little else.

(Clarke, of course, is trying to have it both ways. In another article he wrote that proper Cornish rugby is a game where “threequarters are mere spectators”7.)

In his piece, Clarke seems unaware of Camborne’s tactical change in moving Pellowe to 10, and forgets that Mankee and Edwards, both playing that day, were good enough for the Cornwall U23s8.

Although Bob Lees describes Camborne’s back line as “not that dynamic”, and Robert Mankee says Town “never had great, fluent outsides”, Frank Butler reckons that the forwards

…did the donkey work but the backs delivered the finishing touches and were very underrated. We scored lots of tries and most attacking moves were started by the backs…

David May takes up the cudgels:

…our backs were the equal or better than any in the county. We scored some brilliant tries but, when the tough games came around, we played 10-man rugby…We feared no other back line…

Dave Edwards and, most importantly, Chris Durant agree. For the big games, said Durant, Camborne would

…keep it tight…

What kind of game Camborne played depended on the context of the match, and the quality – or otherwise – of the opposition.

As for Nigel Pellowe, well, he was only doing his job, and never let it be said that the man lacked flamboyance. Malcolm Bennetts recalls a time when Pellowe threw a dummy pass and, with some dexterity, hid the ball behind his back, making his opponent look foolish.

Nigel also points out that, as Camborne’s pack was so strong, and so dominant, any back-line would look ordinary in comparison.

In brief…

Speaking of tight, in the Merit Table, St Ives beat St Austell that same Saturday to stay top, but Redruth lost to Falmouth. Suddenly, the business end of the Table looked like this:

Packet, January 26, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

The return of Derick Taylor…

Derick Taylor. Courtesy Helen Wardle

Tanzi Lea (Navy), and Steve Floyd (University) were unavailable. The Pellowe-at-10 tactic had paid off – but was it a permanent ploy?

Fortunately for Camborne, Derick Taylor suddenly made himself available. Though Chris Durant recalls him as “temperamental” off the pitch, on it he possessed a cool head, good distribution, said Bob Lees, and a massive boot, either from the spot or out of hand. In the previous season, Taylor had amassed a record 193 points in 24 games9.

Such a man was obviously a shoo-in at fly-half for the tough games that lay ahead.

The Merit Table game at Launceston on the 28th was the ideal opportunity to bed Taylor in. Before the emergence of Graham Dawe, Launceston’s pack were weak, and they currently sat at the bottom of the Table. Town also gave a game to the Reserves’ flanker, Mike ‘Delme’ Thomas.

Mike Thomas, nicknamed Delme after the great Welsh lock, sits to the left of Dave Roskilly. Dave Edwards remembers him as “fearless, and a great tackler”. Courtesy Martyn Trestrail

Camborne won easily enough, 0-10. And then…

St Ives slip at Hayle…10

Maybe the injury to Peter Hendy, and the loss to Camborne, had dented St Ives’ confidence. Maybe Hayle had found a way to beat them. Whatever the reason, and on a weekend of “atrocious”11 weather, The Hakes slipped, losing 7-0.

With Redruth not having a league fixture, the top of the Table now looked like this:

Packet, February 2, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

That’s more like it. Starved of decent away trips all season, (Frank Butler described any and all away journeys as “wild”), the journey home from Launceston would have been, shall we say, jubilant.

Elsewhere…

In other news, St Austell had progressed to the semi-final of the CRFU Cup, beating Redruth Grammar School Old Boys 57-012.

They’d no doubt lose to Penryn in the semis anyway.

Did I mention the CRFU Cup? In three days time, Camborne travel to St Ives for yet another crunch game…it’s their quarter-final match-up…

Read all about it in Rugby Special ~ Part Nine here

Many thanks for reading

References

  1. From the West Briton, January 12, p2.
  2. See New Year’s Rugby Special here.
  3. From Navy: the Sailors’ Paper, Vol. 49, No. 9, 2006, p7.
  4. From Navy: the Sailors’ Paper, Vol. 49, No. 9, 2006, p7.
  5. See Rugby Special ~ Part Five here.
  6. Packet, January 26, 1978.
  7. Packet, March 23, 1978.
  8. West Briton, February 2, 1978, p18.
  9. From the Camborne RFC Centenary Programme, by Philip Rule and Alan Thomas, 1977.
  10. West Briton, February 2, 1978, p18.
  11. West Briton, February 2, 1978, p18.
  12. West Briton, February 2, 1978, p18.

New Year’s Rugby Special

Reading time: 15 minutes

(If you missed the Christmas Rugby Special, click here)

…see where you are after Christmas…then you’ll know how well you’re doing…

Martyn Trestrail offers sage advice
PlayedWonDrawnLostFor Against
St Ives1090125550
Redruth1291223676
Camborne1181223187
Hayle950412570
Falmouth1160512595
Penzance-Newlyn13625162154
Newquay Hornets13706160174
Penryn1050512275
St Austell1121895285
Truro1111970355
Launceston11001143197
Cornwall RFU Merit Table, from the Packet, January 12, 1978

As it was…

It’s New Year’s Day, 1978. It’s been revealed that Starsky and Hutch star David Soul is dating two actresses. Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest are five points clear at the top of Division One. Compair Holman announces a massive sales drive in Germany and Italy, in order to benefit from the UK’s new membership of the EEC1.

Camborne have just played their fifth game in nine days, beating a Cornwall U23 XV 20-6.

Business as usual?

Dave Edwards, Colin Taylor, and Paul Ranford all crossed the line for Town, as did a debutant, called up from the Colts: Steve ‘Sparky’ Rogers showed much promise and pace on the wing.

So, all’s well with the Centenary Season then.

Or maybe not. Even though Hayle (or, rather, David O’Mahoney’s kicking) had done them a favour on Boxing Day by beating top-placed St Ives 9-32, Camborne had slipped to third in the Merit Table. Behind Redruth.

This was far from ideal for an ambitious Centenary club.

They knew they were good – but how good? Rolling over the likes of, say, Cornwall U23s, St Austell, or Penryn was fine, but where were the ‘statement’ victories?

At this point in the season, did the other clubs with a true interest in Table or Cup glory – St Ives, Redruth – genuinely fear them?

No one will like me for saying this, but probably not. Indeed, in the press, Redruth were being talked up as likely candidates for a Merit Table and CRFU Cup double:

A win over Hornets had consolidated Redruth’s second place in the Merit Table, and beating Penzance-Newlyn put them in the semi-final of the CRFU Cup – against either St Ives or Camborne. West Briton, January 5, 1978, p16

The players would not have forgotten that, back in January 1977, they were in a similar position as regards the Cup and Merit Table. They came away with nothing3.

Camborne had yet to beat a touring club of note too.

Dave Edwards told me,

by Ernie Loze

…as the season progressed, so the atmosphere changed…

From being a season where the celebration was a hundred years of Camborne RFC itself, it gradually dawned on the players that, at the end of it all, they might very well have something more tangible to celebrate themselves.

They were still in the CRFU Cup – though their next opponents, at the end of the month, were St Ives. A win would set up a semi-final grudge-match with Redruth.

The top of the Merit Table was still in sight.

They were in with a shout. Of something.

They had two big games coming up.

Plymouth Albion, the Devon team, were due to visit on the 7th.

On the 14th, St Ives were coming to the Rec.

If Camborne lost that, catching St Ives, and with it the Merit Table, would be practically beyond them.

It was crunch time.

First, though, were the big boys from over the Tamar.

Roger lay down a while…

As Robert Mankee was keen to impress on me, if a Cornish XV dared to challenge a side from across the border, they would find them a

…little bit fitter…

…and rather more prestigious. Plymouth Albion were the top Devon club of the late 1970s. They had expanded their fixture list to regularly include teams from London, the Midlands, and South Wales. In 1977 they had celebrated their own Centenary by winning the Devon Senior Cup4.

Steve Floyd, who played them that year, recalls that Albion

…weren’t usually on our fixture list…Albion ‘gave us the honour’ of playing them…we weren’t supposed to beat them…

No, in the normal run of things, if Camborne were to play Albion, they went cap in hand to Plymouth, rather than the other way round.

Merrill Clymo certainly rolled out the red carpet in his programme notes for the fixture:

We extend a welcoming hand to Plymouth Albion who have kindly agreed to come here today, instead of our travelling to Plymouth…

Town were possibly jealous of Albion’s status, and maybe felt somewhat patronised too.

Both of which are perfectly good reasons to want to beat them…

From the Packet, January 12, 1978. Courtesy Frank Butler

Yes, Camborne lost, but Albion knew they’d been in a game. With twenty minutes to play, Town led 6-4, thanks to two penalties by Steve Floyd.

Camborne were bossing it. Boasting a pack described by journalist Roy Standring on the day as

…the meanest in Cornwall,

Western Morning News, January 9, 1978

they had control of their guests. What with Malcolm Bennetts winning strikes against the head, and Ranford and Richard Thomas dominating the line-outs, half-backs Mankee and Floyd could keep Albion pinned in their own half.

This wasn’t in the Devon XV’s script.

Albion’s flanker, a blonde giant ex-paratrooper from Launceston called Roger Spurrell, was

…beside himself with exasperation…

Roy Standring, Western Morning News, January 9, 1978.
Roger Spurrell does exasperated for Bath RFC. Getty images

Spurrell, who Paul Ranford recalls as a “bloody lunatic”, gave his pack a very public, and probably very expletive-laden, dressing-down on the pitch. It had the desired effect.

Albion had always displayed the “greater inventiveness” outside5, and now their forwards began the fightback. Camborne, on the retreat, conceded two penalties, which Albion’s 10 Les Ware belted over from 40 metres. 6-10, Plymouth.

In the dying minutes, Albion’s victory was rounded off by a solo try from winger Ray Westlake. Ware converted to make it 6-16.

The game may have been over, but the battle wasn’t.

According to Albion’s historian, David Fuge, who was spectating that day, Nigel Pellowe late-tackled Westlake as he crossed the line:

…a silly thing to do…

Especially, continues Fuge, when you consider that a pumped-up Roger Spurrell was on hand to take retribution.

The referee claimed he was too far away to witness any infringement by Pellowe.

Westlake, badly winded, was stretchered off.

Before anyone could stop him, Spurrell had squared up to Pellowe…

A young, victorious Nigel Pellowe with his coach, Jack Jarvis. He’s just boxed at the Royal Albert Hall. Courtesy Nigel Pellowe

Redruth man Brian Riddle has watched a lot of Cornish rugby – and therefore a lot of fighting. He told me, though, that only one player he ever saw

…knew how to hit properly,

and that was Nigel Pellowe. In the crowd, on a rest day, was Frank Butler:

Spurrell got hit six times before he moved his hands…

If anyone had informed Pellowe that Spurrell had been in the armed forces, it wouldn’t have made much difference. Spurrell was on his backside in a flurry of punches before he could even think about issuing a final warning. As Nigel told me, with a wink,

…Roger lay down a while…

Plymouth Albion went home, victorious but maybe not as proud. Roger Spurrell may have spent part of the journey wondering how a man who just about came up to his chin had so casually floored him6.

Camborne had a bit of thinking to do themselves. That same day, St Ives had beaten Falmouth 19-9 in the Merit Table7.

Decision time…

The brains trust for the 1st XV was Chris Durant and the well-respected coach, Alan Truscott. Although input from senior players such as Bobby Tonkin and Frank Butler was welcomed, the big decisions were the preserve of Chris and Alan.

Said Truscott:

Chris and I were in constant communication during the week and on Sundays after each match. We ‘swayed’ selection and discussed all training sessions.

Durant agrees.

By Ernie Loze

Having the final word in selection meetings (“few people argued with Chris”, said Dave Edwards), and a trusted working relationship with Truscott was “very important”, Chris told me.

And the question that would have kept them awake at night in the days leading up to St Ives’ visit to the Rec was this:

What’s the winning XV?

Here’s the team they went with:

Match programme, Camborne v St Ives, January 14, 1978. Courtesy Alan Rowling

Apart from Nigel Tregenza coming in for an injured Frank Butler, the biggest change was moving Nigel Pellowe to 10, a position he hadn’t occupied for some time.

Pellowe, like Robert Mankee, was a demon tackler who could be

…unbelievably brave…

Frank Butler

against even the biggest men – just ask Roger Spurrell. However, after several seasons at full-back he perhaps now lacked the distribution skills of a Steve Floyd or a Tanzi Lea.

As Dave Edwards put it, the tactic was to

…to ensure we didn’t lose…keep it tight…

“Tight” is also how Durant, with Truscott, wanted it.

Action from a later game, at Truro. Mankee spins a pass out to Pellowe. Waiting outside is Colin Taylor, David May and Bob Lees. Note the flat alignment of the Camborne threequarters. Courtesy Paul White

Camborne were going all-in for a forward-dominated approach. The pack, in cahoots with Mankee and Pellowe, were going to suffocate St Ives.

Elsewhere, Bob Lees, more of a finisher, moved to the wing. David May was brought in at centre, for his “good hands”, and deft passing skills, recalls Truscott.

If the ball did go wide, May could put Edwards and Lees away.

Camborne were going to be tough to beat.

But could they beat the best in Cornwall?

Find out in Rugby Special ~ Part Eight here.

Many thanks for reading

References

  1. See the Sunday Mirror, January 1, 1978, p2 and 48; and the West Briton, January 5, 1978, p3.
  2. West Briton, December 29, 1977, p14.
  3. See Rugby Special ~ Part One here
  4. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plymouth_Albion_R.F.C., and http://www.plymouthalbion.com/history/
  5. Western Morning News, January 9, 1978.
  6. Alas, Roger Spurrell has no recollection of the event. After a notable career at Bath RFC, he ran a Newquay nightclub and now has an interest in a lobster hatchery in the area. When I spoke to him, however, he was sat at home, watching Wimbledon.
  7. West Briton, January 12, 1978, p20.

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.

Rugby Special ~ Part Five

Reading time: 20 minutes

(If you missed Part Four, click here…)

As it was…

It’s Thursday, December 15, 1977. Talking Heads have released their single ‘Psycho Killer’. The MP for Truro, David Penhaligon, vows to grill the Transport Minister on the delays to, and the proposed route of, Cornwall’s A30 dual carriageway. In Dortmund, Wales have pulled off a shock 1-1 draw against World Champions West Germany1.

That evening, under less-than perfect floodlights remembers Malcolm Bennetts, St Ives are hosting Camborne.

Battle of the giants…

PlayedWonDrawnLostFor Against
St Ives660019923
Camborne541011839
Redruth751115262
Penryn750210935
Penzance-Newlyn960314694
Newquay Hornets10604107104
Hayle52037232
Falmouth62049050
St Austell720569199
Truro910852329
Cornwall RFU Merit Table, from the West Briton, December 8, 1977, p26. Curiously, Launceston aren’t included.

Not only was this a top of the Merit Table clash but, in beating Hayle in the first round of the CRFU Cup, St Ives had set the stage

…for a battle of the giants when they take on mighty Camborne in the next round.

West Briton, December 8, 1977, p26

Before kick-off that evening, there was little or nothing to separate the two sides. They were the top dogs of Cornish rugby. Last season’s Cup and Merit Table winners, Falmouth, were experiencing a slump. Near the foot of the Table this time round, lowly St Austell had contrived to knock them out of the Cup2.

If Camborne wanted trophies with which to decorate their Centenary Season – and they undoubtedly did – the ‘Hakes’ were the team to beat.

For their part, St Ives may have seen themselves as harshly dealt with back in 1976-77. Despite having won as many Merit Table games as Falmouth, and scoring more points, they still came second3.

Both teams wanted this one badly.

The bogey team…

The Recreation Ground, Alexandra Rd, St Ives. The first floodlit match at the ground was in 19764

Camborne were pretty much at full strength, though Paul Ranford was out injured, with Michael Woods getting the nod:

Courtesy Frank Butler

There was talent everywhere in the St Ives XV. Young wing Roger Randall would soon earn a full County cap; Frank Butler puts 10 Ian Hart in the same troublesome bracket as Redruth’s Brett Pedley; Nigel Pellowe singles out centre Tom Bassett as a definite hard case.

Peter Hendy, Cornwall and England U23
Roger Corin, also Cornwall and England U235

The St Ives pack was “always strong”, Frank Butler told me. Malcolm Bennetts praised their skipper, John Trevorrow, as

…the best all-round hooker I played against…

Then there was the Corin brothers, a pair so volatile they would often fight each other, said Bennetts, to mention nothing of Peter Hendy and Simon Moody. Vastly experienced and very tough, Robert Mankee remembers that

…if your head was on the deck…

and they were nearby, anticipate a flashing boot in the face.

But that wasn’t all. St Ives, agree Jumbo Reed and Frank Butler, were Camborne’s “bogey” team:

…we rarely got the better of them…

Frank Butler

For whatever reason, Camborne seemed to think St Ives had the wood over them.

Whenever they played, some occurrence, or pure fate, would contrive against Town coming away victorious.

Something’s bound to go bleddy wrong…

This encounter was not an entertaining spectacle6, but would have been compellingly tough. All the senior Cornish teams had been playing each other over many seasons, with grievances, resentments, and open feuds integral to every fixture. For example, here the Corin boys would have missed another bust-up with the injured Paul Ranford: they always issued a pre-match warning that they were going to get him, and Ranford would always retaliate in kind.

(Paul recalls, though, that if he wasn’t around, the Corins had plenty of differences with the other Camborne players to satisfy themselves. He recalls an instance in another match where Roger Corin swung a meaty girt backhander at Chris Durant. Durant ducked, and Corin’s best effort buried itself into Jumbo Reed’s face, sparking him out. Ranford “couldn’t stop laughing”.)

As Robert Mankee put it:

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

And that night, St Ives exploited the home advantage. The floodlights were poor in the opinion of Malcolm Bennetts (he likened being in a scrum akin to being down a mine, and he would know), and St Ives had adapted their game accordingly.

If this was war, The Hakes opted for an aerial bombardment in the winter night, Ian Hart unleashing endless up-and-unders at full-back Nigel Pellowe.

It was truly shooting in the dark. St Ives were banking on Pellowe, normally safety itself, eventually coming a cropper in the gloom.

The tactic paid off. Pellowe got snagged in possession with his back to his own goal, and St Ives ransacked him. Tommy Bassett crashed over the line. 4-0, St Ives.

Chris Durant quickly nailed a penalty. Half-time: 4-3.

The rest of the game was attritional and tense. Although Chris Nicholas was Town’s outstanding runner, both sides had apparently abandoned all thought of scoring tries.

And then it happened.

The freak…

St Ives’ Paul Sweeney attempted a snap drop-goal, with his left foot. Paul Sweeney is actually right-footed. Mankee, doing what a good scrum-half does, attempted to charge it down.

Here’s Mankee:

if it wasn’t for me, [the kick] wouldn’t have gone over…

Indeed, Sweeney’s kick was such a dreadful shank that it was always missing the posts. However, the ball struck Mankee’s shoulder, and this impact somehow corrected its path. Mankee could only turn and watch in horror as the ball, guided by an unseen hand, floated over the crossbar. St Ives 7, Camborne 3.

Half an hour to play. In the dark.

In the crowd was Merrill Clymo, and he, like many a Camborne man, could barely believe what he’d seen either. He later described the drop-goal as a “freak” occurrence7.

Also in the crowd was a reporter for the Western Morning News. He described the kick as

…the luckiest drop-goal the fishermen are ever likely to see…

16th December, 1977. Courtesy Paul Sweeney
Paul Sweeney (with trophy, having just won the Cornwall Sevens tournament), in his mid-1970s stint at Camborne. To his right is Michael Eddy, his left, Nigel Pellowe. Back, l to r: Alan Truscott, David May, Bobby Tonkin, Frank Butler, Nicky Truscott. Simon Woolnough, St Austell’s captain in 1977-78, is not present. Courtesy Frank Butler

Durant kicks another penalty to make it 7-6. Dave Edwards, in an attempt to emulate Sweeney, tries a drop-goal with his left foot too. Edwards actually is left-footed. He misses. Edwards denies all knowledge of this today, though one imagines that, if his kick had been successful, he would wax lyrical on the memory.

Five minutes left. Camborne take the lead, 7-9, with a Nigel Pellowe penalty in front of the posts. Surely, this is the winning kick. Surely, nothing could deny Camborne now, could it?

It could.

From the Packet, December 22, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

Camborne conceded a penalty at a scrum, and then inadvertently failed to retire the requisite ten metres in time. The referee brought the penalty forward ten metres, and into the kicking range of the St Ives wing, Mike Rowe.

10-9, St Ives. Camborne only had themselves to blame. Watching events unfold on the bench was Jumbo Reed:

…we were really pissed off…we should’ve won that game…

But there was little time for analysis, or possible recriminations. Two days later, Newquay were travelling to the Rec.

Camborne make amends…8

Line-out action from the Camborne-Hornets fixture. The Camborne players are: Chris Durant (4), Malcolm Bennetts (2), Bobby Tonkin (1), Paul Ranford (in mid-air), Jock Denholm (3), David Kingston (on Denholm’s left), and Frank Butler. Robert Mankee is poised at scrum-half. The Newquay 1, 2, and 3 are Jolly, Chapman and Raddenbury. Courtesy Paul White

Although the Packet tried to talk up Newquay’s performance, a 32-10 scoreline tells you all you need to know9.

David May, who that season was actually leading the Reserve XV, deputised for an injured Pellowe at full-back, but Town didn’t lack a cutting edge. May featured in several flowing moves and was unlucky not to score himself. As he himself put it:

…there was no weakness, even when players stepped up from the Seconds…

A dominant pack allowing Tanzi Lea at 10 to do what he does best – run the ball, anytime, anywhere – meant tries for wings Edwards and Nicholas, centre Colin Taylor, Mankee and Lea himself. Durant’s kicking was assured and Camborne were comfortable victors.

Chris Durant wins the ball for Camborne; Robert Mankee’s eyes are on the prize. Courtesy Paul White

The other Centenary Season…

The Hayle RFC Centenary Squad, 1977-78. Robert Tonkin is in the back row, third from right. From: Tom Salmon, The First Hundred Years: The Story of Rugby Football in Cornwall, CRFU, 1983, p51

Like Camborne, 1977-78 was also Hayle RFC’s Centenary Season. Though runners-up to Falmouth in the 1976-7 CRFU Cup Final (which, Hayle’s Robert Tonkin remembers, they would have won had the normally deadly Dave O’Mahoney not missed a conversion), they

…didn’t fancy our chances so much in 77-78…three or four people retired and left us without a lot of experience…

Robert Tonkin, Hayle RFC

O’Mahoney was still playing, but long-serving 10 Dave Mungles had finished. When Camborne arrived at Memorial Park on Christmas Eve, the Hayle XV were fielding seven of their Reserves10.

Tonkin, normally a centre, had been moved to fly-half, and was up against Tanzi Lea. Tanzi Lea, behind a strong pack.

How to neutralise Camborne?

Hayle may have had a scratch XV but, like St Ives, they realised the importance of a gameplan against Camborne. You couldn’t expect to simply go toe-to-toe with the Town pack and win.

To beat Camborne, you had to play a way Camborne didn’t want to play. Like, for example, the St Ives method, hoisting bombs in the dark at Nigel Pellowe and making Town’s forwards track back. No forward likes the ball behind them.

Hayle’s approach was to play to their strength, which was having “a very mobile team”, Robert Tonkin remembers:

To neutralise the Camborne pack, Hayle would try to move them around the pitch…

In other words, tire Camborne out.

It didn’t work.

From the Packet, December 29, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

To dictate play to Camborne, or any XV, you must first win possession of the ball, and here Hayle were at fault. They couldn’t prise the ball off Camborne, with the ever-grafting Frank Butler a “conspicuous” thorn in their side11.

Yet another blindside break by Mankee put Tanzi Lea in for a try – Robert Tonkin was delighted when I reminded him of this. Durant added three penalties to the conversion, and Bob Lees scored an opportunist’s try, from a “wild” Hayle pass12.

Bob Lees…

Mr Reliable…

Courtesy Paul White

Bob Lees is a modest man, who doesn’t tend to paint too glamorous a picture of his rugby days. Listening to him, you may be guilty of wondering how he kept his place in the Camborne XV at all:

…I wasn’t too concerned with league positions…I just got on with my game…I was always a centre that played off others…I wasn’t creative…

This self-effacing style masks an independent and ambitious streak.

Chief Petty Officer Robert Lees, in fact, was the first Navy non-com permitted by the Fleet Air Arm at Culdrose to play senior rugby. To achieve this, he canvassed for permission from his Commanding Officer.

At first, he played for St Ives. However, a perceived preference for “locals” left Lees feeling that he wasn’t being given a fair go, so he joined Camborne, and quickly found his niche.

Lees’ playing experiences with the Navy found him well-prepared for the demands of Camborne’s Centenary Season. He was more than used

…to being up against classy opposition…

…and therefore not fazed by the challenges ahead.

His team-mates rapidly recognised his qualities. David May describes him as a

…quiet man with good pace, effective at centre or wing…

Jumbo Reed is also appreciative of his “hard running”, and the versatility that enabled him to play centre or wing.

Frank Butler goes into more detail. Bob was a

…most reliable rugby player…[with a] razor-sharp rugby brain…[who] always had plenty to say when discussing tactics…knew the game well and was never beaten…

Alan Truscott is more succinct. For him, Bob Lees was

Mr Reliable…

He certainly was. Bob made forty appearances for Camborne that season, scoring 15 tries. Though not, by his own admission, a playmaker (and therefore his preference was always for Tanzi Lea at 10), he knew where to be, what to do, and where the tryline was. Camborne needed its finishers, and Lees was definitely one of them.

‘Tis the Season to be Jolly…

The top ticket in Hayle…

Hayle 6, Camborne 19.

The players from both sides enjoyed a Christmas Eve at the nearby Penmare Hotel (a favoured nightspot that season). Robert Tonkin may have spent some of the evening wondering what Dickie Wells, the “main man” for pointing out any shortcomings among Camborne’s opposition, would say to him at Holman’s when he next clocked in.

For the moment, tomorrow was Christmas Day, and the players could look forward to some indulgent time at home with their families.

But maybe not too much. The day after, Boxing Day, was the date of the biggest, and one of the oldest, rugby clashes of the Cornish season.

Camborne are playing Redruth.

And you can read all about that in the Christmas Rugby Special, here

Many thanks for reading

References

  1. From that day’s Daily Mirror, p32, and West Briton, p1. For more on Penhaligon and the development of the A30, see: https://www.sabre-roads.org.uk/wiki/index.php?title=A30/History_-_Connecting_Cornwall
  2. West Briton, December 8, 1977, p26
  3. See the opening to Rugby Special ~ Part One here
  4. See: https://www.stivesswrfc.co.uk/history
  5. See: https://www.stivesswrfc.co.uk/history
  6. The narrative is based on the report in the Packet, December 22, 1977.
  7. From the programme notes to Camborne v Newquay Hornets, December 17, 1977.
  8. From the Packet, December 22, 1977.
  9. December 22, 1977.
  10. West Briton, December 29, 1977, p14.
  11. From the Packet, December 29, 1977.
  12. From the Packet, December 29, 1977.

Rugby Special ~ Part Four

Reading time: 20 minutes

(If you missed Part Three, click here…)

As it was…

It’s Saturday, October 8, 1977. ’20 Golden Greats’, by Diana Ross and The Supremes, is about to enter its third week at the top of the album chart. Motorists will soon be liable to face breath tests in new drink-drive laws. Pin-ups of Angela Rippon’s legs, taken from the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, are banned by the BBC1.

Once you cross the Tamar…

Camborne are hosting Torquay Athletic. They’ve had over a week, and two training sessions, to put their disappointing 3-3 draw against arch-rivals Redruth behind them. They’ve also had one post-training Thursday evening ‘discussion’ of the match at Tyack’s Hotel which, with its roster of live bands, was easily the best night of the week, according to Paul Ranford and Frank Butler.

(Dickie Bray, who organised the entertainment at Camborne’s clubhouse – which was David May’s preference too – may have disagreed.)

The top ticket in Town…

Torquay would not be easy opponents. The ‘Tics’ hooker, Colin Rylance, told me that at that time his club had a “very good team”. Indeed. The next season, 1978-9, Torquay would win the Devon Senior Cup, for only the second time in its history2. Merrill Clymo, in his programme notes for the fixture, acknowledged Torquay as one of the leading Devon clubs.

Plus, as Robert Mankee observed,

…once you cross the Tamar, they’re that little bit fitter…

Notable absences…

Fly-half Steve Floyd had returned to college. Wings Michael Eddy and Barry Wills were both injured; although Wills didn’t know it yet, he was out for the rest of the season. Bobby Tonkin and Chris Durant were on County duty. Number 8 Chris Lane was also unavailable.

How did the team look?

Courtesy Frank Butler. The referee was David May’s father

Bob Lees retained his position at centre, but by his own admission he was “never a creative player”, more of a finisher. Camborne had yet to find the ideal partner for Colin Taylor, who was an “excellent” inside centre, said Alan Truscott.

On the right wing was Chris Nicholas, a player Truscott describes as “big hearted, and deceptively quick”. On the left was Dave Edwards, a Cornwall U23, but only making his first appearance of the season.

Tanzi Lea slotted in at 10; although a flair player and very classy, he admitted his preferred spot was full-back.

Jumbo Reed came into the front row, with Michael Woods moving to lock. Richard Thomas, a County cap, got the nod at 8.

Nigel Pellowe assumed the captaincy he had relinquished last season.

And had a Captain’s match…

From the Packet, October 13, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

The Tics arrived with a big pack; on the day bigger than Camborne’s, and put it to good use3. All the early running was from the visitors, but Mankee and Butler tackled like demons. When the ball went wide, Pellowe was on hand to do what he does best, organising the cover and putting in the crucial hits himself.

Merrill Clymo was watching that day, and reckoned Pellowe’s play was

…a joy to watch as he turns defence into attack, and his tackling of the wings in full flight were of international class.

From the programme notes, Camborne v Newton Abbot, October 15, 1977

The early storm weathered, Town gradually took control. With Lea at 10, any possession was likely to be put to attacking use, and so it proved.

After 20 minutes, Mankee touched down in the corner, thanks to (you’ve guessed it) a break on the blind-side.

More slick movement in the threequarters led to a try for Chris Nicholas, which Pellowe hoofed over from way out on the touchline. The crowd must have loved that.

Camborne weren’t done yet, with Michael Woods crashing over from a line-out. Camborne 14, Torquay 4.

Town were back.

Camborne go storming on…

This, wrote the Packet, was

…a great performance…

October 13, 1977

Merrill Clymo went one better:

Camborne go storming on. Even though it was necessary to restructure the side…the cream of Devon was well and truly whipped…

From the programme notes, Camborne v Newton Abbot, October 15, 1977

They’d beaten one of the best in Devon, without several key players. It must have given the club as a whole great reassurance. With a fixture list in excess of fifty matches, clearly absences through injuries or otherwise were inevitable, and the squad needed strength in depth.

Alan Truscott’s intense pre-season work was paying off; plus, if a place in the Centenary XV was up for grabs, you could guarantee a fight to claim it. Clymo, writing in the same programme as above, praised Truscott, and his “second”, Frank Butler…

A Great Rugby Man…

Courtesy Paul White

Along with David May, Frank was integral in setting up the mini/junior section at Camborne – one of the first in Cornwall. May recalls the first session, arriving at the Rec with four assistants, and four balls:

A huge host of youngsters arrived…over a 100! Quite a shock I can tell you…

Frank’s involvement with grassroots rugby didn’t end there. From 1991-2002, he was the CRFU’s Youth Development Officer, and

…produced some of the finest players in the County…

said Malcolm Bennetts. One of them was Phil Vickery. After that, he ran the Bath RFC Academy for ten years – longer than any other coach, Frank told me. Then, from 2012-2020, he covered Dorset and Wiltshire as the England Rugby Community Coach, leaving a positive impression wherever he worked.

As a player, Frank judged his strength to be

…doing all the work on the ground so the big boys could have the ball…

Frank Butler doing what he does best – winning possession. Courtesy of the man himself

In those days, you could play the ball on the ground, whilst off your feet, but Frank’s ball-winning role wasn’t for the fainthearted. Being

…kicked and raked…

or worse, was part of the game.

Butler’s unsung yet vital style was recognised by his team-mates. For example, David May observed that he

Linked the backs to the forwards so effectively…

Jumbo Reed noted how he

…read the game well and was a great tackler…

Alan Truscott and Nigel Pellowe acknowledged his intelligence and all-round rugby nous.

Bob Lees, Paul Ranford, Barry Wills and, later, Dave Edwards might have scored the tries. Pellowe, Durant, Mankee and Tonkin might have made the crowds cheer, and grabbed the headlines. But tries can’t be scored, matches can’t be won, and fans won’t cheer, unless you have the ball – and getting the ball was Frank Butler’s special talent.

On his retirement in 2020, the verdict of one club he worked with said it all. Frank was a

Great rugby man…4

*

Camborne won the next seven games in a row.

Courtesy Frank Butler

Next over the Tamar, on the 15th, were Newton Abbot. With Tonkin and Durant back, Town handed them a 52-3 drubbing. No matter that Nigel Pellowe was unavailable; Graham Johns deputised at 15, and got on the scoresheet with a try. Frank Butler demonstrated a little-known facet of his game in kicking three conversions.

On the 22nd, in a Merit Table game, Camborne travelled to unfancied St Austell. Even The Saints’ captain, prop Simon Woolnough, admitted their underdog status:

…St Austell weren’t long a senior side…

Woolnough would also know what his men were up against: he’d played for Camborne from 1967 until the mid-1970s. He also has the dubious record of being sent off nine times in his career. In fact, he’s the only person I know who rates himself tougher than Jock Denholm – which is saying something.

His team were tough too. Though unlikely to win, they were hard to beat, and

…defended dourly…

Packet, October 27, 1977

But no matter. Even without the services of Tonkin and Durant again, Camborne won 9-23, running in four tries. Dave Edwards scored his first of the season.

From the Packet, November 10, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

Town then had a week off, and on November 5, played St Bartholomew’s Hospital, down from London. Confidence was so high that Merrill Clymo blithely likened the fixture to a practice game:

…today’s game will help to sharpen the team for their trips to Newquay and Penzance…

Qtd from the Camborne v St Bart’s match programme, November 5, 1977

Robert Mankee missed out, giving a rare opportunity to the Reserves’ 9, Paul ‘Rafie’ Hamblin. His performance was “outstanding”, and, as such a “talented player”,

…does not always get the chances his play deserves…

Packet, November 10, 1977

Dave Edwards agrees: Hamblin “never got the credit, or the recognition”, he told me.

Paul ‘Rafie’ Hamblin, with Kevin Lean on his right, and Martyn Trestrail to his left. Courtesy Martyn Trestrail

Indeed, Rafie even out-Mankee’d Mankee, setting up a try for Lea with a 35-yard break. With Ranford bossing things up front, Camborne strolled home 38-3.

From the Packet, November 17, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

Back to the Merit Table, and a trip to Newquay Hornets on November 12. Mankee was back, and typically reasserted his #1 status with a

…brilliant try…

Packet, November 17, 1977

Things were rounded off with another score by Edwards, following a

…magnificent movement…

Packet, November 17, 1977

4-16, Camborne.

The ‘Pirates Supporters Club’ has a brilliant logo. Courtesy Frank Butler

Next up, Camborne travelled to Penzance. They hadn’t beaten The Pirates at Mennaye Field since 1959, and were soon 9-0 down.

No matter. A Tanzi Lea break put in Chris Nicholas, Durant slammed over the conversion, and Pellowe drew the scores level with a penalty.

Pellowe then laid the Mennaye ghost to rest with a last-minute drop goal.

9-12, Camborne5.

The Severnsiders…

Lydney, like Camborne, is a rugby town. The sign that greets you as you enter its outskirts off the A48 tells you that, yes, this is The Home of Lydney RFC.

The Severnsiders had beaten Camborne last season, and were on the verge of becoming a formidable John Player Cup team6.

Camborne were without Mankee, Butler, and Paul Ranford, who was attending his sister’s wedding. The St Ives’ scrum-half, Paul Sweeney, was about to become his brother-in-law.

Courtesy Frank Butler

Rafie Hamblin, supersub, was also unavailable, and Camborne called on the services of Lanner’s centre, John Dunstan, to play at 97.

No matter.

In a “storming” performance, Camborne won 19-14. Town were in “top gear” from the word go, and though Lydney fought back, tries by Chris Nicholas and Richard Thomas were enough.

From the Packet, December 8, 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

Truro must have hated playing Camborne that season. Their Merit Table season was going nowhere, and they’d conceded 67 points in the sides’ first fixture back in September. This was not going to be a game from which they could rebuild their fortunes.

Truro were hammered, 58-9. Colin Taylor, Paul Ranford, Chris Nicholas and Dave Edwards took a brace of tries each. And Camborne did most of the damage with only 14 men, when the unfortunate Rafie Hamblin went off injured8.

Complete togetherness…

From the Packet, 15 December 1977. Courtesy Frank Butler

The unbeaten run was brought to an end on December 10 by a Cambridge University team fresh from their Varsity Match, and featuring the England full-back Alastair Hignell. Even then, it was close: 13-16.

Alastair Hignell in 1978. Photographed by Eamonn McCabe

If the above headline is anything to go by, no-one seemed to care.

Camborne had played 18 games, winning 14, drawing one and losing three. They’d scored 500 points, and conceded only 135. The try tally stood at an imposing 85.

Their strength in depth must have been as frightening as the beatings they regularly handed out. As David May said, this was a squad that played with

…complete togetherness…

Asst. Treasurer Terry Symons pointed out that the

club spirit…formed the nucleus of the side…

If a player missed out, his replacement would selflessly give his all. There was no jealousy emanating from the Reserves toward the Chiefs, said Chris Durant. It’s the Centenary Season. We’re in this together

On the flipside, however, as Bob Lees observed, maintaining fitness was paramount for 1st XV players. Any injury could see you lose your place.

The scorelines and figures we’ve seen also rather give the lie to the notion that the Camborne team of the late 1970s was just a massive pack, with little else.

Clearly, under the right circumstances, and with a fly-half possessing a touch of the flamboyant, such as Tanzi Lea or Steve Floyd, Camborne could be rampant when on top.

Top of the Merit Table clash…

Beating Redruth (which Camborne had yet to do), might mean you

…were treated like heroes in work for a week…

according to Jumbo Reed. Playing such luminaries as Pontypridd, Crawshay’s, Cambridge Uni, and Devon’s best, Torquay, might have given Camborne RFC much status and prestige.

But, if the Centenary XV wanted some silverware to show for their efforts – in other words, to be the undisputed best in Cornwall – they had to beat one team. And this would be a “top of the Merit Table clash”, wrote Merrill Clymo9, against…

St Ives.

No matter…

Read all about the outcome in Rugby Special ~ Part Five here

Many thanks for reading

References

  1. According to that day’s Daily Mirror, p1 and 3.
  2. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devon_RFU_Senior_Cup. Of course, Torquay would win it a third time in the 2006-7 season.
  3. The main narrative of the match is taken from the Packet, October 13, 1977.
  4. See: https://www.pitchero.com/clubs/chippenham/news/frank-butler–the-retirement-of-a-great-rugby-man-2572185.html, and https://www.somersetcountygazette.co.uk/news/7205325.frank-lands-top-job-at-bath-rfc/. The very first intake of the Camborne Minis included such notable players and clubmen as Martin and Michael Symons, Jon Polglase, Tommy Adams, Adrian and Graham Smith, Andy Bartle, Mark Warren, and Andrew Middleton.
  5. From the Packet, 24 November 1977
  6. From Merrill Clymo’s Camborne v Lydney programme notes, November 26, 1977, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lydney_Rugby_Football_Club
  7. From the Packet‘s match report, December 1, 1977. The reactions to the game are taken from here also.
  8. According to the West Briton, December 8, 1977, p26
  9. From the Camborne v Cambridge University programme notes, December 10, 1977

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

Rugby Special ~ Part Two

Reading time: 25 minutes

(If you missed Part One, click here…)

As it was…

It’s Saturday, September 3, 1977. There’s a Labour government in power. The Number One single that week was Elvis Presley’s ‘Way Down’. There’s only three television channels. The BBC’s sports flagship Grandstand is fronted by Frank Bough.

Camborne RFC’s opening game of their Centenary Season is against the County President’s Select XV.

The Camborne side that faced the County President’s XV. Front, l to r: Nigel Pellowe, Mike Eddy, Colin Taylor, Barry Wills, Chris Durant (c), Robert Mankee, Malcolm Bennetts, Bob Lees. Back, l to r: Jock Denholm, Chris Lane, David May, Bobby Tonkin, Paul Ranford, David Kingston, Frank Butler. Steve Floyd, who played fly-half, isn’t present. The photo appears to have been taken on the Camborne School of Mines pitch, behind the grandstand. Image courtesy Paul White

And Camborne were primed. Coach Alan Truscott and RN fitness instructor Barry Wills (Come on fellas…) had whipped the squad into dynamite shape. The thought of that fixture list, featuring clashes against the best in the land, had upped the ante.

A wooden scrummaging machine, knocked together by David Kingston, had been reduced to kindling. (This was the era before the famous ‘Rhino’ designs; the RFU had provided building instructions for interested clubs.) Truscott reckons the contraption took a single, brutal hit from Camborne’s massive pack to be demolished. Kingston, prickly at this perceived slight against his skills as a joiner, claims they wrung six months of use from his creation. (I am devastated that no photograph of this machine was taken.)

Either way, pre-season training was over. Time for the real thing.

Who impressed the selectors..?

The game was, in effect, a County trial, with CRFU President Arthur Pill and his phalanx of selectors joining a full house to view proceedings. Indeed, the XV Pill named featured seven capped men: Redruth’s Dave Parsons (lock) and Nick Brokenshire (centre), Hayle’s Gary Trewartha (hooker) and no. 9 David Mungles, Falmouth’s no. 8 David Muirhead, the Penzance-Newlyn flanker Peter Trudgeon, and, as skipper, the formidable St Ives lock, Roger Corin1.

Roger Corin. From the CRFU Centenary Special, Express Western Newspaper Group Souvenir, 1983. Courtesy Phil Meyers

The rivalry between Corin and his fiery Camborne opposite number, Paul Ranford, was such that Ranford could usually expect a pre-match message from him. Corin would pass it down the line that

…he was going to whack me one…

As Paul tells it, “I always got in first…”

For their part, Camborne were not short of County experience either. Captain Chris Durant, his fellow lock Paul Ranford, prop Bobby Tonkin, and 15 Nigel Pellowe had all been capped. Besides this, scrum-half Robert Mankee was in the Cornwall U23 squad.

From left, Paul Ranford, Chris Durant, and Bobby Tonkin in Cornwall regalia, outside the Camborne clubhouse on South Terrace. Courtesy Paul Ranford

Plus, David Kingston rated wing Michael ‘Jed’ Eddy as “outstanding in Cornwall”, and Mankee reckoned centre Colin Taylor unlucky not to win a cap.

For all their firepower, lack of time together told for the Select XV, with Camborne winning 12-7. The clinching score, remembers Dave Edwards (who was in the crowd that day, still finishing the cricket season), was made by an interception from Colin Taylor. Taylor “would always” be alert for such an opportunity, said Edwards, and “poor alignment” from the opposition threequarters gifted him the chance2.

Robert Mankee flicks the ball up to Chris Lane, while St Ives’ Peter Hendy lines him up. The Packet, September 7, 1977, p26

Curiously, it wasn’t Taylor, or Camborne’s much-rated pack, that shone that day. In early scrums the Town front row of Bobby Tonkin, Malcolm Bennetts and Jock Denholm found themselves inexplicably shunted around, a sight that was to get rarer and rarer as the season wore on. No, with Steve Floyd at 10, Camborne could play a running game, and it was wing Barry Wills that “impressed the selectors”, scoring a try3.

Indeed, Wills was immediately selected for Cornwall; Jock Denholm and Robert Mankee had to wait until 1979 to wear black and gold4.

The result, said Frank Butler, put down a marker. It was a chance

…to show who we were…

The ‘Barbarians’ of Wales…

That’s how Bob Lees described Captain Crawshay’s Welsh XV, who Camborne took on four days after beating the President’s side.

The very first Camborne XV to play Crawshay’s, back in 1923. Courtesy Martin Symons

This was a fixture steeped in history, an occasion to celebrate the traditional camaraderie and sporting ethos of rugby. Captain Geoffrey Crawshay’s (1892-1954) touring sides always featured international and rising Welsh talent, and they always played a fast, entertaining game.

Crawshay’s had visited and played Camborne, with a brief interlude for war, between 1923 and 1964, when Cornwall took over the fixture5. Now, in the year of Camborne’s Centenary, they were back, fielding a team to savour:

The numbers of the Crawshay’s pack were for some reason reversed; playing in the back row that day was a young Eddie Butler. Courtesy Alan Rowling

Merrill Clymo, Camborne’s Hon. General Secretary, wrote the notes for the programmes whilst working at a local solicitors. (So dedicated was he to Camborne RFC, that his daughter Sally recalls many a Sunday morning spent helping him clean the changing rooms.) Clymo was clearly most effusive about the game:

As our most outstanding fixture for many years, we welcome you back…We shall recall with nostalgia the games of bygone days…Friendships will be renewed. Old friends, no longer with us, will be remembered.

Merrill Clymo, by Ernie Loze

No one seems to have told the players any of this…

If you don’t shut your f_____g mouth…

Crawshay’s 15, David Gullick, (who was invited to tour by dint of a father who was born in, and played for, Pontypool), told me that his club side Orrell were a

…tough team, but nothing like this…

The Crawshay’s skipper, Wales flanker Clive Burgess, was known as ‘The Steel Claw’ or, more simply, ‘The Animal’6. Apart from Orrell’s Gullick, and Cambridge Blue Eddie Butler, these were all hard-working men from the Valleys, up against a bunch of hard-working men from Cornwall.

David Kingston recalls only a few instances about the game, which is hardly surprising: he was so concussed that he turned to Nigel Pellowe and said

…I’m seeing two balls…get us my glasses…

Pellowe, who knew a thing or two about people being scat silly, wisely told Kingston to leave the field of play.

Elsewhere, Robert Mankee was getting no end of grief from his opposite number, Bridgend’s Gerald Williams.

Gerald Williams in action for Wales. Getty Images

One of the few things Kingston does remember is that Williams was “full of himself”, and kept stamping on Mankee’s toes at scrummages, amongst other things. Mankee says he was all talk, and warned him that

If you don’t shut your f_____g mouth…

he could expect repercussions. Williams apparently told Mankee to “F__k off”. Both Kingston and Malcolm Bennetts concur that Mankee

…never warned anyone three times…

…and so it came to pass. At a scrum on Camborne’s 22, in the corner by the turnstile, said Bennetts, an incensed Mankee suddenly

…let rip and punched Williams that hard he split his eye…

Or, as Mankee describes it, he split Williams’ face

…from his eye-socket to his nostril…

Legend will tell you, dear reader, that the sound of Mankee’s right hook making good its connection was heard in the packed grandstand…on the opposite side of the ground.

Williams fell away, blood pouring from between his fingers, and was stretchered off to Treliske for stitches.

Malcolm Bennetts:

There was hellup, the Crawshay’s players wanted to rip Mank’s head off…

Clive ‘Steel Claw’ Burgess instantly, and loudly, demanded vengeance on Mankee. Chris Durant, sensing yet more carnage, advised Mankee to move to the relative safety of the wing, to which Mankee is alleged to have replied,

…I’m not a f_____g winger! I ain’t ‘fraid…bring it on!

(He did, however, accept the sage advice of Frank Butler: “whatever you do, Mank, don’t go on the ground…” Butler knew the only law that existed on the deck was the law of the jungle.)

At the next line-out, said David Kingston, Camborne’s pack all stood in front of Mankee and stared the Crawshay’s men down. Burgess, Kingston told me, “dropped it”.

David Gullick remembers it differently. Crawshay’s, he said, “dealt with” Mankee, “later on…”

A lot of skullduggery…

Where, you may ask, was the referee in all this? Mankee wasn’t sent off, but a penalty was awarded to Crawshay’s. Paul Ranford told me that, in the 1970s, referees “were poor”. Dave Edwards identifies one in particular who was so afraid of Bobby Tonkin that Bobby would virtually “referee the game for him”…in Camborne’s favour.

Terry Symons, then the club’s Asst. Treasurer, and blessed with a memory of Camborne rugby stretching back to the days of John Rockett and Gary Harris, says this was a time when

…a lot of skullduggery went on…

Which is rather like saying that a lot of drinking goes on inside a pub7. Paul Ranford freely admits rugby players at the time “were no angels”, and weak refereeing meant a lot of violence went unpunished. It’s important to bear this in mind for later in the season.

Incidentally, Crawshay’s won, 18-30, with great Welsh threequarter hope Pat Daniels (he was to join Cardiff in 19788) wowing the crowd with searing breaks, though it was Gullick who Frank Butler remembers “cutting us up” that afternoon. Although Camborne “played very tight”, reckons Gullick, Barry Wills scored what David Kingston described as an “excellent” try.

If hospitality was somewhat lacking on the pitch, this was made up for after the match with, the Neath hooker Pat Langford recalls, a guided tour of Port Navas Oyster Farm. In the South Terrace Clubhouse, however, Robert Mankee and Gerald Williams had little to say to each other.

Camborne moved on.

Bobby Tonkin ~ The Smiling Assassin…

Two days later, on the evening of Friday the 9th, Camborne ran in ten tries against Bournemouth, winning 56-9. Faced with obviously lesser opposition than Crawshay’s, and with the expansive Tanzi Lea at fly-half, Town ran amok. Such sides were meat and drink to the Camborne pack in general (who were described as “magnificent”9), and prop Bobby Tonkin in particular, who scored a hat-trick.

Bobby Tonkin, courtesy of Paul Ranford

Bobby Tonks had it all, in the opinion of Alan Truscott:

…excellent ball skills, good scrummager, and, for a prop, an excellent goal kick…comfortable with ball in hand.

If ever he smelt fear on an opponent – or a referee – Bobby could dominate a game, as Bournemouth, and many others, discovered to their cost. He was a hit with the crowds, and a darling of the press: “well respected”, reckoned Bob Lees.

The caption to this snap originally read Big Bobby is watching you…The Packet, January 5, 1978

Tonkin was a “big man, with a big personality”, Jumbo Reed told me, adding

…he either liked you, or he didn’t…

Conversely, and like many other big men with big personalities, you either “liked Bobby, or you didn’t”, reckoned Terry Symons. Either way, he was vital to Camborne’s success, with countless attacks from the line-out, for example the ‘1234’ move. Chris Durant would catch at the front, and feed to Bobby, who would be peeling round the short-side, bullocking forward, body low, chin out, on the rampage. Malcolm Bennetts would grab the opposition hooker and pull him into the line, creating a gap for Bobby to pop-pass to Paul Ranford, who would sprint through to score. Such were his ball skills, said David May, that Bobby was “ahead of his time”, inasmuch that he was often to be found in the threequarters, eyeing up an opposition centre,

…like a smiling assassin.

He must have been a hell of a player.

Never a bleddy try…

The next day, a Saturday afternoon, Camborne entertained Pontypridd. This would be, wrote Merrill Clymo in his programme notes, a “formidable task”. Ponty’s historian, Alun Granfield, informed me that the club were elected Welsh champions for the 1976-77 season by the Western Mail newspaper, as well as being awarded the Sunday Telegraph trophy. Their skipper was international flanker Tom David – yes, that Tom David, a member of the Barbarians XV that beat the All Blacks in what is now seen as the quintessential 1970s rugby match.

Tom David in action for the Barbarians10: This is great stuff…Phil Bennett covering…Brilliant! Oh, that’s brilliant! John Williams, Bryan Williams. Pullin. John Dawes…great dummy! To David, Tom David, the half-way line! Brilliant by Quinnell! This is Gareth Edwards! A dramatic start! WHAT A SCORE! ~ Cliff Morgan, commentator, Barbarians v All Blacks, 1973

And it was tight. Going into the final quarter, Camborne led 9-7, thanks to three penalties by Steve Floyd. Though Ponty had scored earlier with wing Brian ‘Mad Dog’ Juliff outsprinting both Pellowe and Mankee to touch down in the corner, they were down to fourteen men. A fight had broken out at a maul, and the match official (from Cornwall) had no option but to order the visiting hooker, Steve Moule, off the pitch11.

Camborne, egged on by a baying crowd sensing a famous win, fancied their chances – but it was not to be. In the dying moments, who else but Tom David crashed through a desperate tackle to touch down in the top-right corner…or did he?

The decision to award the try, and victory, 9-11, to Pontypridd, still upsets Chris Durant – and you don’t want to upset Chris Durant. The referee gave the try after much persistent shouting and celebrating from the visitors, but Durant insists the

…try was never scored…it was never a bleddy try…

David Kingston recalled that Durant, in cahoots with Mankee, had David in a bear-hug (which must have been quite a tussle), preventing the Welsh legend from touching down. Camborne

…should’ve won…

But they didn’t. And, sadly, for all that David magnanimously praised the “power” of Camborne’s pack, and how Town had Ponty “worried” until the final whistle12, there was to be no rematch. Pontypridd have never played Camborne, or toured Cornwall, since 1977.

Next Friday, the 16th, Camborne easily beat visiting Maidstone 22-4. (Maidstone’s President, Paul Ehrhart, recalls a “very physical match”, from the start.) Highlights included ten points from the ever-trusty boot of Steve Floyd, and a try from Mankee that brought the house down “from a superb, darting solo run”13.

(Doubtless this was a trademark ‘Mank’ break, where he would look to attack on the open-side but in fact go blind, and streak into the opposition’s 22, leaving the would-be covering tacklers coughing in his dust.)

Barry Wills ~ Come on fellas…

Courtesy Paul White

Teignmouth cried off on the Saturday, but on the following Tuesday, Camborne travelled to lowly Truro for the first round of the CRFU Cup. The game was practically a bye, with Town running in fourteen tries, winning 0-67. Michael Eddy, whom Dave Edwards recalls as a fast, dangerous finisher with a lovely outside swerve, scored a hat-trick. The other wing, Barry Wills, notched up four – all in the second half. His form was white-hot, but he was to play only one more game for Camborne that season.

Wills was a Royal Navy PTI, and “one hell of a fitness freak”, according to Paul Ranford. His training sessions with the squad were described as “regimented” by Robert Mankee, and “painful” by Ranford; indeed, he confesses to throwing up after every one. (All Paul hoped for was to make it to Tyack’s on a Thursday evening in one piece.) Regardless of the whining, the squad’s stamina was excellent, thanks to – Come on fellas…and ONE and TWO and THREE and… – Barry Wills.

Malcolm Bennetts recalls a Camborne Ladies versus Camborne Players match (this long before the advent of the WRFU), in aid of the family of a Plymouth Albion player who had tragically died whilst playing Camborne Reserves. The Ladies’ XV trainer was Barry Wills. (He was the kind of man who would volunteer “for everything”, remembers Frank Butler.) Every Sunday for a month (Come on ladies…), Barry had his new recruits doing interval sprints up the banking, scrummaging work, full tackling, and were introduced to the finer points of line-outs, rucking and mauling. The women would come home bruised and exhausted, begging for it to be over. “Come the big day”, said Bennetts, the game was in fact touch rugby, with no line-outs or scrums, and the men not permitted to run. “But”, Malcolm continues, “that was Barry Wills”. All or nothing.

This was reflected in his play. David May praises his “hard, straight” running, while Jumbo Reed called him a

Top player, anywhere in the backs.

Though not much of a kicker, and a worse passer (few and-and-out wingers are), Nigel Pellowe points out his tough streak when on the defensive. If there was

…any trouble, we would sort them out.

Six matches in the Centenary Season, six tries, and four Cornwall caps – his only four – before injury ruled him out. (More on that next week.) A classic case of what might have been.

Camborne maintain brilliant start…

…was the headline in the sports pages of the Packet of September 29th. Town were on a roll. Three days after pummelling Truro, they beat Avon & Somerset Police 32-0. The day after that, Saturday the 24th, Paignton went down 36-0.

Camborne had played 8 games, winning 6, scoring 252 points, and conceding only 61.

They were flying. But the Merit Table fixtures were about to start, and first up were Camborne’s oldest of old foes…

…Redruth. Would the brilliant start be maintained?

You can find out in Rugby Special ~ Part Three here

Many thanks for reading

References

  1. See Tom Salmon, The First Hundred Years: The Story of Rugby Football in Cornwall, CRFU, 1983, p142-3
  2. The Packet, September 7, 1977, p26
  3. The Packet, September 7, 1977, p26
  4. See Tom Salmon, The First Hundred Years: The Story of Rugby Football in Cornwall, CRFU, 1983, p142-3
  5. In recent times a Camborne v Crawshay’s fixture is arranged to signify an event of great import for Camborne RFC. Apart from the Centenary match, Crawshay’s played Camborne in 1991 to celebrate the opening of the Crane Park clubhouse, and again during the 125th anniversary season of 2003. I am grateful to Martin Symons for providing me with this information.
  6. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_Burgess
  7. The 1970s witnessed the most violent game, and the most notorious call – “99” – in rugby history. Even in a British Lions Test, match officials could do little to act against the perpetrators. See: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/sport/rugby/rugby-news/lions-99-call-south-africa-18587954, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/99_call
  8. See: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/sport/rugby/rugby-news/what-became-42-rugby-players-24721126
  9. The Packet, September 14, 1977
  10. From: https://www.mediastorehouse.com/colorsport/popular-themes/gareth-edwards/tom-david-passes-ball-barbarians-build-up-gareth-6303968.html
  11. The Packet, September 15, 1977
  12. As Merrill Clymo noted in his programme notes for the Maidstone fixture.
  13. The Packet, September 22, 1977