Oakfield News: Lionel Messi, Che Guevara and Thurrock RFC

  Posted: 07.06.20 at 12:55 by Ralph Henderson

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Thurrock Rugby Club's Ralph Henderson continues his reflections on the club and happenings at Oakfield

AT this time of "lockdown", rugby quizzes and reminiscences seem to be all the vogue. So here is an interesting one: what have arguably the world's greatest footballer, Lionel Messi, arguably the world's most famous revolutionary, Che Guevara and Thurrock R.F.C. got in common?

The answer is Rosario.

Rosario has several claims to fame: It was the birthplace of Messi and the most famous revolutionary rugby player (although South Africa have a Marx as hooker) Che Guevara!
Rosario is also Argentina's best known Rugby Club and hosted the 2010 Junior World Cup dominated by the "Baby Blacks".

After my last posting, some members were asking for more details about Thurrock's connection with London Scottish and then some old team photos were published when Thurrock won "The Silver Ball" in 1980.

One of the key factors to success in rugby is a club's provenance and Thurrock certainly has a tremendous history. In the early eighties Thurrock had connections in the highest rugby circles, largely because of its outstanding cup success and go-ahead committees.

With the new facilities and floodlights, there was a strong connection with former England prop, Mike Burton. He was the man responsible for allocating fixtures and always ensured Thurrock were rewarded by playing the best. Hence it came about that the world famous Rosario team played a pretty good Thurrock XV at Oakfield.


Shortly after, Thurrock played Romania in an outstanding game with the home side gaining most of the plaudits.

At this time, the Club President was former Scottish International and British Lions'winger, Dr Doug Smith. Doug, an Orsett doctor, was also the President of London Scottish. He became the manager of the 1971 Lions team which was the only team to win a Test series in New Zealand!

The coach of that team was the legendary Welshman, Carwyn James. And so it transpired that on a cold Sunday morning, the greatest Lions management team of all time came to coach the Thurrock First Team.

Doug Smith coached Clive Beynon's team with great success and organised a match against London Scottish at Richmond. This was actually a Scottish Trial for the Anglo-Scots and was played before the Scottish selectors just prior to what was then The Five Nations' Championship.

In the event the game was played in torrential rain and Thurrock faced five Internationals in Mike Biggar in the Back row, Alastair McHarg in the Second-Row, half-backs Alan Lawson (the son in law of Bill Mclaren, the famous commentator) and Fly-half Ron Wilson.

Alastair Biggar was a giant winger. The rest of the team were all Scottish Triallists! Thurrock played the conditions remarkably well with scrum-half, John Mahoney being "man of the match" and the Chair of selectors commenting that the Thurrock fly-half had produced the only attacking kick of the game which almost led to Derek Saddington scoring the winning try at the death!

In the event the final score was 9-9 with Ron Wilson and Ray Davies kicking three penalties apiece.

Capacity Twickenham

Thurrock played London Scottish in a League game rather more recently with Thurrock defeating a weak Scottish team in a "dead rubber", the Exiles having already won promotion. Of course Thurrock played the Scottish on several occasions at Sevens competitions, most famously in the centenary year of the world's finest competition the Middlesex Sevens, Thurrock having reached the quarter-finals at a capacity Twickenham.

The photograph going the rounds was from the Silver Ball,which was an outstanding pre-season competition for all major Essex teams plus some great guest teams. Thurrock won this on three consecutive occasions before losing three finals to star-studded Swansea Athletic with a sprinkling of Internationals and several players who had been in the victorious team which defeated the touring Australia. (Geoff Atherfold went on to become Chairman of The Ospreys).

Later the Silver Ball and "Golden Boot" became outstanding competitions for the under sixteens.
Throughout this period Thurrock were known as "The Cup Kings" of Essex, appearing in 10 Essex finals and five Eastern Counties Finals. All of these led to appearing in The National Cup and fixtures against the likes of Exeter, Saracens, Bath and London Irish.

Home and away games were played against top Welsh side Newbridge. Of course add to that the likes of Rosario and Romania and the local population was treated to top class action.

I have always believed that "Aspiration is the sequel to inspiration" and with the schools and Colts producing great talent, many of these youngsters were inspired to follow in the footsteps of those they watched at the weekend.

As a young player in Wales, I was lucky to have been brought up in a town with three Welsh Internationals and British Lions (and even Willie John McBride played on permit).

My inspiration to take up the game was Haydn Morgan, a man for whom Clive Beynon had the greatest respect when facing him in the sixties. Now with the youngsters in the club and the Colts developing so well, it is to be hoped that they will watch the senior teams and televised matches to find their own role models and inspiration once the game restarts.

Please note that these are my own personal views and intended only as a means of keeping Rugby in focus during these strange times.

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