Impressionable Youth

by Sam Collins


In late August 1965, as a callow 16 year old, my father dropped me off at the Central YMCA in Great Russell Street, just off the Oxford Street/Tottenham Court Road junction. Only some 200 yards from Soho! His intention for me was to spend 3 years attending The College for Distributive Trades, Smithfield Annexe, to qualify me as a “master” butcher and a subsequent return to help him in our family butchery business. “Don’t come home until you have passed all your exams” was his parting shot. My intention for me was to have a jolly good time now I was out from under his gaze.

I needed an interest to get away from my studies and daily commute on the bus to Farringdon. I soon got in with some other like-minded souls about my age who were all similarly resident in this vast building. We discovered the notice boards advertising the various leisure time pursuits and activities, one of which was RUGBY.

I was introduced to this sport as a 6 year old at Oakmount Preparatory school in Southampton and continued to play in my first winter term at Barton Peveril Grammar school in Eastleigh. This was a co-ed and my parents seemed to think that fraternising with girls was bad for me, so after one year they took me away and enrolled me at St.Mary’s College in Southampton, a football school run by monks! When the teams were picked at games times I always ended up in goal.

I could play RUGBY again. I was really happy. With some of the other guys we decided to sign up for the pre-season trials at Centymca’s ground in Eltham, southeast London. There I met Ray Muggeridge the captain of the 1st XV. He was a giant 2nd row forward and a really nice bloke. I introduced myself and told him I could play Number 8 or full back, the positions I had played all through prep school. I was big (fat) for my age, must have been all my mum’s wonderful home cooking, and my nickname at school was “tank”. “Right” said Ray, “you will prop”. Thus began a 16 year career as a loose head prop forward.

Rugby, Beer & Singing.

Centymca usually ran 3 or 4 sides depending on player availability and fixtures. I started playing in the 3rd XV called The Centaurs. One season under Jerry Coade’s captaincy we went the whole 25 games undefeated. For home games our sports ground was a wonderful facility, just a few minutes walk from the Eltham railway station, if you couldn’t get a lift from one of the older players who owned a car. We used to meet up at the YM and then travel to the various match venues. The only problem was that after home games there was no bar. Being young “Christian” men the secretariat frowned on alcohol consumption so all we had after playing was tea and sandwiches. Desperate measures were required and so there was an arrangement in place with the landlord of The Royal Oak, a local pub on the main road junction near the ground, where jugs of beer were made available to us in his back room. In those days licensing hours dictated no opening before 6.00 p.m. We were secret drinkers.

Victories were celebrated, losing fixtures were drunk back, various silly drinking games were played and lots of ribald songs were sung until official opening time when we would all head back in to town, either directly or via various hostelries on route, a few specifically in New Cross as I recall.

Easter Tours to France

Some of my favourite memories are of our trips to Paris at Easter. We would travel to Lymm airport in Kent with a squad of around 30 rugby missionaries and fly to Beauvais then coach to Paris. We played against Pontoise, Aulnay sur Bois and Noisy le Sec. The first time I went we were billeted in the dormitories of a university in south east of the city. I’m not sure what we did wrong but the second time we ended up in a massive Nissen hut on camp beds. All of us in one shed with very limited toilet & washing facilities. One night we carried Robbie Clarke on his bed and put him outside the door as his snoring was keeping us all awake. Unfortunately during the night a few guys relieved themselves without travelling further than the door. In the morning Robbie, a burly wing who played piano in the penthouse bar of a hotel in Park Lane, was totally unamused.

Traditionally we would be welcomed by the mayor at a pre-match luncheon in the town hall and meet our opposition. One time we over imbibed with our opponents before the game and when we arrived at the ground we found the actual team warming up, Suffice to say we came second. The game would follow at the local stadium and then after the post-match meal and copious amounts of beer & wine we would travel with, or without, our opponents to Place du Tetre, Montmartre or Pigalles for late evening entertainment where there was usually a sweepstake for a tour “virgin” to lose his virginity in a bordello. We would get stuck in to too many Pastis and visit The Concert Mayol (an upmarket strip joint) where mobhanded we would dominate proceedings from the balcony. I remember one night when walking with Tiger Martin ( a formidable drinker with an open gullet who managed to drink two fruit bowls full of red wine in less than 10 seconds at one post-match banquet) down an alleyway from Place du Tetre to Montmartre we discovered a bar full of women. As we ordered a drink we thought our luck was in until we noticed the size of their hands and realised they were all blokes in drag. We didn’t stop running until we got to Pigalles! That was the night we slid down the shiny metal between the escalators on the Metro. Tiger, whose hips were narrower than mine, was able to squeeze between the metal bollards. I was less fortunate and did my groin area an unfortunate injustice. That night in the dormitory I had to lie in bed next to “Dad” Riordan, a silver haired smoothy of a full back, listening to him consummate his relationship with a young Parisian lady he had met while more concerned about my equipment.

In my first match at Pontoise in the first scrum their tight head punched me in the face. I went home with two black eyes. When my mum saw me she burst in to tears. (Dirty French) I got my revenge the following year. Our secretary, a man called Bill Marchant, worked in pharmaceuticals. Before the game he gave me and my fellow front row a bottle of liquid aspirin and told us to rub it in our hair. Then at the first scrum we nuzzled our forelocks in the faces of their front row. They couldn’t see for the stinging in their watering eyes. Serve them right.

We didn’t often indulge in practice sessions or pre-match warm ups but one day we decided to have a session of touch under the Eiffel Tower. We had to move some metal signs from the lawn to enable us to play. The next thing we knew was a bunch of gun-toting gendarmes arrived and arrested us. Apparently the metal signs said “keep off the grass”. Bill had to bail us out so we could fulfil the afternoon fixture. He was not amused.

My hooker was a hard welsh man called Cess Davies. He worked for RMC (Ready Mixed Concrete) as 3 or 4 of our players did. They all drove RMC vans which were very handy for lifts to matches but quite dirty in the back. He was an accomplished judo black belt. We were drinking in a bar near The Champs Elysees when some northern rugby league guys came in and somehow got in to a rather heated argument with us which began to turn nasty. Cess told me to walk to the door and all I could feel was his shoulder blades going up & down on my back as I did so. When I got to the door he told me to run for it. As I did I glanced behind me to see about 4 or 5 guys laid out. As we ran one way the gendarmes were arriving from the opposite direction. Lucky or what?

Cess ended up as an undercover Met Police officer in the flying squad. He was stationed in Savile Row. One Saturday morning my flatmate Steve Cole, nicknamed “Steinberg” as he worked in the fashion trade, decided to go to Austin Reed in Regent Street for a new suit. He drove an MGB GT and we parked right outside the store. (You could in those days). As we left a Met Police patrol car blocked our exit as we pulled away. Two police officers dragged us out of the car and put us over the bonnet legs akimbo for a search. Much alarmed we noticed Cess get out of the rear of the car and quietly informed us that he would be round to our flat for coffee before the game. The commotion had gathered an interested crowd of Saturday morning shoppers and a great number of beat bobbies. Not the case these days!

Sunday Rugby and The Jock Strapp Ensemble

Our main watering hole near the YM was The Bloomsbury Wine Bar. We were all keen players and up for “social” rugby so, together with a few like-minded guys from Mill Hill & Hendon clubs, our Club Captain Mike Flynn, a larger than life character and my idol, ran two Sunday sides called The Bloomsbury Barbarians. We used to meet early lunchtimes in Swiss Cottage and go off to play fun games all over London and outlying places to facilitate more drinking and singing and general silliness. This was fun rugby with XV bodies on the pitch rarely playing in their normal positions. I coped in the back row but the day I played centre I missed every tackle.

We also had an annual Charity match against The Public School Wanderers. On one occasion Ian Robertson played fly half for them and I still remember my head on tackle on Chris Rea going at full tilt. The post-match celebrations were always good fun.

A few of us played for various Advertising Agencies. They used to have league matches at Esher every third Sunday throughout the season. As a mercenary I also played for a number of banks mid-week. Some merchant banks had magnificent facilities in Blackheath. As a student anybody who could offer me a steak dinner and a few beers was guaranteed my services.

As we had no bar in our own clubhouse at Eltham there was very little opportunity to generate funds to help finance kit, tours, etc. Through Mike we were approached by a recording company called Sportsdisc Records who, over a number of years, made three LPs of Rugby Songs under the guise of The Jock Strapp Ensemble. Mike’s face features as Jock Strapp on the sleeves of volumes one and three. Sleeve two features many of the guys I played with, but not me. This venture generated much needed funds in commissions as the recordings were popular and sold well. Needless to say, all the rude words were “bleeped out” in the recordings so, although uneasy, the Secretariat could not object. However, Sportsdisc Records decided that a book of the songs would be a fine extension to the range. Seeing the written word in print did not go down at all well with the powers that be and the rugby section of Centymca was severely sanctioned in mid-season 1968/69.

This was the trigger for a majority of the leading committee members of the rugby section to relaunch Hampstead Rugby Club. I was one of them.

HAMPSTEAD – The early years

In mid-season we took over a readymade fixture list. Quite a bit of pre-preparation had already been done. We had the use of a pitch on Hampstead Heath and changing facilities in Parliament Hill Fields athletic track. We used this as our main pitch. We also had use of a pitch on Regents Park, one behind Wormwood Scrubs prison for opposition west of London and one on Wanstead Flats for opposition from East of London. We had to drink post-match in various pubs. One regular haunt being The South Molton lounge in South Molton Street just off Oxford Street near Bond Street tube station. We used the upstairs room. It is where the third LP was recorded with Robbie Clarke on the piano. It was also where we held Bill Porter’s stag do and where he (allegedly) fell down the stairs and broke his leg that we plastered up to his groin to “ruin” his honeymoon. For the first week at least until we let Carole know it was a ruse and he had it removed. She was not amused, but we were.

There was a pub at the end of the street called The Charge of the Light Brigade. They had a big old canon outside. We played a club from Norfolk (no names). On the Sunday night they returned with a truck & trailer and stole the canon. We had to get it back before the brown stuff hit the fan.

We also met in The Cambridge in Cambridge Circus for Stag Parties as it was so handy for Soho. After a good drink and singalong we would go to a strip club and enjoy ourselves calling out stupid things as some poor girl took her clothes off. On one occasion there were so many of us we filled the place. There were no seats left so I perched on the corner of the stage. I was 17 and got thrown out by the bouncers. It wasn’t my fault that the young lady using an umbrella as a prop with a big knob on the end of the handle bent forward just as I raised my hand to fondle the knob but found her left breast instead!

Using pubs & bars was not an ideal arrangement. We were back to where we came from. We needed our own clubhouse, changing facilities & bar. Luckily we got the use of a vacant school building and playground just off Albany Street near Regents Park. The ground floor was converted in to changing rooms with showers. Upstairs was the function room with a bar, an overhead lounge area and kitchen.

We began to attract players from all over the world and became very cosmopolitan. We had Aussies, New Zealanders and South Africans. Some were very good players.

Our committee meetings were held every Monday evening in the upstairs room of The Flying Horse pub opposite Tottenham Court Road tube station. All captains attended the selection meetings. We had a couple of player’s wives who acted as secretaries. They would type the team selections on to a stencil which was then hand printed on to a newsletter posted out to all members. I was Match Secretary. There were times when we fielded 8 teams but generally put six out every week. I was lucky enough to play for the first XV on occasions.

Our shirts were based on the original design of the first Hampstead Wanderers Rugby Club which allegedly was a forerunner to Wasps, Saracens, Harlequins and possibly Rosslyn Park after The Great War.

Our fixture list was quite strong at first team level. We played the second XVs of all London top clubs. We had an ambitious fixture secretary who would pick up some choice games on the London exchange. We once played Coventry Extra in September as Blackheath were unable to fulfil the fixture. They turned up on a coach with a team full of well-known first- class players. I propped against Keith Fairbrother, the current England tight head. In the first three scrums on our ball we never saw it. It was the only time in my career I had to ask my opponent to go easy on me as “he was the current International and I was due in college on Monday morning”. We lost 66-3. But we gave them a good time back at Albany Street and they went home at about 1.30 on Sunday morning.

I subsequently took on the role of chair of house running the bar and catering as I worked in the food industry. There were times when I had to put on 150 portions of pie & beans. I also did the catering for various social events and the local Albany Street Police station quarterly stag nights. Very interesting evenings regarding live and video entertainment. One night’s act led to very few cheese & cucumber sandwiches being eaten once the young lady returned the cucumber to me in the kitchen. That night a group of heavy whiskey drinkers propping up the corner of the bar got upset when I panicked and called last orders at 11.30. I was told to close the bar when they told me to. At 1.00 a.m. a patrol car arrived and uniformed officers advised one of the group that his lift home had arrived. I was then informed I could close up. Apparently he was a Chief Superintendent.

Cabarets and Beer Festivals

We used to put on cabarets that were well costumed, choreographed and rehearsed in one of the event rooms in the YM. These took place at club dances to entertain the players and their guests.

In 1967 we held a dance at Hampstead Town Hall. The cabaret featured me as hostess “The Lovely Amy Macdonald”, Mike Flynn as Nancy Sinatra singing “These Boots are Made for Walking” and “Big Spender” and our support dancing chorus line – The Titler Girls. At this event we had a surprise visit from The All Blacks squad members not playing against England at Twickenham the following day. I sat on the lap of Jack Hazlett their second-string prop and gave him a big smacker on the forehead. The following day’s local paper had a picture of him with a big red circle on his face.

We also held our first beer festival at Hampstead Town Hall in the upstairs ball room. This took place over the May bank holiday weekend once the season finished. There were various drinking challenges – individual half, pint, boot & yard of ale plus team events of boat races. Needless to say Tiger Martin would win almost every challenge. He won us much beer money challenging opposition players to drink a half faster than his pint. He was always anchor man in our boat race team. Once he was timed over a yard of ale against a replica one filled with water being poured down a sink. The contest ended in a tie. Quite amazing as it was his second effort as my timing of the first attempt was in question. The Mill Hill players couldn’t believe it and called for a re-run!

We invited many of our fixture list clubs and welcomed walk ins. Unfortunately we were unable to hold another one at this venue as too much beer seeped through the floor and in to the ceiling of the council offices below.

We were supported by Trumans, our main supplier. It was said that we were the biggest consumer of Fosters Lager in London due to our many antipodean players who used to buy 6 packs and hang them on their belts. Some Sunday mornings when cleaning the clubhouse I produced some very impressive mountains of empty cans in the forecourt.

The second beer festival went up market. We parked a road tanker of beer on the road between platforms 1 & 2 at Marylebone Railway station. There were six bars set up, three on each side of a screened of arena. The challenge was to drink a tanker dry. Up on stage we had an oompah band made up of some Coldstream Guards bandsmen who played for the club. We ran the usual competitions. We had lots of Rugby League supporters come in as the Championship Final was on the same day and trains to Wembley left the station. Unfortunately some train drivers were tempted to imbibe whilst on duty and tooted their train horns as they left the station. One surprise guest popped in to see what all the fun was about. One of The Batchelors who lived locally and just nipped out for milk & papers. He stayed up on stage all day.

These were very successful events and continued after I moved away.

One of the bandsmen was a guy called Alex Anderson. I remember a Saturday night in early November after quite a few beers when some of us decided to go to Victoria for a curry after the pub closed. We piled in to the back of a van and set off down Piccadilly only to find a big traffic jam and the road shut. It was “bonfire night” and Piccadilly Circus/Trafalgar Square were shut to traffic due to all the revellers. We had to turn around and take a different route. However, some of us were suffering excruciating pain from over full bladders after all the beer we had consumed. The curry house toilet could not come soon enough. So Alex instructed our driver to deviate down Birdcage Walk, drive through the gates of the Coldstream Guards barracks, as the sentry saluted Alex, and stop behind the armoury. We all jumped out and relieved ourselves. As we drove out the guard saluted Alex again. If only he’d known what we did. It certainly would not happen today!

Middlesex Sevens

We always entered two 7’s squads in the regional qualifying rounds. Back in the day the Middlesex Sevens were for all clubs affiliated to the county with qualifiers at various grounds around the capital. The top clubs would then join the finals winners in the prestigious event at Twickenham on the first Saturday in May. All players were given a ticket to the finals. Therefore we always had a batch of tickets. Organising committees were established. Logistics, Drinks, Food. On the day the first group would enter the ground and reserve two or three rows of seats in the stand. Then one guy would return to the carpark with the tickets for the next group and so on until we had about 60 supporters in the ground with total hospitality supplied. On one occasion Mike Flynn had a portable TV with him so we could watch the Rugby League cup final at the same time.

We actually qualified one year when we had a magnificent squad including Stan Hannath a South African star forward from Natal. Over the years the event has become something totally different and not necessarily for the better, with bans on alcohol as an example.

Once we tried to smuggle wine box bags in to the ground under our wives’ shirts giving the impression they were pregnant. We tried 3 or 4 different entry gates until we found one steward who was not totally switched on. When we got to the South Terrace we found a group of guys with a massive barrel of beer on a proper gas pump! Not what you know……


I was honoured to be a Founder Member of Hampstead Rugby Club. Rugby has been such a massive part of my life. The life experiences, the lasting memories, the friendships and camaraderie. I played for Trojans in Southampton when home between college terms. I left London in 1972 to work in the midlands and played for Stourbridge and Newark. I retired through injury in 1982 and took up the whistle, first with Notts, Lincs & Derbyshire and then Gloucester. I was promoted to the National Panel in 1992 with Chris White. I was 42 and he was 27. His career took off. I did get opportunities to officiate at a level I never attained as a player. I retired at 52 and after 14 years of coaching/mentoring referees I have spent the last 3 years as a member of the RFU’s Professional Game Match Officials Team as a Match Observer on The Greene King Championship.

I have a lot to thank Hampstead Rugby Club for, not least I met my future wife in 1972 at a dance at the Albany Street clubhouse after a resounding victory at Old Deer Park against London Welsh Dragons. We married in 1974 and are still together. Mike Flynn attended the wedding.

Sadly he died some years ago from a massive heart attack, allegedly running for a train at Twickenham station after a Middlesex committee meeting. (Mike was a chief steward at the stadium). His memorial was held at Twickenham in the West Stand main bar. I was lucky enough to be able to attend and meet up with many of my old pals after a long absence. We were allowed to stand on the touchline and throw Mike’s ashes on to the hallowed turf. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing towards us and we got covered. One attendee (no names) decided to streak the length of the pitch. His lifelong ambition. There were only 2 security stewards on duty. He got tackled and was about to be ejected in the nude until we persuaded them to show some compassion.


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