Usually, when you read or hear the phrase, 'with all due respect' it means absolutely no respect intended. On this occasion I genuinely mean 'with all due respect.' The reality is, in the 1980's Worcester were not considered good enough to play against Bath; all matches were deemed 'friendlies' so opposition teams were added and removed from fixture lists depending on their respective strengths. It's fair to say, after years of progression under the guidance of Chairman Cecil Duckworth, Worcester are more than worthy of their top flight status within English club rugby.
Other than being deemed 'worthy,' there was another way of getting a fixture against so called 'superior' opposition in days gone by. Play on a pitch which was unaffected by freezing conditions when for three weeks every other pitch in the country had been frozen solid! This was the case during the 1984/85 season which witnessed an extended period of freezing weather shortly after the New Year.
Before I mention the fixture, let me give you an indication of how cold the weather was. Following the cancellation of the first match due to a frozen pitch, a few of us were having a quiet beer in the Pulteney Arms and it became apparent there were places available on the Pulteney Ski Trip leaving the following day to Isola 2000. After a look at the long range weather forecast, the exchange or promise of money, phone calls to employers' etc five Bath players, myself included left for a week of skiing, a week which incorporated the following Saturday's fixture. Rather than let the club know one third of the team would be unavailable, we put our faith in the forecast and took a punt on the match being called off due to the frozen conditions.
We all enjoyed our sojourn on the French slopes, but at the back of everyone's mind (way, way, way at the back of mine) was the necessary phone call towards the end of the week to the club - was the match on or off? We had a game of 'spoof' on Friday lunchtime, the loser having to make the call. At 6.00pm our club captain Roger Spurrell used a phone box and rang the team secretary to enquire about the status of the following days match. It was cancelled due to the weather – what a result!!!
Back to the fixture; the following week the team prepared (five of us with suntanned faces) for a match against Brixham. Once again, with all due respect, Brixham 'were not in our league,' but due to a wonderful micro-climate down on the Devon coast their pitch was suitable to play on and we secured an important fixture against them. The match was our last chance to have a run out prior to our first game as defending champions in the 1985 John Player Cup competition. We were appreciative of the fixture, it gave us a great opportunity to blow away the cobwebs, stretch our legs and run in a sack full of spectacular tries. Unfortunately for Bath, Brixham had failed to read the script and defeated us 9-6.
A few months later we entered the changing rooms at Twickenham prior to the 1985 cup final against London Welsh. On the table in the middle of the dressing room were various letters of support and encouragement for team members. One, addressed to Roger Spurrell, was from Brixham Rugby Club wishing us all the best and urging us to win so they could proudly claim to have beaten the English Champions – we duly obliged.
To emphasise the enormity of their unexpected victory I pressed the 'history' tab on their website this week and it states:
"1985 Brixham defeated Bath by 9 – 6. Bath had been undefeated in England for 18 months and their team contained 11 Internationals."
The Bath team and indeed the club were taught a valuable lesson on the South Devon Coast back in 1985. Brixham RFC – I salute you.
There are still tickets available for the crucial LV=Cup Semi-final against Leicester Tigers this Friday 9th March, 7:30pm kick off. Call the ticket office on 0844 448 1865 to buy yours today.