Tim [Arnold] has copied me in on your correspondence on the Dax tour and today we’ve met up for lunch. His reminiscences have triggered some others from my side. Now that I’ve sobered up from lunch, here goes.
You asked about the results: I can’t tell you the scores but I think we lost all three games. After all, that area (les Landes) was a real rugby hotbed, so it was no big surprise.
Game 1, against Dax, I was a mere spectator. I was happy about that, having been reminded of Tim’s visit to the House of Pain.
The Dax club was a pretty big deal in those days; less so nowadays when they play in the third tier, but I guess they were rated well above Ealing back then. They’ve produced quite a few internationals, including Olivier Magne, the Dourthe family and most notably Raphael Ibanez, who started his career there before captaining France many times. The Dax Town Band used to be a famous accompaniment to international matches.
Game 2 vs. Aire-sur-l’Adour: I was one of the ‘stragglers’, as Tim puts it, who played in that game. I recall Bob Sowerby watching and despite his support I think we lost. Can’t recall too much about it.
Game 3 vs. Tartas: again, I was one of the stragglers selected for that game, probably because I wasn’t too wrecked after the previous night’s great festivities. We arrived at the stadium (stadium?! What?) which had a substantial stand, behind which some players were already kitted out and warming up. ‘Funny, I don’t recognise any of those guys from the dinner last night,’ said one of our blokes.
I still remember large posters at the ground: ‘Lundi de Paques, grand match international. Tartas Rugby vs les Ealing de Londres.’ I have played for at least a dozen clubs over the years but I still recall with pride having payed for ‘les Ealing de Londres.’ It helps that I scored a try that day, a rarity in itself.
One more thing about the Tartas game. Beforehand their captain said ‘it’s a big honour for us to host you, so we’d like to allow our five reserves to come on at halftime. And of course you could do the same.’ No chance: every Ealing player not on the team sheet that morning was already half-pissed by then. So we hung in pretty well till halftime, only trailing by a few points. Then on came their five subs and the rest was predictable. But the experience taught me for the first time that if you play alongside first-team players, as we did, you raise your game. A useful lesson.
Last but obviously not least, Tim has mentioned our singing. Not just the fact we had some great singers but also the massive repertoire. Not just standard rugby songs, as anyone reading this will know well. Stuart Laird was of course the prime mover, with his mantra ‘never repeat a song.’ But I also remember Will Sinnott’s fantastic rendition of ‘Myfanwy’ and his leading us in ‘Oes Gafr Eto’, aka Counting the Goats. I only learned much later that Will doesn’t have a drop of Welsh blood.
And who can forget the club song ‘Moonlight’? Apparently its real title is ‘Goldmine in the Sky’ but who cares? It’ll always be ‘Moonlight’. And I’ll never forget the club rule: when that song started, conversation ceased and everyone sang.
Ealing was a club that inspired great loyalty, such that many players who’d left the area came back for the Easter Tour, as I did several times And even us ‘stragglers’ could hope to get a game, some good craic and a great sing. What’s not to like?
All the best
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