OLD THAMESIANS RFC. (the memories of Robin Chandler)

Click to read about: Thames Valley School

Early Days.

The old boys rugby club was started in 1962 with the help of an economics master from Thames Valley, Phil Eldridge, who played rugby himself, and referee'd the school on Saturday mornings, or might be the master-in-charge at school away games. His advice, and enthusiasm were certainly instrumental in getting the fledgling club off the ground. The school's Senior Master, Mr.Mogford, was also very supportive of the old boys from the beginning, so much so that Thamesians Colour Awards are named after him.

The first OT's games were played on the school pitch at Fifth Cross Road but, with an improving team and fixture list, it soon became necessary to play on the much bigger, and better, pitches at Marble Hill Park, where the club still plays to this day. Even so, in the early days, there were no decent changing facilities at Marble Hill so players still met, and changed, at the school and then drove over to the park. The school field and gymnasium can be clearly seen in the early team photos, from 1970, which are displayed in the clubhouse.

Some names from those early times include:- Clive Morley, Peter Willshire, Johnny Elder, Roger Fitzwater, Dave Paget, Martin Samuels, Clive Bavington, Peter Tobutt, John Twydell and Gillian Luto (Hon.Club Secretary and, later, Mrs.Twydell). The club made the national papers because Gillian was the only female secretary of a rugby club affiliated to the RFU, at that time.

Teams were boosted on match days (particularly the "A" XV) by a youthful assortment of Thames Valley 5th and 6th form boys, many/most of whom had already played in the morning and were press-ganged into OT's service still dressed in school uniform, although not short trousers! This method of raising players/teams went on right through the 60's and even into the 70's, until the final demise of the school in 1977, By then, of course, the club was also pleased to accept people who hadn't been to Thames Valley, but were friends of friends etc. In this way, players such as Jerry Hurd (ex. Northern Rhodesia Police), "Hungarian" Joe Serfozo (Chelsea ladies hair dresser), Bob McVitie (ex. RAF Singapore), "mad" Tony Lawson, "wild man" Pete Field and "gentle" Roger Mansfield, were recruited.

A Nomadic Existence.

The club's original watering hole was the "school pub", which was The Nelson, a Courage house on the Hampton Road at the bottom of Fifth Cross Road (now the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar). So much business came its way that the landlord, Stuart Griffiths, allowed Thamesians exclusive use of a room across the yard from the saloon bar, with one of our members as the barman. A place of our own around 1967!

Our next home, which offered an improvement on the Nelson terms and conditions, was the Red Lion pub about 4 miles down Stanley Road, on the corner of Victor Road, in Teddington. Here again we had a room of our own, across the back yard from the pub, in 1972. This arrangement proved less than ideal, however, when the landlord began using a lot of the space in the clubroom to store excess pub furniture and other junk! It did make a good practice venue, nevertheless, for Thamesians own folk group, the two Robs (Skivington & Chandler).

By 1975, then, we had moved yet again, to the Prince of Wales on the corner of Hampton Road and Fourth Cross Road. This was a Watneys pub run by Fred and Gladys Hayward, who proved to be lovely people and great friends to the club. Many Thamesians will remember the back room, looking out over Fred and Glad's prize-winning garden, and the dreaded sandwich rota: (our only form of post-match hospitality at that time). Indeed it was to here that the National Old Boys Trophy was brought back from Birmingham, on 28th.September 1975 (the pub was specially opened at midnight on Sunday evening!).

As the club went into the next decade, with the school having closed in 1977, the search for a permanent home became more focussed and various options, including the old Twickenham County Girls School pavilion in Craneford Way, were looked at. The name was even changed to Richmond Thamesians in the hope of financial, or other, assistance from the Borough.

Finally, around 1982 the club moved towards an association with Richmond College (check out the lettering on the "Old Cock" trophy), where the sports lecturer was our old master from Thames Valley, Ted Gummer (he had succeeded Bill Osterburg). Thus the club started playing most of its home games on the lst.XV pitch at the college for about the next 10 years (see, for example, the team photo vs. Harlequins 1993, in the clubhouse), leaving the pitches at Marble Hill to rivals Orleans FP.

The clubhouse problem was solved by moving to the Twickenham Public Golf Course, Fulwell (manager, Kevin Purtill), where we used the 2nd. team pitch, and bar facilties. This proved a good arrangement for some time until, with threats of Fulwell going private (Amida), we were on the move again!

In October of 1992, the club reached an agreement with the Denehurst Estate Residents! Association (DERA), to become joint members and therefore use, their club, on the A316 near The Meadway. The following year, Dassault Electronique came over from Paris for the game at Twickenhan, and were duly entertained at the DERA, the first time the two clubs had met.

Our position at the DERA was not, however, particularly happy, or comfortable, and two members were working behind the scenes to remedy this. Thamesians' President Clive Morley had been a previous Secretary and 3rd.XI captain at Twickenham Cricket Club. Using this connection, John Sheehan and Eric Burrows (Thamesians Chairman & Secretary respectively) saw an opportunity to share the TCC pavilion on Twickenham Green, which was normally locked up and empty during the winter months. After discussions with TCC President, the late John Northey, an agreement was reached and Thamesians took over the pavilion for the first time, on Ist. October 1993. The following Spring, April 1994, when the club visited ASDE in Paris for the first time, the coach left from our new home on Twickenham Green

Thamesians have now been on Twickenham Green for 19 years, apart from a temporary sojourn at the Clubhouse pub, on Richmond Road whilst the pavilion was being refurbished. This was a major (£350,000) project, to which the Thamesians Building Fund, accumulated over many years, contributed.

The resulting building was hugely enhanced with, for the first time, central heating, full insulation, double-glazed windows, larger re-positioned bar, cold storage room, full carpeting, etc.

The Playing Record.

The club couldn't quite manage to get a big enough pack of forwards to challenge at the highest level, although first class clubs 3rd.teams were never much of a problem; Harlequins, Rosslyn Park, London Trish, London Scottish and Richmond were all beaten by Thamesians Ist.team in the 1970's.

We did, however, always find top-class, dynamic back row forwards, some names that spring to mind being:- John Taylor, Bob Alder, Peter Attwood, Dick Comber, Adrian Alexander, Bob Mordell, Brian Penny, Lance Johansson, Pete Anthony, Nigel Botherway and Graeme Robertson. Thamesians speedy backs also contributed hugely to the club's growing 7's reputation in the 60's/70's.

Just 6 years after the club was founded, Thamesians reached the final of the Hendon RFC 7's and, a week later, won the inaugural Twickenham RFC Centenary 7's, beating the invitation side Penguins in the final (the original programme is displayed in the clubhouse). The age range of Thamesians' players in these tournaments (April 1968), was just 19 (Alan Mitchell), to 22 (Robin Chandler). By the time these players had passed on their expertise to a younger generation, the club had become, and still remains, the most consistent winner of the Twickenham Centenary Cup, much to the chagrin of the hosts, who never quite forgave us for spoiling the party first time round!

Thamesians also had a fine record in the Middlesex 7's, playing prelims at the London Irish ground in Sunbury and, later, at UCS Old Boys/Centaurs, in Isleworth. On several occasions the 7 just failed to win the last game, which would have taken the club to the final 16, and Twickenham Stadium!

In 1975, Thamesians became the first London side ever to win the Sunday Times National Old Boys 7's, bringing home the magnificent trophy from Birmingham and gaining reportage in the national newspapers (press cutting, original programme and team photo displayed in the clubhouse).

Over the years the club won many other 7's tournaments:- Decca (4 times), Staines, Windsor/Old Windsorians, Berkshire (plate), Bec OB's, Hayes (plate), Old Hamptonians (5 times),

The Players.

A glance at Thamesians “Roll of Honour" (displayed in the club house) will be sufficient to show even the most sceptical passer by that the club has produced an amazing amount of talent for a small, local, amateur, old boys side.

Club members who went on to bigger, and better, things include:-

  • Graham Birkett, Scotland, 1975.
  • Adrian Alexander, England U23, Barbarians, 1977.
  • Bob Mordell, England, 1978.

We can also add too many other fine players to list here. Suffice to say, they represented Middlesex, Middlesex County Clubs, Loughborough Colleges, Borough Road College, UAU, Irish Universities, British Universities, Combined London Old Boys, United Banks, and many famous first-class clubs.

Neither must we forget those Thamesians who played with the round ball, notable amongst whom were Robert "mad dog" Osborn (now a Chelsea Academy coach) and Lenny Tompkins (Crystal Palace Ist team) fine footballers and rugby players both.

We should also mention our Southern Hemisphere friends:-

  • Lance Johansson, Hemi Tahurangi, Brendan Byrne, Billy Edmonds (New Zealand)
  • Luke Jecks, Tony Martin, Andrew Edwards (Australia)
  • Greg Mackay, Marlon Watson, Lance Davies, Dave Strassburg, Hayden Ponsford, Grant Kunneke (S.Africa)

And, last but not least, the boys from Staines 5th/6th teams who, in the late 1990's, kept the playing side going, particularly Paul "Slaps" Turner and ex-Chairman Jonathan Dunn (see team photo from 2000, taken on The Green, displayed in the clubhouse).

Whether they came from the school, from our circle of friends, or even from other countries, they all had one thing in common, their Loyalty and commitment to Thamesians RFC, at the heart and home of English rugby.

Gentlemen, thank you all!

The Bernie Watt Trophy

This has been played for annually, since 1972, at the rugby fixture between Hamptonians and Thamesians. The club winning the most games on the day is awarded the cup, but, in the event of a draw, the total points scored by all the sides will decide the winner.

The trophy is dedicated to Bernie Watt, a popular and well- liked Hamptonian, who was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 22, having emigrated to Canada in August 1970. Just why Thamesians should be involved in this particular commemoration, apart from the obvious proximity of the two local grammar schools in the Borough of Richmond, should become clearer as you read on.

The rivalry between the two clubs goes back even further than 1972, as any former pupil from Thames Valley, or Hampton, Grammar schools in the 1950's, or 60's, will testify. The school fixtures, from U-12's through to Ist.XV, were intensely competitive, but always played in the best traditions of the game, as taught by the respective sports masters, and mentors, Bill Osterberg and Bill Foster.

Perhaps some of this added fervour was due to the perverse habit of some parents in sending their male off-spring to the two different local schools! Thus it may come as no surprise to learn that Bernie Watt was a Hamptonian through and through whereas his younger brother, Ian, went to Thames Valley, and, hence, joined Thamesians. Their father, Charlie, showed where his loyalty lay, however, by remaining a stalwart Hamptonians' supporter, and touch- judge, for many many years. Other examples of this sibling rivalry included the Stewart brothers, Dave (Thames Valley, Harlequins) and Paul (Hampton), and, of course, the Brickells - Mark (Hamptonians, Richmond) and James (Thamesians, Harlequins).

There was some co-operation, however, in the form of the Hampton Foxes, the best Sunday XV in the South Fast ---- probably! Supercharged by Hamptonians from Richmond FC, Chris Tuffley's Navy connection, and Thamesians' speedy three-quarters, the Foxes regularly annihilated most opposition with a sparkling blend of open running rugby, and forward domination.

It is not by chance, then, that the camaraderie, which started at school, should have been carried over into the Hamptonians and Thamesians of the 70's, 80's and 90's, and on into the millenium.

Sadly, Charlie Watt died just before Christmas 1993, as did Tan, unfortunately, some months later, in 1994, The continuing friendship, and rivalry, between the two clubs, and the competition for the Bernie Watt Trophy, could be no better tribute to their memory.

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