Friday 17th March 2017

Railway Union RFC 17 Hammers 10

Friday 17th March 2017 – St Patricks Day; 5.30AM and the party had already started.

In Luton Airport.

As the 27 carefully selected (as in could get pink slips) Hammers Vets escaped the clutches of Airport Security and made their way through to departures they were met by a wall of early morning revellers. Rugby Fans, Stag & Hen parties and even the odd game of bridge (some of the boys were very excited at this point) – Tour had well and truly begun and the younger, less committed Hammer may have been tempted to crack into the black stuff before beginning the arduous One Hour flight to the Emerald Isle. But not these Hammers. For these chaps of the slightly older generation had a job to do in Dublin’s fair city, in defending their title of Curtain Raiser Champions and to raise money for the RFU Injured Players Foundation and other Legends charities, in memory of our fallen friend and team mate Stuart Mangan. So, the pre-match prep began; Skinny Latte’s and Kale Smoothies were downed, protein bars consumed, copies of the Telegraph were read and the warriors headed for the gate……. now Tour had well and truly begun…. ish.

Ryanair Flight 750 was mercifully short and soon the Hammers had their boots on the ground in Ireland’s capital. After some interesting conversations at immigration and a slight misunderstanding around a senior tourist’s luggage by a junior tourist, we were into arrivals to be greeted William, our bubbly and blotchy coach driver, who had the wheels ready to roll. It was at this stage that a certain Silver Headed rugby coach tasked with the unenviable task of taking a lesser touring side than the Hammers to New Zealand this summer, emerged from immigration behind us.

He looked nervous, clearly suffering the effects of what must be a difficult preparation for his impending great adventure so there was only one thing to do…… invite him for a photo with the tourists…. to cheer him up of course. But who would be tasked with asking WG for his time? There was only one man for the job…… no (WO)man has ever been known to say no to the suave & sophisticated charm of the irrepressible Sly-vester and so he stepped up.

Mr Gatland obliged and assumed position. Sly asked Mrs Gatland if she would mind snapping the pic; naturally she agreed. When asked if this sort of thing happened to WG often… he replied with a straight faced ‘yes’ and it was apparent that our bid to get his weekend off to a cheery start had failed. Still, we knew, as hordes of people approached with their cameras in hand, that our friend Warren would always remember us… as the group that delayed his departure from Dublin Airport by a further 25 minutes.

We emerged into the beautiful Dublin drizzle and the author glanced to his left to see Dublin local Barry O’Sullivan take in a long deep breath and poetically state ‘It’s always this cold and wet, what did you expect?’. I had to admit that this was a fair point and boarded William’s chariot on fire.

It should be said that the Apartcity Aparthotel St Augustine Street was an inspired choice from our Tour Leader; the one apartment we had access to at 9.30AM had all the amenities needed to house 27 lads. As we crammed into the living room and Son of Chuck Dilley put the kettle on. Out came the ironing board and things really started to get wild. Spirits were dampened temporarily when Dillon ’I know Dublin’ Rudd, explained that our digs were miles away from anywhere of any excitement and that we should expect a lot of walking. However, spirits were then lifted heavily upon the arrival of The Cube, recently landed from Houston, Texas. Being from Irish Extraction and had actually having been to Dublin previously, he politely explained that Dillon was in fact mistaken, and so we set of on a monumental 7-minute walk to Oscars for an Irish breakfast, and (cue sharp intake of breath) some Guinness was drunk…… purely to numb the inevitable pain of what was to come.

A quick return to the (only) apartment and a swift change into Number 1s and we were off to Old Belvedere RFC to take on the Railway Union Legends side in what was clearly the biggest game taking place in Dublin over St Patricks weekend.

On arrival at Old Belvedere we were treated like Kings, and as we watched Trinity Old Boys take on Oxford University Old Boys in the Legends Curtain Raiser, Curtain Raiser, we were invited to sit down for a lunch laid on specially for us. As the Hammers sat with their plates of Spicy Chicken Curry and Coleslaw in front of them; reality began to set in… we were now only an hour from kicking off the game and we had a job to do; and that this might not be on the approved pre-match meal list of our team nutritionist, Mr P. Hunter. Still who were we to refuse a (20 EURO) plate of curry and so cracked on!

As we started the painfully slow process of digesting our carb-light and cream heavy lunch, the clock ticked on and shortly it was time to don the Hammers colours and head out for the warm up. It was cold, it was wet…. I looked at Barry…. he was unsurprised. It was now that we got the first look at our opponents for the afternoon, Railway Union RFC Legends. They looked big, skilful, and fast and there seemed to be a lot of them. There were also a number of players from other Irish clubs, that they had drafted in! But they didn’t have Tony Richards… and so our confidence continued to brim. The warm up came and went without any major hitch; but also without any major promise and soon it was for final words to be said and the favourite part of many a Hammers Vet’s day… the Port Toast, and a chance of course to remember why we were there.

In 2008 Stuart Mangan, our friend and team mate, suffered a severe spinal injury whilst we were playing for Hammersmith and Fulham RFC in London. As a result, Stuart was paralysed from the neck down but despite his injury, was determined to continue to live his life to the full and his ambition and positivity was an inspiration to anyone that knew or met him. Unfortunately, as a result of his injuries, Stuart was cruelly taken from us on 7th August 2009 at the age of 26. We were in Dublin on St Patricks Day to play in his memory, raise some money for some wonderful rugby charities and celebrate the incredible spirit that the Rugby Family brings to all of us involved.

Both teams toasted Stuart (some players more than others for medicinal purposes) and Hammers were then joined by Stuarts father, Brian. He thanked us for being there and the support that the Hammers have always offered, and asked us to go out and enjoy ourselves. Added to this were the thoughts of a couple of players who had played with Stuart and we all agreed that we would play for him and to put pride into the Hammers jersey. We were now ready for our esteemed Club President, Mr J. Leonard, to Kick off the game ceremoniously. He was late…. So, someone else did. Playing with the wind in the first half, Hammers felt confident that we could out the ball in the right areas (no kicking on tour), and play to our strengths (what we had figured out what they were).

However, it was to take the boys a few minutes to shake the 6.30 flight, large Irish breakfast, 2 pints of Guinness, coleslaw curry, and double port out of the system. Railway had clearly come to play and were not in the mood for a rag tag bunch from posh London to spoil the St Patricks day party. Despite the conditions, they ran everything clearly wanting to sty well within the spirit of the game. Hammers, clearly wanting to stay alive, decided that the best course of action would be to play territory, and the best way to do that was to concede an early try and put us back down in their 22 from the restart…. A solid game plan if ever I’d heard one. So, as the lads waved Railway through (amongst some strong interplay form the Railway back division and some hard and straight running from their tidy pack!) and we promptly returned to halfway to restart the game confident that the 7-point deficit was nothing more than a wakeup call.

Jason was still late… someone else kicked off. Hammers began to exert a bit of pressure in and around the opposition 22. Strong carrying from the base from Dan DeWolf and 2nd rows Rudd and Jones started to punch some holes and when the ball shifted wide on occasion it even got past the 12 channel, where Dilley was itching to cut loose in a rare outing in the back line. Yet the contact area remained an issue and once they turned the ball over the Railway Children were out to play once more. Some strong tracking work in defence by Barton Mini, off the bench at 13 early doors, and the evergreen and ever fearless Matt Webb at full back, prevented a clear breakaway try. However, the Opposition forwards were in no mood to miss out and after a couple of pick and drives and some short lines off the ruck, Railway struck again. Conversion wide, but 12-0 down, it was time for some stern words. These came in the form of Mark Blyghton, a late addition to the touring party, who reminded us why we were there, and it certainly wasn’t to look as silly as we’d made ourselves look so far. The team looked around and decided that as Mark was still a week in week out starter for the Hammers 1s, he must know what he was talking about, so we would heed his words.

And soon we were making a fist of it. On came the Cube and the recently arrived Ian Smith and the scrum began to walk forwards. Scrum Half Ali Lines started to get a bit of go forward behind which he could dictate and the ball went into the right areas from Tiny at 10. Then came the chance to strike. Consistent pressure in the opponents 22 brought penalties and the lads had their tails up. A quick tap from lines and a switch of direction from tiny and the ball made its way to Son of Chuck. With the anger in his face and the line only 8 meters away there was only one result… a fend, step, and a flop later and he was over for the hammers first points. An incredibly tricky conversion just slipped by to the left but Hammers were back in the game and with only the 7-point deficit that they so love. The rest of the half was a bit of nip and tuck between the two sides…. Hammers launching downfield and repelling Railways fluid attacks. However, it was during this period that a memorable moment occurred following a hammers turnover during one of the aforementioned waves of attack. Strong work at the breakdown allowed Lines to ship the ball quickly to Tiny, who, sensing it was on let it go quickly to the outside channel. Tiny’s eyes however lit up in shock as he realised that the recipient of his pass was one Mr. T. Richards. It was mentioned that Tiny may have even of uttered a curse as he saw where the pass was going; how wrong he was. For Mr. Richards comfortably gathered the ball (no mean feat considering his pre-match Guinness consumption) and looked up to survey his options. He decided there was one thing for it… go straight through them. He straightened, and hit the accelerator as the Railway boys converged into his path. With a shift of weight, and a Flatley-esque step, he left them for dead and continued his trek down field. Another conductor came towards him… out came the piston hand off and down he went.

After 30 yards Tony decided to give one of the young bucks a chance and as he took out yet another hapless defender, a sweet offload to Dilley gave him a well-earned rest. Dilley set off and with one man to beat did something we never thought we would see him do… he listened. It was the voice of Tiny screaming for a nudge into the in-goal area. Ryan obliged but with a little too much weight on the kick that reminded us all he was a back row. The chance was gone but reminded us of the talent of the young Mr Richards that many of us had heard of, but seldom seen! Stoic defence on their own line allowed Hammers to see out the end of the half and head to the sheds 12-5 down.

Good news greeted the lads… Jason had arrived… and he had brought Tom May for some words of encouragement. Unfortunately, Mr May seemed a little more concerned with the mud on his plimsoles than the game and so left most talking to the legend. Jason spoke with passion about the game, telling us to have fun and these are the days we would remember and what rugby was all about. He also reminded us that after 40 more minutes we’d be able to kick back and enjoy the black stuff. This is the sort of encouragement the lads needed and felt ready to crack on. Jason also stated he had a tenner on a ‘hattrick for Tiny’ in the second half. Tiny told him his money was safe.

As Jason didn’t want to get his shoes dirty kicking off, the game restarted with Hammers now playing into the hefty breeze. With the restart not going 10 meters, Hammers were immediately under the cosh with Railway breaking straight down the left-hand flank marauding into Hammers territory. It would seem that the boys had gone back to sleep again at half time and unfortunately a couple of phases later, a try was conceded after some strong work from the oppo forwards and their chunky centre squeezing over for their 3rd.

This sprung Hammers into life and with Tiny’s little legs putting everything they had into the restart, they were soon camped in Railway territory, where they were to stay for the majority of the half. The management rang the changes on the side-line and we were to go more direct. Carl Jones was on in the Centre with Dilley moving to his more familiar Openside spot. Dublin native Colm Quirk was in on the wing to add some flair. The scrum was dominant and despite the wind the line out was operating well…. It was time to turn the screw. The next 20 odd minutes we to see some surprisingly smart rugby from the SW London Lads. Despite Railway’s speed off the line that, if they weren’t offside, would have put Ireland’s the next day to shame, Hammers moved the ball when needed and started to open up some holes. Matt Webb and his back 3 carried well back into the Railway lads as they started to tyre. Ciaran Walsh, the Galway Ranger making his debut in the back row, upped the intensity. No doubt his on tour girlfriend was incredibly proud of his contribution.

Eventually, the pressure told. Inspired but the musical ensemble carried across the Dublin breeze as the RDS warmed up the anthem singers for the evenings fixture, Hammers took a line out (thankfully called without any lude references from Hooker Lowry) and headed for the line. Railway defended the Bugatti drive well, but the ball was recycled with a strong carry from Walsh round the corner. Once again, the boys were in situ to clear the ruck and s the ball was shipped to Tiny he once again looked inside to his trusty Dilley. Fortunately, the rope-a-dope had worked and as the offside Railway back line once again shot up towards the No.7, Tiny showed and go’d and stumbled his way across the line untouched just to the left of the uprights. As the diminutive No.10 slid over, the RDS decided now was the time to let loose the unmistakeable tones of God Save the Queen. This did not go down brilliantly on St Patrick’s Day with the Railway lads and as the rest of his side returned to halfway Tiny was left facing the angry Irishmen as he lined up for the extras. It was later in the day that Tiny would cite the difficult political situation as the reason that the snap drop kick attempt sailed considerably wide despite being taken in front of the posts! Hammers back to 17-10 down… the 7-point gap they love so much.

And that was how the Scoreboard would stay. Hammers and Railway both spurning opportunities late on but continuing, despite the worsening conditions, to play the game with ball in hand and in the right spirit. On the final whistle, Railway ran out winners by 17-10, taking the title of Curtain Raiser Champions for 2017.

Following the game, the Guinness flowed and Hammers were left to reflect on what may have been. Also, the news that the Referee was none other than Stuart’s cousin, raised questions with some of the lads, as to whether the choice words he was given at time throughout the game was quite called for. We decided that, as we’d lost, they clearly were. Back in the clubhouse Man of the Match and Tin Man honours were awarded, and the Hammers boys managed to restore some pride with the inevitable drink off of the Black Stuff. The sight of the Oxford Old Boys taking on a funnel with a prosthetic Donald Trump Mask was also something to behold.

Following a quick ‘welcome to the family’ for the first-time Vets Tourists, Hammers headed for the RDS for the Ireland Vs England Legends fixture.

Credit has to go to the organisers for putting on such a phenomenal evening, with fans of both sides turning out in their droves (to the tune of 13,000) in memory of both Stuart, and off course Anthony Foley, who the rugby community lost earlier in the season. The game also presented the opportunity to one carefully selected Hammer to represent the club, and his country, and pull on the England Legends Shirt during the second half. The selection committee convened and decided there could only be one Hammer that could step up to the mark. A man who had represented the club for years at the highest level. A man that had been out in an unbelievable shift already earlier in the day. And a man that had been awake for almost 36 hours. And so, when the moment came Andrew Barrett stood up on the touchline with his personal photographer, Lord Christopher of Chuntington in his finest country attire, snapping away.

Like a coiled spring he was ready…… and promptly forward rolled his way onto the pitch to the embarrassed groans of his brothers in arms, in the stands. He assumed his position on the openside of the scrum and to his credit, proceeded to hit the next 6 rucks. In the age of modern technology, the tourists lamented the fact that the legends were not wearing GPS units as the adrenaline wore off, the telemetry of our young energetic Barrett would have undoubtedly have made interesting viewing! For the ensuing 10 minutes the effort Andy put in was quite frankly phenomenal and came off to a standing ovation from his fellow Hammers who were in no doubt he has the right man to carry the flag.

The final scoreline didnt flatter our 55 year old flanker . England were winning when he took to the field, but had lost by two tries when he left. We are sure this had nothing to do with AB’s ageing prowess, but more to the fact that the Irish Legends had obviously bribed the touch judges and had 17 on the field at the end! The English Legends wee the second English team to lose this weekend.

On completion of the game Hammers took up their positions on Tables 51, 52 & 53 of the Anthony Foley Gala Dinner…. Thankfully at the back of the room and close to the washrooms. It was a fantastic event and one which the tourist took full advantage of, especially when welcoming the returned AB from his recent exploits with the rest of his new Legend best mates. It also gave the boys a great chance to catch up with the Mangan Family and to share a beer in memory of Stuart. Searson’s provided the after party as St Paddy’s Day continued into the next day and the hardiest of the Hammers continued to the Black Door…. which judging by some of the lads (mainly Tiny & BOS the weatherman) could be mistaken for a metaphor for the state they were in.

Saturday came. 6 Nations Day. Grand Slam Day. World Record Day. England’s Day.

Hammers arose from their slumber, some tardier than others, and immediately headed out. The Exchequer Bar was the destination and by 12PM the majority of the party had taken up their positions. Bloody Marys were ordered and shortly the lads were back on the horse. Scotland were showing their capabilities against the Italians and the day was in full swing. There was of course an inevitable split within the group due to occur with those with tickets to the Grand Slam game due to head off to the AVIVA later in the afternoon.

One tourist decided that this was a totally unacceptable way of touring and felt that he would take it upon himself to look after the members of the party who had not got their hands on the mythical tickets. He removed himself from the group and hit the ticket sites. Soon he returned with a rather puzzled, and disappointed look upon his face. He had indeed found some tickets, and they were indeed for the 6 nations. He had struck gold and quicker than you could say ‘double check the details’ he pulled the trigger. He returned to the group ready to announce to all the good news that he had tickets for the boys…… unfortunately, they were to Murrayfield, they had missed 56 minutes of the match, and he wasn’t entirely convinced they’d get to Edinburgh in time. Feeling that this wasn’t the time to stick the knife in… the boys huddled round to comfort the wounded soldier, grabbed him a Guinness, and gave it at least 10 minutes before they utterly ruined him. Still, his generosity has been noted and will undoubtedly be paid back in spades by the boys in May when they actually do go to Edinburgh.

The split occurred and some of the boys were at the AVIVA to witness a Grand Slam winning, World Record breaking result for the English…. Or not. Yet another Irish side had prevailed!

Still, good news was to follow with an email from Lord Chuntington to request us to convene at 8pm at Flannery’s bar. The Hammers were re-united, mostly on time on the back terrace. Tour court was called to order with the Honourable Judge Dredd and Lord Chief Justice The Cube Presiding.

Nothing of any note took place over the next hour.With the tour formalities over, the Tourists partied the night away throughout Dublin. Taxis were laid on at 6.30AM to return to Dublin Airport and I am pleased to report a full roster of persons landing at Luton airport at 9.30AM without incident.

It was a weekend to go down in history for the Hammers. Despite losing the fixture, all those involved in the Curtain Raiser Fixture raised more than £15,000 for the RFU Injured Players Foundation and the IRFU Charitable trust, which takes us to over £100,000 since Chuntie and the Mangan Brothers came up with the idea of the Curtain Raiser, 4 years ago! It was extra special for those of us fortunate to play with Stuart a few years ago, and a wonderful way for all Hammers to remember and honour one of our own.

The weekend would never have taken place without some unbelievable support. HFRFC VETS would like to thank the following for their phenomenal generosity and support: Cheevers Howard – Phil Cheevers, Ben Howard, and Derek Poole for their continued sponsorship and support of both the team and the Curtain Raiser fixture as well as their contribution towards Tables 51, 52, & 53!!

Harvey Thorneycroft, Shane Byrne, and the England & Ireland Legends Organising Committee for their continued support of the charities and inviting HFRFC to continually be involved in an incredible event, as well as their kind invitation to the Gala Dinner at the RDS. We look forward to (hopefully!) being involved next year and for future years to come!

Railway Union RFC Legends for agreeing to play us and Old Belvedere RFC for hosting us for a superb curry(?!) and St Paddy’s Day afternoon. Without their support the fixture would never have been played.

All those that sponsored all the members of the fundraising team from Hammers, Railway, & OURFC Old Boys. Without your support, there is no way that we would be able to keep such an event going and continue to support the charities in memory of Stuart Mangan.

Finally, huge thanks to Phil Cheevers and Chris Hunt who undertook most of the tour organisation. It was a great weekend for the Vets and one that took a huge amount of planning and booking and we are all very grateful for the work and time you put in!

Bring on Old Ham’s Day!!!!

  • Tries: 2
  • Conversions: 4
  • Penalties: -
  • Drop Goals: -
  • Hammers: -
  • Substitutes: -
  • Debut: -
  • Man of the Match: -
  • Tin Man: -