‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Junior Rugby at Roundhay, Naked Baths, House Matches and Straight-Arm Tackles.

Roundhay School 1Roundhay School was nothing if not created as a Grammar School clone of the traditional public school. The buildings were imposing and its traditions were overbearing. The masters were still living in a time when it was normal to wander the school like ravens, black and satanic, and they could be cold and merciless. Gown attired, their sleeves flapped like giant birds ready to fall upon any unsuspecting boy who had broken a written, or assumed, rule.

 The floors were bare boards, the walls unadorned and the air thundered with the noise of eight-hundred boys, as they beat their way like Attila’s Hordes down the staircases and corridors in between lessons. The only force that could stand in their way was the gown draped masters who strode against the tide, parting the flow like Moses. It was a harsh, unyielding environment, which did not cater for the gentle or lacking in confidence. It was a male domain, designed and run to produce men, at a time when men still dominated England and the Western World. It is interesting to note that there were nearly twice as many places for boys in Grammar Schools than for girls. Roundhay Boys had eight hundred and the Roundhay Girls six hundred. The curriculum varied between the two genders. Boys had a wider choice of science subjects than the girls and the girls had more of an Arts focus. I believe I had to choose only one subject from History, Biology, Economics, Art, Music, Woodwork and Metalwork, to do at Ordinary Level. Whereas I think we had to do three Science subjects.

UntitledAs a Grammar School, sport was seen as essential for creating men who could be leaders, and the only real sports were Rugby Union, Cricket, Athletics and, of course, Cross Country Running. I think it was probably based on the idea that if we were physically exhausted then we would not bother too much with the girls on the other side of the boundary bushes between the playing fields. Maybe I am being unjust as I am sure they felt team work, leadership and perseverance could all be gained from participation in the above sports.

I was delighted to arrive at Rounday and find that we could do real sports. Roundhay had changing rooms and it was a thrill to change in a room that was not the classroom. There was a strong smell of sweat and old linament, mixed with linseed oil, leather and what I later discovered was testosterone. It was a challenge to get changed without anyone seeing you naked, but somehow it was achieved. Blue Kelvin rugby shirt, black shorts, boots, socks and a little nervousness saw us ready for our first house sports. It was a cold afternoon, with an icy breeze that shot up the legs of the shorts and dampened any enthusiasm. Arms wrapped around our bodies, we listen to Joe Wareham show us the basics of how to pass a rugby ball, how to pass it backwards and how to move it along a line as we advanced down the field. The first session was not too thrilling, but it was real sport. The second skill was tackling and this was much more exciting. ‘Keep your head to one side, take them round the ankles,’ was followed by the lie, ‘Go in hard and you won’t get hurt!’ Needless to say, some of the smaller boys were paired with some of the bigger boys and they put paid to such a lie. Some went into the tackle with real enthusiasm and came out concussed, but some chickened out and just dived anywhere, apart from at the legs of the advancing player. I am sure that a note was made of these boys’ names and they would be made an example of at a later date.

UntitledIt became very clear, in a very short time, who had the makings of rugby players and who had not. As this is a sport where brawn is as important as skill and I was one of the tallest at this age, I was quite successful and thoroughly enjoyed it. Muddy, bruised and some of us not quite aware of our surroundings, we traipsed off the field and entered the changing rooms. Now, this was the first real challenge of the day. In the mid 1960s someone still thought it was a good idea for teenage boys to strip naked and sit in a two-foot deep large square bath. The bath was big enough to hold about thirty and the steaming waters were a seething mass of naked flesh, often scraped and bloody, clods of floating earth and lumps of soap. Was it a bonding experience? I can’t really say. It was just the way it was. There were some showers, or did they come in later? I’m not sure. What I do remember was one or two of the teachers stripping off and joining the throng. Nowadays, that would be totally a ‘No No!’ and would result in police charges, but then it was not unusual and from my experience, an innocent, if embarrassing regular part of sport.

Over the time we were taught the rudiments of the game and trained in our houses, Kelvin, Nelson, Scott and Gordon, working towards our first house matches. The teachers distributed positions depending on your attributes, or lack of them. I was sometimes a hooker, wing forward and scrum half. I never liked being a hooker. You were in the middle of the scrum and rammed head first into the other team’s pack. Breathing could be difficult, as was avoiding brain damage. Due to my natural cowardice, or common sense, I worked hard as a wing forward/scrum half, and became half decent.

UntitledFor those of us, like me, who have moved to warmer climes, we have probably forgotten just how cold a Leeds winter could be, but believe me it could be bleak. Winter sports were played whatever the weather and I believe this was part of the ploy to make men of us. Snow, rain, sleet, fog, nothing stopped us. Now if you were good at sport, then it could be bearable, you could maintain some body heat by running around, but if you were one of the timid ones who avoided the ball at all costs then the weather must have been torment. I have only recently discovered that my brothers and I have a condition where the blood leaves our fingers and toes in cold weather, and they turn a whitish yellow, look like they have died basically. I just thought it was normal to have to wait about half an hour after being outdoors for you to be able to use your hands to hold a pen and write. Winter sport never helped this. One real concern I had though, was the loose maul. When the ball was loose then bodies would dive on top of it trying to get possession. Piles of boys would form a pyramid, with some poor soul underneath them all. I know from experience how hard it was to breathe and, without the referee pulling boys off, death was just a few moments away. On a good day, with a thick covering of grass this was bad enough, but in winter when there was a mass of mud and puddles then it really was dangerous. You could find yourself face down in the mud or puddle as others dived on top. Panic really does set in when you have had the wind driven out of you and there is water over your mouth and nose and you need air! Again, I think health and safety would prevent such experiences today.

Even worse than the puddles was when the mud froze and rock hard ruts covered the playing surface and the puddles had a layer of ice on top. Real injuries could, and did occur when playing on such concrete hard surfaces. By the time sports sessions were over, you were soaking wet, covered in mud and blood and numbed by the cold. The hot baths were manna from heaven, but it was only when you warmed up and feeling returned to your body, that you realised how you had been injured. With the thawing came the pain. Fantastic times!

Our team was beginning to shape up and the first house match was quite an event. It was looking a little like rugby and less like a riot and some boys really shone at the game. These were the ones who could run through the opposition with boys flying off in all directions, like drifts from a snow plough. I remember one boy doing this and when he was about to pass a friend of mine, the friend shot out his arm. I believe it was a reflex action rather than deliberate, but the straight arm was at head height and the running boy’s head hit the arm and he was felled, as if hit with an axe. Whilst he was lying stunned on the ground the teacher used this as an opportunity to teach us that such tackles were banned. The victim must have survived, but I don’t remember any great concern being shown for his wellbeing.

I guess it must have made a man of him and, strangely, many of us grew to love rugby and really looked forward to playing. The next stage was playing for the school, but that is another tale.

First seven parts of my audiobook, Blaze. Free to listen to on the soundcloud player. A new part is added each week.

11 Replies to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Junior Rugby at Roundhay, Naked Baths, House Matches and Straight-Arm Tackles.”

  1. Being a bit of a short a*se, rugby, in all its forms were not for me. It also got me out of any gymnastics. Which left cross-country running and cricket and because I was always a reserve 12th man cross-country was the only thing left.

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  2. I loved being at Roundhay,however as a musician I hated contact sports and never had any team spirit.I usually managed to end up in the “ spares” ( dregs).As I was a good runner,I could go the length of the field without getting tackled,thus inventing non contact rugby! I loved doing cross country,but as I played tennis on Saturdays,I made sure that I was not forced to run for the school on that day.
    I do remember not being allowed to practice guitar on Friday afternoons,not being in combined cadet force,yet Mchael Roll pianist was allowed to play the grand piano in the hall.Also the music master would not allow us to be in music room at lunch time.WhenI complained,I was thrown across the room However years later Mr Watkins used to use us as examples of keen naturally gifted musicians…….
    We hated the headmaster and he had virtually no contact with the boys except via the end of his cane!
    I was attacked in first form and was take for stitches at Dispensary.My attacker was caned in assembly next morning,thenI was sent for and caned in his study!
    In spite of allofthatI loved school and wore my inform with pride.
    Wish I was a teenager again…..

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    1. Hi Geoff,
      I am glad that you enjoyed your experience of Roundhay, despite some terrible experiences. I never had any contact with ‘Fingers’ Glover, but liked his deputy Morris. I suffered at the hands of some of the staff, but still loved my time there and too miss being a teenager in so many ways.

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  3. Takes me back a few years. I was a hooker in the Kelvin house rugby team between 1963-1968, a team that has never been matched. I don’t recall ever losing a game! I believe some of the players later excelled in sports after leaving school.

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    1. Glad that my memories took you back to good times Eric. I hope that some of my future ones and some of the past will interest you.

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  4. I disliked field sports as I was slight and at that time short too. The teacher once said I had ‘ball dislexia’ but the idea of standing around in a screaming sleet gale on an exposed hill top never appealed. So cross-country was it for me. It was a good chance to get outside the school grounds for a while and be able to spend social time chatting as we went. That didn’t take away the adverse effects of the cold, especially running in slush on a windy day, but somehow it seemed more bearable. In passing, I also get Raynaud’s Disease which affects some fingers more than others but in the cold it wasn’t always just the digits on the hands or feet that froze, things weren’t particularly warm ‘inside the shorts’ either as I recall.

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  5. Joe Warham lived to the age of 91 was also coach of Leeds rugby league
    I left roundhay in 68 and when I was in the under 13s we would have hammered your lot!!
    All good memories and yes the only reason I never got expelled was because I was good at rugby!!!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the read. Can’t believe you hammered us, but guess we push bad memories out of our minds. Rugby had its uses then, Andy!

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