“That’ll be the phone”, Rod Jennings said, barely able to suppress his laughter.
There was a bloke, at the bar of the Swansea Rugby Union Social Club, who could perfectly replicate the sound of a (landline) phone ringing.
This was October, 1990, before smart phones, and diverse ring tones.
When this chap, a supporter of the visiting Newbridge club, let go with his ‘ring’, the very busy bar staff, instinctively reached for the phone on the wall.
This happened about 20 times, and the bar staff were tearing their hair out, given there was never anyone on the other end of the line.
In front of the bar, people such as Rod Jennings, Col Egan and Graham Kerr, noted Brisbane Souths’ rugby league men, were in on the joke, and enjoying every moment.
It was day five of my 1990 Kangaroos’ Rugby League Supporters’ Tour (see, ‘Can I Have Ice With That?’ for the first chapter).
After our first night in Portsmouth, we visited Arundel, and its magnificent castle, as well as the Weald and Downs Open Air Museum at Singleton.
On Day 3 (Oct 10) we visited Salisbury Cathedral and the Giant of Cerne Abbas (chalk carving), before lunch at Lyme Regis, where my parents and I explored the harbor, before having fish and chips. We walked out, on the 14th century breakwater known as the Cobb, where Meryl Streep strolled during a storm in the movie ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’.
Our driver, Bob Robinson from Swindon, excelled, negotiating narrow roads on the way to Castle Drogo on Dartmoor. The views of the Teign Gorge were magnificent, although the then 70-year-old National Trust castle was underwhelming.
An attendant asked our group what stage ‘Neighbours’ was at in Australia. Tragic!
We arrived in Plymouth – the city of the great adventurers – after dark, and settled into the Moat House Hotel on ‘The Hoe’, where a nonchalant Sir Francis Drake played bowls, before engaging the Spanish Armada in battle.
‘The Barbican’ is the place to head at night, and a large group from Brisbane Souths Magpies, headed by Graham and Jean Kerr, finished up at the Queens Arms (‘Miss Piggies’ pub), where one of the regulars was celebrating his 72nd birthday. What a ‘randy’ old bugger – he groped several female members of our group. There was much singing and dancing, and much debate about whether there were 996, 997 or 998 ornamental pigs around the walls – hence the tag, Miss Piggie’s.
The next day we headed north from Plymouth, to Exmoor National Park, resplendent at this time of year in autumnal hues. We followed the River Exe to the village of Winsford and the thatched Royal Oak Inn. I had been there once before, in 1982, and it was just as I remembered it.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, and many of our group ate and drank on the green, opposite the pub. Here, there were several pack horse bridges over the tiny River Winn.
Souths’ treasurer, Tony Davidson and I embarked on a walk into the hills – for the view – before having a Ploughman’s lunch on the green.
A local character told us of his hunting deeds, with a millionaire from Europe, and the whole scene was so captivating, we could have stayed all afternoon. But we had to make haste for Bath, and a visit to the Roman Baths, followed by a walking tour of the Georgian terraces.
Bristol, England’s home of jazz, was our Friday night stop, and we checked into the Hilton, opposite St Mary Redcliffe Church.
Davidson and I enjoyed a pint ‘The Old Duke’, a famous jazz pub.
The next day, Graham and Jean Kerr reported they had left their passports back in Plymouth. They had tucked them into their pillow slips, for safe keeping, but the next morning, hungover as they were after the big night at Miss Piggies, completely forgot about where they had left their valuables.
My job, as tour manager, was to get the passports etc back into Graham and Jean’s safe keeping. Should have been straight forward. I phoned the Moat House in Plymouth, where the passports were being held at reception. I asked for the passports to be sent, by express courier, to the Hilton Hotel in Swansea, where we would be staying next.
Well, without going into detail, it was another eight days before the passports caught up with us. By this time Graham and Jean were very upset, having to borrow money from fellow tour group members. Remember, there were no ATMs in 1990, and many people did not have credit cards. And you could not cash travellers’ cheques without passports.
In Wales, we were guests of the Swansea Rugby Club, which was hosting Newbridge. I had written to the club secretary, pointing out that we were rugby league people. You must remember, that in those times, union was amateur (allegedly) and league (semi) professional, so there was a great divide, and players could be banned for life from union, for dabbling in league, even at an amateur level.
But the Swansea club made us feel welcome, and our sports mad group appreciated the chance to see a competition match, even if it was the wrong code. (Our first match of the ‘Roo tour was to be the clash with Leeds at Headingley, on October 20, after we had toured Ireland).
Swansea, boasting virtually an all-international back-line, won relatively easily. The game did not reach any great heights, and the Swansea international back-line looked quite pedestrian.
But the hospitality in the licensed club was first class, with our group mixing with the locals (and the Newbridge visitors), chatting about sport in general, but particularly the two rugby codes and cricket.
Swansea has a proud history, the highlight a win over the 1935-36 All Blacks. They also beat the 1912 Springboks and the 1908 and 1966 Wallabies. And they had a 6-6 draw with the All Blacks in 1953.
I’m sure those teams enjoyed the hospitality of the social club, but it is unlikely the players would have distracted the bar staff in the manner of our man from Newbridge. “Ring Ring, Why don’t you give me a call. Ring. Ring The happiest sound of them all.” At least we thought it was.
Photo 1: Souths’ Sunnybank official, Richard Welsh and Steve Ricketts on the village green at Winsford
Photo 2: Graham Kerr (left) and Steve Ricketts reflect on the 1990 Kangaroo tour
Photo 3: Swansea v All Blacks 1935.