Who would have thought my friendship with Widnes’ bricklayer, Frank Kennedy in Australia in 1973 would lead to a stay in his country manor house in England, nearly 30 years later.
Frank followed in the footsteps of another Widnesian, Brian Atherton when he and his girlfriend, Jackie arrived at Murwillumbah, at the end of the ’73 rugby league season.
Brian, who had been captain-coach of my club, Brothers, had moved south to Taree, while Frank was on a round-Australia working holiday, and most recently had been in Brisbane, with the Albion Hotel one of his favorite watering holes.
When local football administrators found out Frank had played rugby league in England, there was spirited bidding for his services, from the three town clubs, Brothers, Old Boys and Souths. I was confident I could get him to sign with Brothers, although Souths had made the most lucrative offer. In the end, it mattered not, because no-one could get Frank the consistent work he desired, in his trade, and he took off to Sydney, where the money was.
He kept in touch for a few years, but I was remiss in reciprocating, and after a time the letters stopped.
In the late 1980s we made contact again (I can’t recall exactly how it came about) and, in 1989, my wife, Marie and I stayed in Frank’s 16th Century coaching Inn, the ‘Pottery’, Chipping Campden, in the Cotswolds of Gloucestershire.
The following year I took my first Kangaroo supporters’ tour to the UK and Europe, and Frank’s place was a treat I had in store for the 33 people who had signed up.
The tour began at Windsor in England, and by the time we we got to Frank’s, we had been travelling 15 days, driving across southern England and the South of Wales; catching a ferry to Ireland; touring the south west of that country before catching the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead in North Wales.
(Previous posts on this site, have covered these travels, up until the ferry crossing – see ‘Can I have Ice With That?’, ‘Ring, Ring, Why don’t You Give Me a Call’ and ‘Like a Lamb to the Slaughter’).
There was a fresh sense of excitement within my group, because the reason they had signed up – the football – was upon us. We had been to a rugby union match in Swansea, but the 15 man code held little attraction.
On arrival at Holyhead, on the Isle of Anglesey, our luggage was subjected to a rigorous search by Border Security. You have to remember, the IRA were active at this time, and we had just returned from the Republic.
We drove across North Wales to Chester, where our accommodation was the best we had encountered on the trip.
I had been to Chester twice before, so while my group explored the best preserved walled city in Britain, I enjoyed a pub catch-up with former Great Britain Test centre, Eric Hughes and his wife, Jackie, who lived in the nearby Cheshire countryside. I had first met Eric and Jackie when Marie and I lived in their home city, Widnes in 1977-78.
Eric rated Britain a strong chance of winning back Rugby League’s Ashes Trophy, which they had surrendered to Australia in 1973.
The next day our group attended the Australia v Leeds match at Headingley Stadium, and, to our surprise, we were the only Aussie tour group there. Literally thousands of people had signed up to follow the ‘Roos, but they weren’t arriving until later in the week, in the build-up to the First Test at London’s Wembley Stadium.
That was fine by us, because it meant the Australian players paid us special attention, signing autographs and posing for photographs. Some of the reserves, most notably Ricky Stuart, Des Hasler and Mark ‘Spud’ Carroll, mixed with our group before kick-off.
Australian skipper, Mal Meninga and fullback, Gary Belcher were products of Brisbane Souths, and many members of my group came from the club, most notably chief executive Graham Kerr and his wife, Jean, who were afforded a wave by Belcher during his warm-up.
Leeds made Australia fight every step of the way, before succumbing 22-10 in front of a 16,000 crowd.
A highlight of the first half was a try to Leeds’ former All Black rugby union fullback, John Gallagher, who beautifully timed his run, on to a Garry Schofield pass. Leeds also boasted another former rugby union international, ex-Wales and British Lions’ forward, David Young. The only Aussie in the Leeds’ line-up was Inala product, former Brisbane Easts and Illawarra Steelers’ star, Cavill Heugh, who played State of Origin for Queensland in 1985 and ’86.  
With big Paul Sironen leading the way, Australia powered their way to inevitable victory. Still, there were members of our group who believed we could not win the First Test, on the back of that display.
The following night we stayed in the historic Falcon Hotel, Stratford-Upon-Avon, stopping to explore magnificent Warwick Castle on the way.
My parents, Jon and Lola Ricketts; their friends, Ray and Pat Sorenson and I ventured out of Stratford for dinner, at the College Arms, Lower Quinton in Warwickshire, a pub run by the brother-in-law of Beth Smith, a teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School, Sunnybank where my father was groundsman.
The publican, Anthony, and his wife, Lyn, didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet, but we had a good night all the same, especially as we were joined by Frank Kennedy. (The food took forever to emerge from the kitchen).
Back at the Falcon, one of our ‘tourists’, Ray Jensen, had teamed up with a group from Finland, for a sing-a-long. Australians are not noted as singers, but this group made Ray sound good.
The next day we were to head into London. Our detour to Chipping Camden was not something I had included on the running sheet, and my tour group members were agreeably surprised when we pulled up in front of the ‘Pottery’.
Frank and Jane put on tea, coffee, French wine and a magnificent cake, shaped like a rugby league field, featuring goal posts, Brisbane Souths jerseys, corner posts, the lot.
In between eating and drinking, members of our group were taken on a tour of the Inn, which was a bed and breakfast establishment in 1990.
And most of the tour group members found ample time to explore Chipping Camden itself, surely one of the most beautiful towns in the UK.
The street scene has changed little since medieval times, and the golden Cotswold stone looked magnificent in the autumn sunshine.
Frank, Jane and their little son, Edward, accompanied us out of town, on our ‘bus’, and joined in a rendition of our tour song, ‘Heartland’, by Mike McClellan, one of the great Aussie singers.
We presented Edward with an Aussie hat and scarf, and, 30 years later, hopefully he still has a soft spot for us ‘colonials’.
From Gloucestershire, we drove through the outskirts of Swindon in Wiltshire, where our driver, Bob Robinson was from.
Our lunch stop was Avebury, which is famous for its immense circle of brooding stones, which stand like petrified ghosts from an age about which little is known. The circle was raised about 2000BC by Celtic farmer/shepherds, and was probably an open temple, where fertility rites were practised.
Most of our group walked the circle, before adjourning to the Red Lion pub, for a carvery lunch.
Then it was east, through Wiltshire and the Savernake Forest into Berkshire and then on to London, where we were to stay for the next four nights. (More on that at a later date).
The next time I saw Frank, and, sadly, it was the most recent time, was 2000, when our paths crossed at Kingsholm Park, the home ground of Gloucester Rugby Club. I was covering the New Zealand v Lebanon World Cup rugby league match for News Ltd in Australia, and Frank, who had shifted base from Chipping Campden to Toddington (in the same county) was there with Edward.
I got quite emotional seeing Frank again. My wife, Marie was with me for the early part of the World Cup campaign, and she had come down to the press ‘bench’ at halftime, to alert me to the fact Frank was in the stand. Frank invited me to stay at his new place, Didbrook Fields Farm, when the World Cup was over.
I took him up on the offer, but wasn’t prepared for the grandeur of the main house, and the fact there was an indoor lap pool in one of the farm buildings, as Frank was now one of England’s top swim coaches. From memory, he and Jane had bought the property from a Danish company.
The Kennedy’s now had a daughter, Jane, and she and Edward (who was enrolled at exclusive Cheltenham College) were a delight. The dogs, Phoebe and Buzzer, were hilarious and allowed the family cat to sleep with them.
Jane Snr provided a magnificent roast chicken dinner, and next morning the porridge was also to die for. Frank, who is now a non-drinker, told me about his anti-smoking and anti dog shit crusades, and his run-ins with authority. That was the Frank I remembered from Murwillumbah, a man with strong beliefs and high standards. I got away around noon, headed for the Heathrow Sheraton, ahead of my flight back to Australia the next day.
I got emotional, writing this, and realising, that once again, the years had rattled by without me having contacted Frank. Our last correspondence was to do with the state of elite level swimming in the UK, and that was when I was still working at ‘The Courier-Mail’.
Frank, the Pom brickie from Widnes, is now part of the Gloucestershire ‘establishment’, and you could have bet ‘London to a Brick’ on that 45 years ago. (Google legendary broadcaster, Ken Howard for the origins of that saying).
1 Lola and Jon Ricketts; Pat and Ray Sorenson outside Warwick Castle
2 Members of Brisbane Souths’ Kangaroo Supporters Tour
3 Frank and Jane Kennedy and their son, Edward. They are flanked by Lola and Jon Ricketts, with Steve Ricketts at the front.
4 Pat Sorenson and Lola Ricketts at Avebury Stone Circle.

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