In the early 60’s a new P.E. teacher came to Canvey, Mr Kenneth Light! He stood on the stage at Canvey Secondary School and held aloft a funny shaped ball. “This he gritted through his teeth “Is a god!”
A P.E. lesson in an assembly hall? That’s how Ken started out every year. He then took the entire first year on a tour of the rugby pitch. With his pipe wobbling in the side of his mouth Ken would lead his disciples around the pre-metric pitch still clutching the brown leather god.
After half-an-hour’s intensive instruction during which time only a few had managed to interpret the strange tongue of the West Country the poor wretches were poured into kit three sizes too big and let loose upon an unsuspecting pitch.
Throughout the winter with snow and ice upon the ground the instruction continued. As wingers turned blue and portly props trudged like sow ploughs across a pitch unfit for Eskimo’s Ken stood wrapped in three track-suits with the ever present pipe glowing like a homing beacon on the try-line. The swinging 60’s had brought The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, and more importantly it had brought Ken Light and a funny shaped ball to the Island for the first time. Rugby had arrived.
There being no rugby club on Canvey Island it was always the case that any good players coming out of the Ken Light stables were crated up and shipped down the Thames to Southend or Westcliff. That is until that fateful Sunday morning when Ray Locke got Norman Evans out of bed with his great idea.
“I answered the door” said Norman, who is now the club’s treasurer, “To hear a voice floating out of the morning gloom and through a heavy hangover saying “Ere Norm! How about starting a rugby club? So we went around to Roger Hulses house to discuss it”.
Roger Hulse, now club president told me: “Ray had already put an “Old boy’s side” together to play the staff at the school, but I think it was called off, because Fred Watkins then the headmaster expected a blood bath. It made Ray realise however that it was possible to get a side of Canvey lads together and all we needed were a few fixtures with clubs off the island to get us going”.
So the word went out and the faithful answered the call. Norman continues “Me, Roger Hulse, Steve Webb, Steve Peake and of course Ray met in the Canute for a chat. We all agreed it was a good idea to go ahead but there were still a few problems to be solved”.
These few problems included: No pitch, no posts, no ball, no shirts and also the little matter of still being 10 players short. A few dyed soccer shirts and some old rugby shirts that Ken Light “found” in a cupboard at school took care of one problem
The decision to play all games “away” solved a few others, but what about the 10 extra players.
The call to the faithful went out again and it must have been louder this time because about 13 walked into, and much later rolled out of, the King Canute.
“Our first game”, said Roger was in December 1970 and we played Middlesex Technical College. It wasn’t until we were on the pitch that we realised we hadn’t chosen a captain.”
The choice was a foregone conclusion however and this is the side that Ray Locke took to victory in Canvey’s first ever match:- A. Duffield, D. Wilkinson, S. Peake, L. Greeny, M. Norris, C. Eldridge, S. Yoe, S. Webb, R. Hulse, R. Locke, G. Withey, N. Ewins, L. Seadsworth, P. Wilkinson, R. Smith.
The scorers in that first match were: M. Norris two trys, R. Hulse one try, R. Locke one try, S. Peake three conversions.
Finishing their first six months as a club the Islanders could now put away their boots and stand back to admire their first set of results. Won three, drawn one and lost Ten’- Not a very auspicious start to the season.
Undaunted as ever they set about organising their first official annual general meeting. It was “back to school” for most of those who attended as it was held in “Potters Lab” (now the staffroom) at Furtherwick Park School. The account that follows is taken from Richard Smiths scrap book:
The first official A.G.M. was held at the Furtherwick Park School. During the meeting the members put forward their views on what the club should do and try to become in the next season. Officials were elected along with fees and club shirts by vote of club members.
Mr. W. Ashworth was nominated to be the club’s President and after writing a letter to him he accepted. Mr Ashworth, now Chairman of the Council attended an O.G.M. a few week’s later and was introduced to members of the club.
For the post of chairman of the club, Mr. A. Hughes was nominated and re-elected as he had done such good work before. Unfortunately he said that he had applied for a job in Wales and that if he got it he would have to leave, so he became chairman for the next three months.
A letter of resignation was received from Mr. R. Lock of the post of Secretary. He wrote that due to family problems he could no longer give the time for which the job requires and that it would cause the club bother if he stayed. A vote of thanks was given to this founder member who put so much effort into the club to get it started. A Mr. J.K.F. Fincken was elected to take his place. He accepted the post Mr. N. Ewins was re-elected as Treasurer.
The club Captain also remained the same, Mr. R.L. Hulse was re-elected.
The post of vice-captain was decided to be a job for a ‘back’. Mr. S. Peake was nominated and elected.
The club, decided to have two other members for the committee and Mr. A. Cook and Mr. R. Smith were nominated and elected.
The club was told that the Council had given them a pitch at Water Side Farm. Also posts had arrived and the pitch should be set out by the end of August. This should be ready for the first trials set for August 28th.
A chart of rugby shirts was shown at the meeting. The shirts chosen was Royal and Scarlet hoops, with black shorts and royal stockings. The reason for the colours is because they are outstanding, smart, and that no club in the area has any similar colours.
The members were asked what would be a reasonable Subscription fee. It was decided that £1.50 for a playing member, and £1 for non-playing members. Members under the age of 16 will also have to pay £1. Match Fees will be 25p. a game and 15p. for members under 16.
It was decided that the club should have another dance as soon as possible because once we have bought the shirts and paid for the pitch we would be very short of money. Unfortunately we can not find a place to hold them, our new secretary will try, however, to sort out something.
Training will be held every Wednesday at the Furtherwick Park School all year round. It is hoped there will be good turn-out every week.
The Committee which was elected should meet at least once a month to arrange the clubs activities. The club have entered the carnival which is on Saturday 24. Also the club has a full fixture list for the next season. Confirmations will have to be sent out to our opposition.
So at last things were falling into place, but there was still a long way to go.
It is the characters in a club that make it special and next time I shall relate a few of the Myths and Legends about the individuals I feel have made the club what it is today.
Once the club was formed the uppermost thought in many peoples minds was “How long before we get a clubhouse?”. The socialising is as much a part of rugby as is scoring a try and so searching eyes scanned the island for a suitable watering hole. The Haystack seemed the obvious choice and in the few years that the teams met there they saw a variety of landlords come and go. Alf, Herbie and Sid suffered much for which the club is grateful and many a happy knees-up was had by scores of visiting teams. It was under the rule of Ian Drain that the club really had a taste of what it would be like to have a clubhouse of their own.
Chairman Biff Smith told me “Ian was a great landlord. He let us use the upstair’s dancehall that wasn’t being used. For the first time we could get together after the game without having to worry about bothering other drinkers. It was just us and the visiting team. It made many of us realise that we would have to start thinking more seriously about buying a place of our own, because we could not be certain just how long we would have the use of the Haystack.”
Sure enough the move eventually did come, but not yet to the clubhouse. This time the host was Bob Sennett at the King Canute. The club met there for a few weeks whilst the searching eyes took another look for somewhere a little more intimate. The answer seemed to lie in the hands of Stan Barrett who gave the club permission to use the Miners’ Bar at the Waters Edge. For four seasons the club met there regularly, but by now they were running three teams and what at first had been cosy was quickly becoming uncomfortably cramped. A clubhouse had to be found.
As early as 1974 planning permission was applied for to build a clubhouse at Smallgains but things didn’t work out. With the pitches moving to Tewkes Creek it made a lot more sense to put the building there. The council at one point considered letting the club use the building that is now the Scout hall, but again things went wrong. Meeting after meeting with the council took place until finally they gave the go ahead to build a brand spanking new clubhouse. They now had the site and they certainly had the labourers. The brewery with an eye to the future helped out with the finances and with pulses racing one fine Saturday in March three years ago the club turned out to lay the foundations.
It may surprise many people to learn that the clubhouse is not yet open. It threw open its doors unofficially for a Bonfire Night party in November 1983, but until the showers and changing rooms are completed the clubhouse is not ‘ready’. Andy Cook, who has probably done more than anyone else to see that the present building is there at all told me “We hope to complete by the start of next season and then we can have the official opening ceremony.” It should be quite an occasion.
There is not the room here to thank all those who at some time over the past have helped by name. The barmaids, the members, the wives, the chip shops, etc etc. There are just so many who have done their bit in building not just the clubhouse but more importantly The Club. The Rugby Club simply wish to thank The Island, for all it has done.
Over the past 15 years Canvey has done well to raise the standard of its rugby. Even so it is amazing to note that three players who represented the first team back in the Canvey’s first season are still playing regularly for the firsts. Biff Smith, Mick Norris and Barry Glen have had yet another present fine season for the club with Mick even representing the club in the Essex Sevens’ competition this year and assisted in taking the Canvey Seven’s side further than they have ever done in the past. Biff puts it all down to dedication. “Too many players leave the game long before they have to,” he said. “Instead of packing in rugby they should stick at it. There is a position on the field for all abilities and builds. When I get too old for propping I’ll probably just move to a less demanding position in the backs”.
Barry Glen agrees. He left Canvey for a time to get experience from the long established and nearby rivals Old Westcliffians. Returning to his first love a season later he was able to bring the knowledge that he had gleaned and helped raise the standard throughout.
Mick Norris, the Essex right arm, has likewise played alongside some of the best players in our county and his experience gained has helped push the island forward in its quest for higher quality opposition. A simple comparison with some of Canvey’s early opposition and the sides they now regularly go up against shows how far they have come in so short a time. Canvey at present would like to play the Southend first side having this season beaten the Southend seconds.
However, 15 Years ago we saw Canvey being easily beaten by Southend’s fourth side. Likewise only a few weeks past a talented Thurrock second’s side were seen off by Canvey who in their first season had to content themselves with being defeated by the Thurrock fifths.
In the Essex area there can be a few other clubs if any, who have improved as quickly as Canvey’s rugby club has done. The next few seasons are sure to be explosive in many ways. With their best season ever under their belt and a new clubhouse sprouting from the soil at the same time the future looks good. How long the titanic trio of Smith, Glen and Norris can keep getting better will be interesting to see.
The end of the season each year is greeted by all players with mixed feelings. It gives a chance for all those niggly injuries to get better and allows players a few months to relax and charge up the old batteries for the next season.
On the other hand it leaves many man on the island without an excuse for not helping with the shopping or putting up that shelf in the kitchen. Perhaps that is why so many rush to volunteer for service on the clubs float in the carnival every year. The club, who have in the past won the trophy for collecting the most money on carnival day, always put in as much enthusiasm as they can muster. A glance back to the 1971 carnival procession illustrates the point.
Back in ’71 the island welcomed 12 visiting queens four bands and watched 42 floats trundle around the streets raising what at that time was a record breaking £225.49.
One of the highlights of the parade, as seen by the press, was a flour fight at the corner of Long Road outside what was then The Haystack. The rugby club had felt that things needed livening up and had recalled to mind the ancient ritual of the flour fight as enjoyed every year at the ‘Hospital’s Cup Final’.
A photograph at the time shows what a jolly old time was had, but the club received a very stiff letter and slapped wrists were had by all. Chairman Biff Smith said “I suppose one or two do get a little bit carried away, but the main thing is that every year charity is the winner. This year we’ll be trying to raise as much as possible and hope that we can enjoy ourselves at the same time.”
During its brief history the rugby club has attracted some strange people into its fold. It is these people of course that give the rugby club its own certain flavour.
Still playing at the tender age of 55 Bill Brown can be seen holding court after the game explaining to those within earshot just exactly why it was that in the fifth minute of the second half the opposition hooker was carried off injured.
“To be sure it was all a tactical ploy to lull us into a false sense of security”, says Bill to an audience who know fully well that the real reason was because the opposition hooker had made the foolish mistake of standing in the path of an on-form Micky Norris. When Bill arrived from Ireland in 1955 he had an instant impact on Canvey. Guinness was introduced for one thing and all the little children who for years had been taught not to talk to strangers now knew the reason why.
In the late 70’s Bill set off to play for the second team against Burnham. Bill takes up the story: “We were playing two games at Burnham that Saturday but they only had one pitch. So the seconds played first and then we watched the first team play before we all went into the bar to watch the international on the tele. It was a cold day so I had few double scotches to keep out the chill and then they had the nerve to go and shut the bar while the first team played. Luckily there was an off licence: up the road so I went and got a bottle of scotch to share with Bill Murrey, just to keep out the chill you understand. Well by the time the international had finished I was a little unsteady on my legs; probable the chill getting to my legs”.
It was at this point that Bill disappeared out of the clubhouse looking for the gentleman’s convenience. Someone must have stolen the thing however because all Bill found was a 15 foot ditch. Still it was better than nothing and anyway it was dark. Next thing he knew however was a feeling not unlike that certain feeling one gets when one is falling headlong into a 15 foot ditch. Bill continues: “It’s a lie… it was only a 10 foot ditch. It was the coldest night of the year and to make matters worse I kept sliding back down into the water at the bottom. People could hear me shouting but all they did was poke around in the dark for a second or two and give up. It didn’t help matters much either when before going back in they’d do the same thing I’d gone out to do in the first place”.
Bill Brown survived the ordeal and has gone on to be a pain in everyone’s neck in every possible way. He is the absolute living stereotype Irishman and proud of the fact that when I asked him where in Ireland he lived he couldn’t remember. With a sense of humour as crisp as burnt bacon Bill Grown is ready and willing to bore you silly most evenings at the club. So why not pop in and ask him why it was his traveling expenses for the Maidon game were £15 and everyone elses were 50 pence?
Richard “Biff” Smith, strong in the arm and strong in the head. He has represented the Island on the rugby field regularly since it first started. Indeed he is such a regular fixture in the first team that the club has the number one shirt made to measure especially for him (size very big).
With over 300 games under his belt he reckons to have ‘seen it all’ and yet in all of those games he has never even been spoken to by a referee and has never come close to a sending off. “Biff the ‘gentleman’ of Canvey rugby sets the kind of example to others that is beyond reproach. There are few players who can play in such a hard physical way and retain the cool calm demeanour that “Biff” seems to be able to maintain.
Having played alongside this portly prop on something like 100 occasions as his happy hooker I can personally speak of the feeling of security one gets knowing “Biff” is alongside. He plays with grit and determination giving 100% to rugby both on and off the field. There can be few, if any, positions he has not at some time played. There are few, if any, positions he has not held on the administrative side of the club.
Having played for the Island for 14 years and having the proud honour to have represented the club more times than anyone else one would possibly think that “Biff” might be considering taking things easy by perhaps moving down to the lower sides, but he treats such suggestions with sincere contempt. “I am playing better every year,” he says. “And if anyone else fancies the number one shirt they’ll have to compete for it. There is no way I am going to hand it to anyone on a plate”.
“Biff” the club chairman has seen the club he loves grow from its initial planning stage to the present and sees it getting bigger and better every year. “There is a great future in store for this club,” he says. “I intend to be in that front row until I’m at least 60. ” Knowing “Biff” that is rather a conservative estimate.