Thursday, 8 January 2009

Social insecurity

I'm devastated to note that that no British teams have signed up yet for the Social Rugby World Championship in 2009. Well, I say devastated, what I mean is disappointed. Well, I say disappointed, what I mean is a tad miffed. Well, I say miffed, what I mean is mildly surprised.

OK, so I'm mildly surprised that no British teams have signed up yet for the Social Rugby World Championship in 2009.

For the uninitiated, the inaugural Social Rugby World Championships will kick off in Cape Town on 13th June 2009 and will coincide with the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa next summer. The plan is for 16 teams from around the world who don't take themselves too seriously to indulge in 2 weeks of socialising and rugby in a round-robin format tournament. Not only that, but they'll be given the opportunity to take part in coaching rugby in disadvantaged communities and, of course, the chance to follow the Lions tour live in South Africa.

So far teams have signed up from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Austria, Spain, the USA and Australia. British teams are, evidently, conspicuous by their absence. The effects of the credit crunch perhaps? Well, no, not if you consider that over 50,000 Lions fans are expected to descend upon South Africa for the tour in June. I would have thought that, at the very least, a team could be cobbled together from that lot.

The reason that all this is of mild interest to me is that many moons ago I was the "organiser" (in the loosest sense of the word) of a rabble fine bunch of men who played semi-regular social rugby on Sundays around London and the South East, going by the name of "The Bandits".

Ever since starting this blog I've been meaning to pen a short history of the Bandits and this appears to be as appropriate a time as any to get seriously self-indulgent. Please, therefore, feel free to log off at this point as I begin to reminisce...

As far as I can recall Baker's Bandits came into being in December 1986 - the brainchild of a University colleague of mine who put a team of fellow students together to play a one-off match against a team from his former club, Old Guildfordians. For reasons I can't remember, I was unable to play in that first encounter but did make an appearance in the repeat one-off fixtures over the following 2 Christmas periods. As far as I can remember the team lost all 3 fixtures, plenty of beer was quaffed, a good time was had by all and that, it seemed, was that

Except that, of course, it wasn't. With everyone, for the most part, having left university and working in or around London, someone (possibly me, it must be admitted) had the bright idea of putting the band back together to play social rugby on a Sunday. Whoever had the idea, it was somehow left to me to put a team together and so, on a Sunday afternoon in March 1989 and in a foretaste of what was to become commonplace, I assembled - ahem - approximately 11 players in South West London in non-matching kit to represent the now Bakerless Bandits against a team from Arthur Anderson accountants. Our fullback had somehow mislaid his boots en route, we borrowed at least one player and I did my one and only stint ever at tight head prop. And, somewhat improbably, we scraped a victory.

That resounding success was followed by 2 seasons in which we played around a total of 15 or so fixtures, 2 seasons in which we managed to remain unbeaten despite often failing to raise a full quorum.

The team in 1989-90 was a mix of ex-university mates, drinking buddies from Ealing Rugby Club, friends, friends of friends, my little brother and anyone else we could rope in. Coming along to watch a Bandits game was always a risk as there was every chance that you would be forcibly press-ganged into playing, boots or no boots. Some of us were playing regular club rugby every Saturday, some were hardly playing at all, several were regular cry-offs on a Sunday morning (in the days before ubiquitous mobile phones, I hasten to add) and others simply failed to show up. Somehow, though, we always managed to raise some kind of team and, often playing in damp and dirty Ealing 2nd XV shirts from the day before, were stubborn and pig-headed enough to manage to stay unbeaten. It often wasn't pretty - I recall being booed by spectators at one game despite a fine display of classic 9-man rugby and one match even finished in a rather memorable 0-0 draw (I'm not kidding) - possibly the most dire game of rugby I've ever had the misfortune to play in.

In the 1990-91 season we managed to obtain our own shirts - the somewhat distasteful rhubarb and custard combo (pictured) - a development naively funded by yours truly and yes, there are several miscreants out there that still owe me £30 each for their shirts. Wearing shirts like that, we figured, meant that we really couldn't afford to lose and we duly delivered another unbeaten season, although I'm not sure my bank balance has ever truly recovered.

By 1991-92, however, it was becoming increasingly difficult to raise a team and my enthusiasm for dealing with Sunday morning phone calls was beginning to wane. We had one fixture that year, were soundly beaten and I was knocked unconscious in a tackle. Sadly no one was willing or able to take over the mantle of chief organiser/dogsbody and so, as the majority of players headed towards their thirties, the Bandits concept drifted off into obscurity.

Now it is no more than the stuff of legend. At the Varsity match recently it was suggested after several beverages that the band get back together for one last gig but I really don't know whether that would be such a good idea. Or, rather, I do know. And it isn't.

What I also know, however, is that, if Bandit rugby was still a going concern today, we'd have been champing at the bit to take part in a Social Rugby World Championship and would have moved heaven and earth to be there, credit crunch or no credit crunch. OK, so we'd probably have had a couple of people drop out on the day of the flight and have lost one or two more to injury before a rugby ball was kicked in anger but I'd like to think our resourcefulness in cobbling together a team of high quality stubborn bastards would have remained intact.

And I'd have certainly fancied our chances.


Naly D said...

Yeah I'd certainly expect there to be at least one Brit team, given that the Lions are touring at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Well done Flanker, looks like you've just volunteered to organise the 'British Bandits' entry. If you'll just pay the entry fees and start having a ring around I'm sure you'll get 15 together on the day... No point in trying to get people to commit this far in advance but a trawl of some Cape Town Waterfront bars the night before will almost certainly yield a team of sorts.