Another in an extremely sporadic series of observations about how certain aspects of rugby have changed since I first started playing the game back in the middle ages...
Whatever happened, I wonder, to the communal bath?
At what point did it disappear?
Anyone who played rugby during the eighties, or earlier, will remember the large tiled structure adjacent to the changing area in most rugby clubs - that enormous container of deep steaming hot water in which players could soak their weary limbs after a game, chew the fat, sing a few songs and emerge refreshed and ready for an evening's carousing.
Except, of course, that it was nothing like that.
My first experience of the big bath was as an under-19 'Colt' at Peterborough Rugby Club. As the youngest team on a Saturday we had the dubious honour of playing on a pitch that was at least 5 minutes walk away from the clubhouse, meaning that we always kicked off later than all of the other games at the club and, consequently, always finished our game last.
From a bathing point of view what this meant was that when we arrived back at the clubhouse the bath was already in use by the 4 other teams playing that day and, by the time we had stripped off and were ready for a soak, the bath consisted of shallow and murky lukewarm (bordering on cold) water with a 2-inch thick layer of muck and grime on top. If you could chip through the outer crust it was possible to get your body wet, but there was absolutely never any prospect of getting clean, let alone warm.
At the posher clubs the bath was sometimes surrounded by a system of showers that provided no more than a trickle of icy water to enable players to at least attempt to wash away some of the ubiquitous mud before getting into the bath to get filthy dirty again. I'm guessing that, as hygiene became higher on the agenda, those showers began to take over from the big bath - and certainly by the 90s I recall that a post-match shower was far more common and that the big baths were few and far between.
Despite my memories, in many ways it is a shame that the communal bath has fallen by the wayside. If you were lucky enough to be the first match to finish on a Saturday it was always an absolute joy, privilege and luxury to be able relax in piping hot water whilst chatting with your teammates and the opposition about the intricacies of the game you had just played in. And, even at its worst, the big bath experience can be said to have been, at the very least, character building.
Where's the soap? It does, doesn't it?