Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Whatever happened to: the communal bath?

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?


Greg Collins said...

reckon they died out at the same time as blood bins were introduced and for the same medical reasons

choirboy said...

They aren't quite extinct yet. Feltham RFC still have one - or did last season.

rugbysid said...

Communal bath? We used to dreeeem of a communal bath. We `ad a communal puddle. Well, I say puddle - it was just the biggest pot-hole in the road near-bye (the A1), but it was a communal puddle to us. Of course, we had to jump out quick-smart if there was any traffic. If a lorry went by and actually went through the pot-hole it could empty it in one great whooosh (and that`s including some of the slower players). The survivors just looked for another puddle. But you tell that to young folks nowadays...and they wouldn`t believe you.

Lightlock said...

One of my team's local rivals still have a communal bath complete with ice sold, trickling showers and I'd just like to say that I think they're great; I'd like to to but they're NOT. After 80 minutes of swimming through their constantly muddy pitch a hot shower complete with a rub-down by a dusky maiden is all I want - except for a beer!

Anonymous said...

Happy memories. A keen footballer and rugby player as a young man in the 70s I soaked in team baths all over the south east. Picketts Lock sports centre had a big one that we used after matches there and the old Wembley Stadium had the deepest which I got into twice after playing in amateur finals. It was a real bonding experience for all the boys - crate of beer on the side, everyone bollock naked. Showers are nothing like the same - its a quick wash down, in and out. Tell me some clubs have still got them please.

Anonymous said...

Yes, they seem a dying breed nowadays, along with the Jockstrap and head strapping, replaced by modern day compression shorts and scrum caps. I know that Mellish RFC in Nottingham and Barts London RFC (BLRFC) both still have decent communal baths for after match soaking and team banter. You can't beat the deep bath especially after a long winter's game soaking with a few beers. The hayday of Rugby Union in the 70's and 80's era.