Twenty years ago Larne RFC embarked on an ambitious tour to Australia which they commemorated several weeks ago with a reunion dinner at their Glynn clubhouse.
Those were different days when the team embarked on their three week tour on Saturday 4th July 1998.
Rugby Union had just turned professional, in 1995, and the “super” clubs and the unions were still squabbling over the distribution of riches. England had been threatened with exclusion from the then Five Nations the year before after their deal with Sky Sports and Scotland had just formed two professional Super Districts, Edinburgh Reivers and Glasgow Caledonians. Bath became the first English team to win the Heineken Cup but English clubs did not play in the 1999 tournament the following season. I wonder who won it that year?
Of course, the tour took place in the days before Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and the golden rule of “What happens on tour, stays on tour” was prevalent in those days so, it was with some excitement that I sat down with Tour Manager William “Sticky” Nelson a few weeks ago to “get all the gossip!”
Those mutual acquaintances of Sticky’s and myself can breathe a sigh of relief, as despite several promptings from myself and a bribe of a fry up and a coffee at the Promenade Cafe in Larne the mustachioed one remained remarkably consistent in his assertion that everyone was in bed by 7:00 pm each night and there were absolutely no shenanigans!
“You’re not giving me much to hang a story on” I whined but really I was missing the point the real story was about how a small club like Larne could embark on an epic three week tour to the other side of the world, play five matches and all return in one piece.
The trip was the brainchild of, now departed, clubman Gerry McCullough and was three years in the planning. Larne had previously hosted players from Australian touring side Petersham RUFC and from an end of the evening discussion over a couple of pints (where all the best ideas come from) the tour was born.
Despite the tourists being hosted by their opponents for parts of the tour, the cost still came in at £1,250 per person making the adventure the focus of fundraising events and local sponsorship for the next three years. The mainstay of the fundraising was the Tour Programme which attracted sponsorship from local businesses on every other of it’s seventy pages and was designed by clubman Bill Penny.
I’ve omitted the now defunct ads and carefully scanned the programme which you can read below. Reading the “Greetings From”, Club President Raymond McDowell, Mayor of Larne Joan Drummond, Ulster Branch President and former Larne RFC player John Callaghan, WJ McBride MBE, Jonathan Bell and Trevor Ringland together with the other articles gives a better reflection of the times than I could ever do.