Murray Blandford's Memoirs - Midget to Mentor
My memories and connection with the Petone Rugby Football Club started as a five year old in 1965 when I spent the first of a few years in the ‘bantam’ grade. My family lived in Korokoro and my coach Bill Ridley used to pile us in the back of his 2 door green Hillman van for practices in the sawdust gym. I was a hooker in my early days which meant that you didn’t see a lot of the ball because it was only really the backs that were allowed to run with it. In those days many players wore boots made of black plastic which cut your ankles to shreds. Many of the photos I have at this time show me at the front of lineouts(wingers threw the ball in) hoping to get a touch as it was thrown in.
Even for the Juniors, Petone was a team that travelled and before I was nine and had ‘progressed’ to the midgets we had visited Carterton and even travelled on the ‘Maori’ to play matches against the New Brighton Club in Christchurch. While we were there a highlight was attending a Ranfurly Shield challenge at Lancaster Park. I still have a Canterbury badge that was bought at the ground.
Left-me unsuccessfully catching the ball at the front of the lineout at hooker vs Upper Hutt (circa 1968) Aussie mate Noel Paton is behind my right elbow, Tony Ralph at halfback, former Senior player Jamie White at 1st 5/8, with the centre being past Patron's son Ted House's son, John. Right-me trying to keep up with Petone, Wellington and All Black winger Mike Clamp.
When I was nine my family shifted to Eastbourne but I still played for Petone and made the weekly bus trip to practice with an Aussie mate who lived in Lowry Bay, Noel Paton. It was about this time that I started watching the Petone Senior team every week with my avid Petone rugby supporting dad and Past Patron, Bim. One of the many memories I have is of sitting in the car in the car park of the old Petone Workingmen’s Club in Campbell Terrace for an hour or so with a glass of raspberry and lemonade while dad and his mates were inside drinking. We’d then make the trip into Athletic Park with dad’s friends like John Cleaver and Ken Goldsworthy and I would add to my limited vocabulary of expletives. We always watched from the same place, North of the Millard Stand on ground level about halfway up.
In my intermediate years I shifted my playing allegiances to Eastbourne but still remained loyal to the Petone Seniors. These were the ‘golden years’ of Petone rugby where as many as eight or nine of the team were in the Wellington Representative side and when Wellington played a representative match you could rightfully yell out ‘C’mon Petone’ when watching them play. For a couple of years I sold the Rugby Weekly at the Buick Street entrance and made the huge profit of 1 cent for every one I sold. I kept a record of my sales and the least I made was 5c while my best was 28 cents. After selling the programmes I’d head to my spot in the back right hand corner of the grandstand, a grandstand that I remember as always being full. Who could forget the Petone legends of those days? ‘Big’ Jack Seymour kicking the goals from everywhere, Bruce Hurley performing acrobatics as he tried to stop the ball from going into touch and the distinctive running style of lock Pat Abbott. The names remain etched in my memory:- Dougan, Cleland, Stevens(x2), Skipper, Hooper, Brown, Winitana, May, Campbell, Abraham, Leslie, Keepa, Morgan, Head, Paea, Mann and the list goes on. The fights were great but the tries were better. Another distinctive memory was the repeat applause those in the stand gave following a particularly good try as the players were returning to halfway and the conversion was being lined up.
Despite playing soccer while attending Petone Tech. I still watched and followed Petone. It was during this time that Ian Stevens was flatting just up the road in Eastbourne with Rangi Hura and they were regular attendees at summer barbecues at our place. I still prize a pair of All Black socks and an All Black #10 jersey Nectar gave to me on his return from the 1972-73 All Black Tour to Britain. I also remember going to matches with schoolmate Peter Whitehead and while dad was having a few beers in the Clubrooms we’d play force back until it got too dark to see. We played on the croquet green which was where the current Workingmen’s Club is now. We then made many hair-raising trips back along the seaside road to Eastbourne after dad had had his ‘few’ beers.
In 1978 I restarted my playing days at Petone. I’d had enough of moaning Poms on the soccer field and felt I was ready to give rugby another go. So I joined the Under 19 team coached by the dedicated Ron Stechman and managed by Benny ‘Whitebait’ Houston. I survived the first pre-season game against Upper Hutt TT on a rock hard ground at Waterloo School so kept playing. There were a lot of mates from Petone Tech. in the side but also boys from a half dozen other colleges. These were the years that if you were under age you weren’t allowed to drink in the clubrooms and this was strictly enforced at Petone. Consequently, every week one of the player’s parents would host the team at their house and put on some food while the boys would provide the drink. This was a pretty good arrangement and despite us only winning three games and drawing one the team had a very good team spirit. At the end of the season we went on a memorable trip to Napier and stayed at the Masonic on the waterfront. We played a game and won, drunk a hell of a lot of beer and generally had a great trip.
In 1979 Plunks had taken a team of young Petone players on a tour of Aussie and on that trip the Senior encumbent first five ‘Little’ Hewie broke his collarbone and this gave me a chance to make the step up to the hallowed Seniors. I couldn’t believe playing with many of my heroes including ‘Hoey’ Whittington, ‘Snerk’ Cleland, Ian May, ‘Wango’ Martin, ‘Filth’ Walker and ‘Chunky’ Heale to name a few. As everyone knows nicknames abounded at Petone like most rugby clubs and I think I had been playing for a couple of years before I realised Paul Harlen was the real name of ‘Spanish’ or ‘Spanner’. The coach of the Senior team that year was ‘Hammer’ Kennedy. Who could forget his famous catch phrase that reminded everyone that to win at rugby you had to rely on the “Top two f***** inches”. Another thing he liked to tell us was to ‘Think about that for five f***** minutes. It was a dream come true to be playing for the team I had held in such high regard for so long. I was luckier than most because in those days young players had so much experience around them that they only had to worry about playing their game and always got looked after and a ton of good advice from the senior players. I don’t know what I expected but after my first game against WCOB I was at home by seven after a few beers and asleep by eight I was so tired. We played twenty games that season, lost only two, but won nothing as Marist St Pats beat us in both the Swindale Shield and Jubilee Cup Finals and won all the silverware.
Ross Baker dots down to clinch the Jubilee Cup for Petone in the 1980 Final. Steve (Runty) Robertson is on the left and Paul (Bear) Baker is on the right
1980 saw me dropped from the Seniors in favour of ‘Little’ Hewie and I spent the first eight games with the Senior Seconds. What a team they were! Plunks was a passionate and committed coach who everyone loved playing for. The team spirit was amazing and it was brilliant being able to play with players who were ‘true blue’ Villagers-many of whom could easily have played Senior 1st at another club. Among them were ‘Jock’ Roper, Jim Lang, ‘Spanner’ Harlen, ‘Daisy’ Day and ‘Ghastly Backspin’ Gaskin. Thursday nights after training, in the corner on the right as you walk in the clubrooms, was Senior B territory and you had to be tough to hack it with them until they chose to go home.
It was in 1980 that I have one of my favourite memories of playing for Petone. Marist St Pats had a team full of Wellington Rep. players and had gone about 45 matches without defeat. We played them in the Jubilee Cup Final on a miserable day that saw the Petone Rec. #1 under water. Rumour had it MSP had already bought the champagne, baked the cake and organised the party. We played into the wind and after being down 0-3 at halftime we turned with the wind and sealed the match five minutes from the end when Ross Baker scored in a splash of water. The crowd in the grandstand was incredible as was the reception we got when we returned to the Clubrooms. Although we’d missed out on the Swindale Shield everyone knew you couldn’t drink out of that! It was on the Monday following this match that myself, Amos 'Amo" Forrester, 'Gazza' Lewis and Ross 'Bakes' Baker met at Amos’s place in Eastbourne and spent the day at the Eastbourne Hotel, a tradition that was followed by Petone teams for many years to come.
In the next six years I played we won a few Swindale Shields and Jubilee Cups. In my last season in 1986 we went through the season unbeaten, a feat only managed by the great 1972 team. Vivid memories I have from these years include:-
• The succession of little open-sided flankers with huge hearts including Paul ‘Coozer’ Coles, Steve ‘Runty’ Robertson, and Lee ‘Worzel’ Lidstone.
• The quality of the coaching available at the club. Our coaches were what gave our teams the edge.
• The strength and spirit of the Senior ‘B’ team.
• The feeling you got every time you pulled on the famous navy blue jersey with the white saddleback and the duty all players had when they pulled on their jersey and remembered all those other players who had worn the same number before them.
• The 1983 Tour of Japan which saw us win all five games including an ‘All Japan’ team in our final match in Tokyo. It was a memorable three weeks.
• The brilliance of fullback Allan Hewson.
• The huge number of Petone players and opposition players who you built up life-long friendships with.
• Playing club matches with All Blacks and Wellington Representative players all playing in their club teams every week.
• The Sunday clean-ups where early on I would listen to the stories of the ‘old days’ as told by Scunge, Bizzo, Jim Brown, Plunks and others.
• Spending a season playing in Sicily, Italy in 1985/86 for Serie ‘A’ team Amatori Catania.
• Never losing to Avalon after they were formed in 1980 until retiring in 1986.
• Refereeing the junior teams on Saturday morning and meeting future players such as Jason O’Halloran, Inoke Afeaki, John and Martin Leslie, Grant Freeman, Scott Plunkett and Neroli Knight amongst others.
• A lot of the wives or partners of the team would go back to the clubrooms after matches.
After retiring from rugby at the end of the 1986 season I had a few years away from the club before starting back again in 1991 coaching the Nursery Grade with my oldest son Simon. Since then I have continued to coach Petone Junior Rugby Teams, college teams, Petone age grade teams, been the Convenor of the Junior Club and done my best to instil pride in wearing the Petone jersey in the hope that the younger generation get the same experiences and enjoyment I have got from my involvement at Petone.