By Andy Carter
I’ve been asked to document my memories of the day we played at Twickenham…
My first and most vivid memory of the Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham was the fact that Arch, Chris Drumond and myself were situated in France on an end of season Rugby tour with the Surrey County U21’s the night before our big appearance at Twickers. Three tour matches in 3 days due to bad organisation and a few Vin Blanc along the way wasn’t much in the way of preparation for the biggest Rugby day of our young lives.
Dick Moody had arranged for our transfer back home, which meant leaving the South of France at midnight on a sleeper train that travelled back to Paris. From there we jumped on a plane and arrived at Twickenham via Heathrow and a black cab mid Saturday morning. While those arrangements were quite straight forward, the guys from Surrey who were seeing us off at the train station (including two more Old Wandsworthians in Tony Arnold and Martin Lowles) bumped into a couple of French Foreign Legion soldiers who were having a beer or two at a bar near the station. They explained that they were on leave for the weekend and would be travelling to Paris on the same train as us. So we joined them for a beer. but It didn’t take long to realise that these guys were a little worse for wear and were basically trained killers. To help break the ice, I suggested to one of the Legionnaires that the compulsory tour hat that I was wearing should be swapped with their company beret. He said that would be fine, but if he ever came looking for me and I wasn’t in possession of his beret…he would terminate my life!
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night as I kept having nightmares of our new friends and the threat that seemed to have become more like a promise. I shouldn’t have worried about the Legionnaires as they slept soundly the minute their heads hit the pillow due to large amounts of alcohol and snored loud enough to keep most of us awake all night.
We arrived in Paris and disembarked the train a bit lively to avoid the trained killers with the sort of hangovers that would trouble most bears. The rest of the journey was a bit of a blur, cat napping, coffee and croissants seemed the order of the day, but I do remember getting out of the cab at Twickenham with kit bag over my shoulder along with Arch and Chris D and thinking this is going to be my biggest day at HQ…yet I felt like shite!
My other half was there already and we greeted before being quickly ushered through to the changing rooms where the other lads in the Old Dubs sevens squad was present. As I was getting changed thinking “Leave nothing in the changing room” the door burst open and it was our Wandsworth School first year Rugby Master, Mike Griffiths, a bit worse for wear after enjoying the “South Terrace” hospitality. He came over to me and gave me a big hug and started a speech along the lines of… “Carter boyo, I said you’d never make a Rugby player and here i am watching my boys play at Twickenham”. At the time I thought, I could do without the distraction, but playing that moment over in my head time after time, I know he meant well but the timing was absolutely full blast appalling.
I also remember having our team photo taken before the game and again thinking, I don’t need this right now, I’m trying to focus on the job in hand and yet another distraction. Looking back, I’m glad to have the photo as a memento of the day now the dust has settled. We ran onto the hallowed turf and turned right towards the “South Terrace” where all the Old Dubs were located and had set up a kind of makeshift bar. The cries of “Wandsworth, Wandsworth” still stay with me today. The referee blew his whistle to start the game and what seemed like seconds, the match was over. We lost on the day to a better side in Gillingham Anchorians, but Chris Drummond did managed to score the opening try in the corner of the “North Stand” after being put away by Paul Totham which I converted from the touchline. We were invited into the “Rose Room” for after match food and drinks, then met up with the Old Dubs and had a Light Ale or two to celebrate into the night.
To this day, the expression of “Don’t let the moment pass you by” still ring in my ears. The bad timing of being away on tour, overnight travel, lack of sleep, and no real preparation did affect our performance, but I can proudly say that I and my team mates represented the Old Wandsworthians that day at Twickenham.