BRITISH LIONS V THE REST 1986
The British & Irish Lions are, and always have been a touring side. In other words you have to have plenty of time and more importantly money to travel around the world to watch them. As a student it was merely a pipe dream to get the chance to watch them play in the flesh. Then, in 1986, the International Rugby Football Board’s centenary year, a star studded Rest of the World side featuring the likes of Serge Blanco, Michael Lynagh, John Kirwan, Murray Mexted and Simon Poedevin came to Cardiff to play against the best the four home nations could muster. For a rugby fan it was the equivalent of a multiple orgasm. Well, I was young at the time.
In those days my usual port of call before a international rugby game was The Market Tavern in Cardiff. To get in on match days you had to have a ticket – not a match ticket – a pub ticket… and the only way to get one was to obtain one by drinking in the said establishment during the weeks building up to the game. This ensured that only regulars got in on match day – a commendable strategy to avoid any potential trouble. At the time I was a student in Swansea and whenever I travelled by train back to my native Newport, I would jump off at Cardiff (the stop before) for a pint or two in the Market Tavern, and collect valuable tickets. For this particular game, I was joined two of my college mates; Clive and Byron, who had accompanied me on a trip to Dublin a few months earlier. Armed with three match tickets, and most importantly a ticket each for the Market Tavern, we arrived in Cardiff well before opening time (11am in those days). The first thing we noticed was the absence of bouncers on the doors. On entering, the place was relatively quiet for an international. As per usual, we pooled our money together, found a table, ordered numerous pints and laid them out on the table, enough to serve as our pre match build up. This ensured that we avoided fighting our way to the bar for a few hours. Once all the pints had been downed, it was nearing the time to stagger pleasantly in the direction of the National Stadium as it was nearing the 2.30 kick off time. Clive however was puzzled. The pub was far from packed. Usually you were queuing for at least half an hour for the toilet! He’d walked straight in to the cubicles without a problem. Quizzically he approached the bar and spoke to the barman.
“Bit quiet butt,” he exclaimed. “Thought it would be standing room only by now with a game like this on.”
The barman’s response was priceless.
“5 o’clock kick off mate. Won’t be long before it’s heaving!”
To cut a long story short, we all visited the hole in the wall known as a cashpoint, situated a few yards away from the pub. Another table full of pints were purchased. The process was repeated – and apparently we made our way to the game a few hours later.
All I remember of the game is a blurred vision of Scotland’s John Jeffrey nearly scoring a try for the Lions and drunkenly shaking the hand of Australian prop Enrique Rodriguez as he walked down the tunnel. Other than that… nothing!
Now, the one thing I know is that I had spent all my money. So had Clive and Byron. The next morning I woke up in by bedsit with a half eaten spaghetti bolognese and chips on the floor next to the bed. The vague image of getting out of a taxi was running around my head.
How had I got got home?
Where did I get the money to pay for the food?
Did I do a runner from the taxi? Was a visit from the police on the cards?
My landlady had watched the game live on TV and asked me whether I had enjoyed the game.
“No idea,” I shrugged. “Can’t remember any of it. Who won?”
After putting two and two together I surmised that I had probably got the spaghetti bolognese from the chippy up the road. Tentatively I wandered up just before it opened – worried that I had walked off without paying. I was a regular – and didn’t want to be banned form my regular culinary haunt.
The owner, Bill Watkins, opened up and I walked in. Bizarrely he had exactly the same name as my father and had lived just down the road from him in Risca decades earlier. An incredible co-incidence that the owned the nearest chippy to me when I moved to Swansea; but that’s another story…
“Bill.” I said, feeling somewhat embarrassed. “How much do I owe you?”
He laughed, and to called his wife in from the back.
“Mike’s here!” he shouted. His wife giggled uncontrollably and rushed to behind the counter.
“Oh God, what did I do?” I asked.
“Do you remember getting out of the taxi?” Bill enquired.
“Um… no.” I answered.
They both laughed.
“We paid for the taxi.” they said in unison.
Looking up at the menu, I checked out the prices. Spaghetti bolognese wasn’t something I’d ever bought there before. “Here’s the money for for the Spaghetti bolognese” I replied, placing the cash on the counter.
Bill pushed it back.
“Forget it,” he replied, “and the taxi fare’s on us.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, astonished at their generosity.
Bill smiled. “ It was worth it for the entertainment value alone.” he sniggered.
Ever since that day I’ve only drunk alcohol AFTER a game.
Clive and Byron use to laugh at me for years afterwards, saying that I couldn’t take my drink. However around 20 years later when I visited Byron and when we started reminiscing about the game his wife recalled it well.
“They were both the same as you,” she told me. “ Neither of them remembered anything either.”