Wasps Legends at Ventnor Rugby Club 14th May 2011


Wasps Legends at Ventnor Rugby Club 14th May 2011

By James Morton

It all began in September 2010 with an email from Steve Camm in Guernsey.  For those unlucky enough not to know him, Steve represented Ventnor with great distinction (both on and off the pitch) in the 80s before he moved to the Channel Islands in 1998 to set up the international side of his London-based company, Hiscox, a syndicate of Lloyd’s. Steve was a good friend of Brian ‘Kezzy’ Queru who had long links with Wasps on the insurance side and, in his role as the retired skipper of Guernsey RFC, had brought the Wasps Legends over to Guernsey for a charity game. Steve immediately thought of his Alma Mata, Ventnor.

I was treasurer at the time so I sat down with Stuart Babington (chairman) and we decided to see where it would take us. We realised straight away that this would have to be totally self-financing and that we would have to satisfy certain assurances that the Legends needed before committing to anything – namely funded travel, board and lodgings and a match-day meal etc.

As he was already primed by Steve and Kezzy, I got in touch with Pete Scrivener (the main organiser of all things Wasps Legends) and we settled on a potential date. This was a classic chicken and egg situation because the first thing we needed to do was to find somewhere for the Legends to stay before we could honestly commit at our end.

Wasps Legends at Ventnor Rugby Club 14th May 2011

We knew we had to keep it local so I started making phone calls with a certain pessimism. Who would want thirty or more rugby players for one night in mid-May, thus blocking out any longer stays?

However, I struck gold with Kathy Sharp at the Old Park in St Lawrence. Encouraged by the charity aspect of the venture, Kathy agreed to provide a set lunch on the Saturday plus bed and breakfast for £30 per person! Amazing! I jumped in my car with a confirmation letter and a personal cheque for £1000 before she could change her mind!

So now Babz and I were able to push the green light. Once confirmed with Pete Scrivener, my first call was to Steve to thank him for giving us this great opportunity. The next day £1,500 arrived in VRFC’s bank account from Hiscox’s in Guernsey accompanied by an email from Steve saying simply, “this will get you started!”. Again, amazing!

By this time Babz had started his big planning sheet! His experience of events was vital at this stage. He understood all the potential hurdles such as the requirement for traffic plans, risk assessments, charity and raffle registrations, etc..

One immediate problem was going to be parking so he came up with the concept of a ‘park-and-ride’ scheme from the Middle School and we made contact with Southern Vectis to put this in place. Another issue was that of the post-match meal. T

raditionally the Legends are wined and dined in the host clubrooms or marquees in a similar way to the way that Ventnor cricket club used to entertain the visiting Lashings teams. We knew we couldn’t do this. It just didn’t feel like Ventnor RFC!

So we hit on the idea of the hog-roast. Part of the Legends requirement was that they be allowed exclusive access to the clubhouse for twenty minutes after the game for their court session. Using the hog-roast, we felt that we could feed them at that point too which would allow more time for drinking and interaction. We made contact with the Isle of Wight Bacon Company, got a quote and set a price for the public that basically paid for the Wasps meal. Result!

The next problem was getting the Wasps down to the Island. Contacting South-West trains, I did the best deal that I could find to get them from Waterloo to the Harbour.

Wightlink stepped in with the cross-Solent fares and I managed to persuade Islandline to provide the onward journey to Shanklin for free.

Any novice accountant will tell you there are two simple ways to improve your bottom line. The first one is by bringing more income: the second is to spend less. Babz and I were definitely working in the latter category!

One factor that helped us greatly in these negotiations was our choice of charities. Normally the Legends support rugby’s Wooden Spoon charity but Babz felt that it would be preferable if we could raise funds for causes closer to our own hearts. Thus, with Pete Scrivener’s permission, we chose The Richard Engelgardt Foundation and St Catherines School.

Richard, the brother of our very own Billy-Bob, had recently been paralysed in a scrum training accident at his home club, Birstall RFC in Leicestershire, and the foundation had been set up to assist him.

St Catherines in Ventnor is a residential special school for young people suffering from primary speech and language disorders. Babz and I were given a show-round which was nothing less than inspiring.

By selecting these ‘close-to-home’ causes, we were able to appeal more directly to local companies so, while Babz settled in to all the governance issues, I started chasing sponsorship. With the main elements now covered – lodgings, transport and catering – we were able to start quantifying our requirement which we calculated at around £3000.

So I went looking for tranches of £250.  Steve Camm and Hiscox had taken me halfway there already so I was looking for six more.  Wightlink – through Kerry Cooley – were straight on board.

Glanvilles Legal Services, Northwood Mazda and Gully Howard Estate Agents also came in immediately.  

Susan Scoccia – a former mayor of Ventnor – and her husband, Felice, came in with their Beretta UK Sales company.  Roger Evans brought in the ever-supportive Pete Groundsell and another great friend of the club, Chris Welsford, arrived with a cheque from his company, Ayres Punchard Investment Management Ltd.

Additionally Biz and Maggie at Signpost Express agreed to look after signage and posters gratis and Bookers in Sandown would assist by supplying plastic glasses etc..

So basically we were there and more – until Babz identified a few other requirements such as security and the need for fencing around the entire pitch. So we had to find just a little more. It just so happened that we were at a gathering at Billybob’s and Kay’s (was that the occasion of the Rev Warren Riches wedding watched online from Holland?).

Tony Flower was present and I mentioned my cash shortage.  The next day he was on the case and, hey-presto, Mountjoy Construction weighed in with a further £250.  We have some very impressive people connected to this great club of ours!

We also approached the Ventnor Rotary Club in the person of Allan Scovell. Alan told us that they couldn’t sponsor us directly but would be delighted to provide a generous raffle prize of £250. This was a superb gesture and meant that the raffle would have real appeal.

While all this was going on, it was daunting to remember that we had to put out a team to face these Legends. And Legends was the right word to describe them. World Cup winners Josh Lewsey and Andy Gomarsall were on the list as well as Scotland’s Kenny Logan and Andy Reed (who had faced down the haka for the Lions before the first test against New Zealand in 1993). Rob Henderson (who, with Brian O’Driscoll, made such a potent centre pairing for the Lions in Australia in 2001) was also in the squad and, in addition, there were full internationals such as Will Green and Rob Lozowski. Simon Shaw was on the very first list but dropped out early.

Despite the obvious disappointment, I was inwardly relieved: I wasn’t at all sure how he’d have coped with The Old Park’s bunk beds! To counter this array of talent, Babz and I set Nigel Malkin the task of raising a team worthy of the occasion – not helped by the Legends insistence that it had to be veterans’ game.

Obviously, every player approached jumped at the chance so it wasn’t difficult to gather a squad.  Getting them into shape and performing as a cohesive whole was another matter entirely so special training sessions under the ever-present Dave Ball began.

We eventually managed to get special dispensation to allow us to bring in a few of our ‘experienced’ current players and even a youth player – Sam Lines.

A special shirt was designed for the occasion and each player had to buy their own. Babz and Nigel considered it only politic to invite one player from Wootton and from the Hurricanes so Nick Puckett and ???? Edmonson were called up.

Another matter was finding a referee suitable for the profile of the match – someone to be respected by all on the field who also had a feel for the occasion. Billy-Bob had the answer and invited his friend David Rose – a current premiership official. He also found our two linesmen, Alex Murphy from the RFU and Neil Gadsby. With this trio, we could be assured of some amusement throughout the day.

We felt we definitely lacked the experience of organising this kind of high profile event and, as we wished to bring in as much money as possible for the two charities, we sought advice from Ventnor Cricket Club in the form of Graeme Burnett and the late, larger-than-life John Hilsum.

With their track record of the Lashings events, they were able to put us right before we made the standard mistakes and were a guiding hand throughout. With their advice, we set the ticket price at £5 which would include the park and ride from the Middle School.  We got the tickets printed and Andrew Cooper set up a sales outlet from our website. In addition, we also approached Jeff Hose who kindly agreed that his Hose, Rhodes and Dickson estate agent offices would act as retail outlets. In this way we just about covered the whole Island.

Meanwhile, as Babz worked his way through the tedious red tape (no doubt with help from Nolan Winter), I began to put the programme together and selling enough advertising to cover the costs. I think we knew that there would be changes up to the eleventh hour so held off going to print until the last moment.We began planning the day itself.

Apart from the hog-roast, we arranged to have a burger van plus an ice cream outlet on site.  Babz suggested we needed a bar at each corner so we asked Yates Brewery if we could borrow their outside equipment. These bars would be bottle only and to make things really simple we made everything a set price. Babz also organised the fencing around the pitch, a scaffolding commentary and camera tower and the security cover – all supplied by W H Brading and Sons.

We realised that the football club could be a potential issue so we sat down with the then-patron, Ray Parsons. We were nervous that Ray would allow all and sundry into the Ventnor FC clubhouse and on the bank and thus dilute the income for the event. However, he was surprisingly compliant considering the niggles that existed between the two clubs and we came away pretty pleased.

As we moved into May, we began making a lot of noise about the event. Supplied by Biz and Maggie at Signpost Express, Ventnor Town Council allowed us to hoist a banner above Ventnor High Street.

We took out a big advert in the County Press which both pushed the event and thanked all our sponsors and the late Keith Newberry featured the day in his excellent weekly column – and just about everybody read his column at the time. I did a piece for Isle of Wight Radio and they also allowed me to do a thirty-second advert which was played many times a day.

Coincidentally it transpired that Andy Gomarsall was a patron of St Catherines School since his sister had attended there. Thus it was no problem to get him to speak to Isle of Wight Radio and plug the event.

As the week of the event began, we were nervously looking at the weather reports. Everything appeared good apart from – naturally – Saturday 14th May! Rain! Would everybody’s hard work be washed away?

Notwithstanding this, at Watcombe Bottom preparations began. W H Brading set up the barriers around the pitch whilst John Smith of JMC Hire provided a line of portaloos to cope with demand. The commentator’s scaffold tower was erected and Tony Flower cunningly brought an electrical feed from the lighting stanchion to power the PA system. Tony was appointed Site Manager and did a brilliant job both before and during the day. He took a lot of pressure off the rest of us.

It was now time to finalise the programme. We were quite pleased with the page for autographs which carried the following caveat. “If any Ventnor player won’t sign, it’s not rudeness. It’s just that he cannot write!” I was trying to keep pace with the personnel changes – both for the Wasps and for Ventnor. ??? Edmondson had to pull out at the last moment so, in his place, we invited Ricky Harris. Obviously, I had no photos of him so, against his name, I just put a picture of a skip lorry! I think the programme went to print on the Wednesday evening.

On Thursday I was able to pick them up from Beardsalls in Shanklin! Toby Beardsall had set his machine running overnight and, bingo, there they were! It gave us time to get some sent up to Pete Scrivener so that the Legends could have a signing session on their journey down. Even at such a late date there were still changes occurring.

With this in mind we had planned to produce a simple folded A4 sheet to slip into the programme which Beardsalls turned round on the morning of the game. This was a really useful tool since we had a raft of changes. Among the final withdrawals were Rob Henderson and Damian Cronin which was a real shame.

The evening before the game, we all met up in the Buddle Inn for a last-minute parley. It was great to meet David Rose, Neil Gadsby and Alex Murphy. Richard Engelgardt was also there and his presence made us even more determined to make the next day one to remember.

The day eventually arrived. I finished off the stop-press insert sheet, rushed down to Beardsalls and Toby turned it round immediately. By the time I got to the ground, it was already a hive of activities. The club had really risen to the occasion and our volunteers were hard at work stocking the bars, sorting the tickets, organising the raffle and arranging the concession stalls. St Catherines, who had been wonderfully proactive throughout, had a stall selling all sorts of stuff and spreading the word. There was a real buzz about the place – especially as the weather gods seemed to like what we were doing. It was overcast but warm and – more importantly – dry.

While all this was going on, the Wasps were making their way down. Billy-Bob volunteered to greet them at Portsmouth harbour as they got off the Waterloo train. He would guide them onto the Wightlink FastCat (Babz and I were praying he wouldn’t ‘guide’ them onto the Gosport ferry instead – sorry Bob!) and shepherd them all the way to Shanklin station where Zoe Wilmot-Amies (now Jones) was also on hand to usher them onwards.

There Babz had organised Southern Vectis’s vintage bus to relay them onto The Old Park in St Lawrence where Kathy had arranged a quick lunch of spaghetti bolognaise.

Also greeting them at the hotel was our late, great patron, Cliff Morgan. Knowing his love of all things British and Irish Lions, Rog Evans had arranged a photo shoot for him with Josh Lewsey and Andy Reed which Andrew Cooper Photography undertook. It was a great thrill for the Wasps themselves to meet such a titan of the game.

Meanwhile back at Watcombe, the gates had officially opened at 11:30. I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally I found it quite an emotional moment when the first of Babz’s park-and-ride buses starting pulling into the carpark (now the football carpark) and disgorging dozens of excited spectators. We had positioned a volunteer on each bus to sell match tickets which saved time while Tristan ‘Beast’ Price and Ian Collins patrolled the gate itself. There were no troubles!

The bars were soon doing excellent trade, the burger van was smoking and the hog-roast was crackling (sic!). I was terrified that the hog-roasters would forget their arrangement and sell everything too soon so I constantly reminded them of the fact they had to keep some back for the Wasps for after the game!

On the pitch – assisted by his son Guy and Tobias Penner – Ady Entwistle was conducting auditions for the kicking contest that was going to be a feature of the match halftime break. It all looked pretty chaotic and the skills on show ranged from the ridiculous to the utterly hopeless with flip-flops flying in all directions, but Ady oversaw it with his usual good humour that kept everybody amused while we waited for the arrival of the Wasps themselves. Meanwhile, Ady’s wife, Imelda was setting up her cameras. As Andrew Cooper was filming the game, I had asked her to take as many shots as she could. Some of her work brilliantly illustrates this piece.

Less edifying was the obvious realisation that Ray Parsons was wilfully reneging on our agreement! The football club and the immediate bank below it were soon filling up with invited freeloaders which was doing lots for the coffers of Ventnor FC and doing providing a big fat zero for the charities! There was nothing we could do but grind our teeth and think unpleasant thoughts!

The Wasps and their vintage bus arrived at about 13:30. As they filed towards the club, they were literally mobbed by the crowd. I picked out Pete Scrivener and shook his hand. It was great to meet him at last after so many phone conversations.

With Tony Flower patrolling the door, we’d kept the clubhouse entirely free so that they could have full use of it. I gave Scrivs a quick show round whilst the Legends mingled with the crowd, signing autographs and posing for photos. It was great to see Steve Camm at the ground and to be able to buy him a drink for setting the ball rolling and supporting it in the way that he did.

With Ady’s kicking competition finalists decided, focus on the pitch turned to an under 10s fixture between Vectis and Portsmouth. It was a great game which provided a marvellous advert for youth rugby. It is fun to look back at that Vectis team and see some of the names – Dominic Marsh, Robert Newton, Louis Malkin to name but three! At the final whistle Vectis had prevailed and the two teams left the pitch to appreciative applause.

Soon afterwards the Wasps came onto the pitch for an alarmingly vigorous warm-up. I had arranged to do a pre-match interview with the three big stars – namely Josh Lewsey, Andy Gomarsall and Kenny Logan.

Accordingly, I interrupted their warm-up and brought them into a booth made up of sponsors’ boards supplied by Biz and Maggie while Andrew set up his camera and microphone.

Well out of my comfort zone, I asked some jokey nebulous question about the contrast of preparation between playing against Ventnor and a full international. Lewsey and Gomarsall immediately turned on Logan, claiming that – as he played for Scotland – he had never played in a proper international and, after that, the interactive banter was so good I don’t think I had to say another word!

At this time the Ventnor squad arrived. In order to keep the clubhouse clear for the Wasps, they had changed at the Middle School and, rather incongruously, arrived in Warren Riches’ Shanklin Auctions removal van! Once disgorged, I have to say, they looked pretty smart in their especially commissioned kit.

About now, I encountered my first niggle of the day. A mandatory element of Babz’s onerous health and safety red tape was the appointment of a third party safety officer for the day.

Now, this gentleman was approaching his task with admirable enthusiasm and was refusing to allow our commentator, Adam Pratt snr, access to the commentator’s level on the scaffold tower. “The man is too inebriated to be allowed on a raised platform,” says he. In desperation I countered with, “I don’t see it as a problem really. The four Newcastle Browns he’s already consumed, plus the two he is carrying, are simply to lubricate his vocal chords. Anyway, he always walks like that!” That, remarkably, seemed to appease him and Adam unsteadily ascended!

The moment finally arrived and the Wasps emerged from the changing rooms each accompanied by a mascot looking very smart in their especially commissioned tee shirts supplied by Nathan Ricketts at Marghams. Rosey called the captains together and we were off. Maybe it was Kathy’s spag’ bol’ at The Old Park, but it was obvious that Ventnor were the better team for all of three minutes by which time we took the lead with a well struck penalty by Glen Hepburn. This woke the Wasps up and it was just one-way traffic after that. The three-star names – Lewsey, Gomarsall and Logan – showed their class throughout, bringing gasps of appreciation from a crowd that ringed the entire pitch.

After Ventnor’s shock advantage, the Wasps hit back almost immediately with a try from Gomarsall after a dummy from the back of an attacking scrum. Straightaway they followed this up when Logan rescued a stuttering move with a terrific cross-field run, dummied Gary Freeston (who looked to the sky in frustration) before passing out of the back of the tackle from Lee Venier. Lewsey carried the ball on, committed Dave Martin and put Will Green over in the corner.

Then Lewsey fed Shane Roisier for another try followed by regular one-way traffic which culminated in five more tries for the Wasps, including two from Tim Warren that earned him their man of the match award. The pace of the Wasps matched the speed of their thought and the quick changes of the direction had the Ventnor players’ heads spinning. However, the commitment of the home side never wavered. Just before half-time, Mark Rogers came on – in a Wasps shirt – which surprised many of the spectators!

Halftime gave Ventnor a chance to regroup. It also gave Ady the opportunity to finish off his kicking competition accompanied by a suitably raucous commentary from Adam. It was all great value. The raffle tickets were selling well (boosted by the £250 first prize donated by Ventnor Rotarians). However, the presence of the football club crowd was still irksome – particularly to my wife Paula. “Bugger this for a game of soldiers,” she said and stormed up the bank armed with a books of raffle tickets and literally shamed the people up there to buy them. She didn’t return until all the tickets were gone!

The second half was more even. In fact the Wasps only ‘won’ it by two tries to one, the first of which was scored by Josh Lewsey that probably got the biggest cheer of the day – even bigger than the one that greeted the Ventnor try, scored by Nigel Malkin under the posts. The fact that he was almost ushered to the line by some would-be Wasps tacklers should not detract from a great moment in Ventnor’s history. Warren Riches converted.

It was a deserved score considering how close Ventnor had come to a try during the half. Graham Simler had been stopped just short of the line, Lee Venier had knocked on as he was tackled in the act of scoring and Ben Cooper, set free after an excellent break from Babz, had only been stopped by a brilliant last-ditch tackle from Gomarsall.

Finally, Rosey, who had reffed the game with a light touch that kept play flowing throughout, blew the final whistle and the crowd surged onto the pitch to congratulate both teams. Despite a hardish pitch and the ferocity of the contest, only one minor injury was reported, that of Allan Wells (“Logan got me!”).

After a quick change, Babz led the awards ceremony from the scaffold tower.

For Ventnor, Gary Freeston received the Wightlink man of the match award from Kerry Cooley whilst Tom Wells – almost inevitably – found himself handing over the Black Dog Badge to the inestimable Nolan Winter.

Tim Warren was man of the match for the Legends whilst Norm Bloom took the Black Dog.

After that the Wasps retired for their private court session which I was privileged to attend. Fifty pints and fifty shorts were laid out and distributed to anyone who had transgressed the Legends’ arbitrary laws. Scrivs himself was found guilty of some minor crime and was called upon to drink the number of pints equal to the modes of transport the Legends had travelled in that day. As this number was five (taxi, train, ferry, underground train and bus), I have to report that he struggled!

When we emerged, the crowd was thinning rapidly; the only niggle being that Southern Vectis seemed to knock off their park and ride duties a tad early, leaving several spectators stranded. We managed to get most lifts but one or two resorted to walking. Not happy!

Then it was into the club for a beer or more. I don’t remember too much about it but I have a distinct recollection of being in a small ring of guys singing their heads off in time-honoured fashion and looking up to see Andy Gomarsall and Andy Reed in the ring and in full voice. It was a slightly surrealistic moment. Here? In Ventnor?! Brilliant.

Another clear memory is of Logan, Lewsey and Gomarsall on a table singing to the massed crowd while I tried to prise my camera out of my bum-bag to take a movie. By this time Bill Gee had long stopped his money relay service so all cash was coming my way. My bum-bag was so stuffed with twenty-pound notes, I only just got my camera out in time to film Babz leaping onto the table and scattering the three world-famous rugby players in his wake. I think he felt they weren’t doing the song full justice!

The evening eventually drew to a close and the club room eventually emptied as the Wasps headed back to The Old Park.  It had been a great day and, perhaps against expectation, the Wasps had really enjoyed the informality of the event. For instance the hog-roast during their riotous court session made a welcome change to the usual, more formal tradition of sitting at tables with the great and the good of the host clubs.  More than one of them admitted to me that it took them back to the good old days their early club careers.

Post script.  As the sun came up the next morning, I was back at the club cleaning up. The football club were due to have a car boot sale and my faith in all things VFC had been mortally wounded and I was determined not to leave anything of value out in open.  It took five hours and a great number of black bags.  I will admit that I took a certain gratuitous delight in filling the VFC’s bins to overflowing!

We did the big count the next day and I took forty-five minutes to pay it in at the local HSBC! The upshot of it all was that we were able to hand over £4000 to each of St Catherines and to Richard Engelgardt. It was a terrific effort by everyone connected to the club and Babz and I settled down to write thank-you letters to everyone who had helped.  The letters numbered in excess of a hundred.

A few days later we were able to hand over £4000 to each of the two charities. For a small venue, it was a pretty impressive outcome and speaks highly of the will and togetherness of this great club of ours.