I have great memories of the Gloucester Tour of Canada in 1980. It was the first overseas tour organised by the legendary Mike Burton. He was so pleased with our extended hospitality, that he held a special farewell dinner for both Clubs’ leadership in one of Toronto’s top restaurants. He also played a game for the Toronto Lions 3rd Team and was almost sent off! Sadly, the Toronto Lions RFC folded in 2003, but I still have all the Club archives. So, this morning I dug out the autographed Gloucester “Tour Party Profile” of that memorable Tour, which you might find interesting. Gloucester’s Jim Delaney came back to Toronto a couple of years later and played for Canada against an England XV at Twickenham, while playing for us. He stayed here permanently, married a Canadian girl and is still one of my good friends.
This brings me to a terrific Rugby story directly related to this great Tour. I have extracted it from the Lions chapter of a mini-autobiography that I wrote a few years ago, which I think is worth sharing with all Rugby players:
The Lions were always a very sociable group, but never had their own Clubhouse. We utilised a number of Pubs as headquarters over the years; and post-game drink-ups were held in various backyards, usually mine! In fact, the Lions became the extended family we didn’t have in Canada. We hosted many incoming Tours, the most memorable of which was the fabulous 1980 Tour by Gloucester RFC. Gloucester won the championship of England in the 1979-80 Season. The game was still amateur back then, so as a reward, the Club sponsored a four-week Tour to Ontario (organised by legendary former Gloucester and England prop Mike Burton) and they brought two full Teams over. The Lions were chosen as their first opposition, for two “easy” warm-up games. In fact, we scored tries against both Teams and were the only Club to score any tries against them. Even the Ontario Provincial side failed to cross their line! We organised so many successful social events for them in the few days we had them, that in their last week here they came back to us for a few more, including a huge dance at a downtown Night Club and a lunch/bun-fight at the Chelsea Inn! As a reward for the Lions, Mike Burton organised and paid for a memorable farewell dinner for the two committees in a private room at the elegant “Simpson’s in the Strand” restaurant, under the Duke of Westminster Pub (unfortunately, long gone). As a result of all this, a string of events occurred later (not in the Official Club History), that I never get tired of recounting; and which really exemplifies the great universal spirit of the sport of Rugby:
I decided to visit England in the autumn of 1983 (I hadn’t been back in 17 years), and one Monday we were having lunch in a small Pub in Bourton-On-The-Water, in the Cotswold Hills, not far from Gloucester. An older couple across the room kept staring at us and eventually he came over and spoke to me. He said: “My son (John Brain) got a windbreaker like that when they went on a Rugby Tour to Canada a few years ago, where did you get yours?” I told him that I was President of the Toronto Lions and he immediately invited us to lunch the next day at the “York House” Pub in Gloucester that he ran. When we arrived, the bar was empty, but the barmaid asked who we were and then ushered us into a back room. We were shocked to find the entire Gloucester Committee and their wives all lined up applauding us! Not only did we have a great lunch, but the next day they took us to the Cheltenham Races and to a Wednesday night Rugby Game against their arch-enemies, the powerful Pontypool. The first scrum turned into a fist-fight and both hookers (Gloucester’s Kevin White) were sent off, but true to form, both sides were very sociable in the Players’ Bar afterwards, where we were also allowed in to eat with the players (a rare honour). In a surprise move, Mike Teague grabbed me from behind and swung me all around the bar.
The following summer the Lions had a couple of games at Burlington, Ontario, one Saturday and in one game, one of our players (a young exchange student from France) severely injured his neck making an open field tackle. Fortunately, there were two paramedics on the Burlington team, who had arrived in their ambulance. They immediately rushed him to hospital, where he was immobilised in a large metal frame packed with sandbags. I visited him there the next day to see how he was and make arrangements to inform his employers. On the way back, I was driving past the Burlington ground, when I saw a Rugby ball soar way up in the air. Curious, I went in and found that a game had just started between a Niagara Select Side and Pontypool. Pontypool had seven Internationals in the pack alone, so it was no contest.
I was in the bar afterwards when the Pontypool Coach came over and said: “Didn’t I see you in the Gloucester Players’ Bar last year?” He said that it was so unusual to see an outsider in there, that he remembered me. I said yes and told him where I had just come from today. He immediately blew a whistle and made the whole Team line up and sign a Program. The next day, he went to the hospital with two legendary Welsh International stars, prop Graham Price and hooker Bobby Windsor, where they presented our injured player with the Program and an autographed Rugby ball. He said later, that it was the proudest moment of his life. He was in the hospital for three months and wore a huge neck-brace for another 12 months, but made a complete recovery, thanks to the prompt action of the two Burlington players.
This series of events could only happen in Rugby circles, proving the old saying: Rugby is not just a Sport, it’s a way of life! You can walk into a Rugby bar anywhere in the World and be instantly accepted.