Since this is on my Tennessee web site, I thought I'd better clarify the title for my neighbors: this is about my trip to the United Kingdom, not the University of Kentucky. After being denied a Men's Rugby Tour to Ireland in 2002, I was fortunate enough to be asked to accompany my nephew Luc on this high school rugby tour.
Day 1 - July 25
Flight to Manchester from Chicago's O'Hare was a disaster. A six-hour delay for a seven-hour flight. We had navigational computer's overheating (it was 104 degrees), planes blocking our path, fueling delays, and a late thunderstorm over Detroit that queered our takeoff. Plus, there wasn't enough Jolly Ranchers to go around. Six pm scheduled flight finally left around midnight.
Day 2 - July 26 Manchester, England
Arrived very late, took the train from Manchester airport to Piccadilly Circus,
then walked several blocks to Hatter's Hostel. Hostels are like low-end hotels with shared showers and (sometimes) barracks-style accommodations. Coach Lou and I shared an "en suite" which is a slightly less musty room with it's own bathroom/shower combo. Had a "pub lunch" at The Millstone, walked around town a bit, then met up with Sonny's "grandmother" who emigrated here from Ghana in western Africa. Sonny's family fed us some traditional Ghanan food, then we took a bus back to the hostel.
Day 3 - July 27 Derby, England
7:00am run for the team, as a few missed curfew last night. Lou and I were good and didn't have to run. Bus was an hour late picking us up from Hatter's (I guess there are TWO Hatter's hostels in Manchester), and we left for the trip to Derby (pronounced dArby). The host families met us at the Derby RFC Clubhouse and I was paired with Kieran Murphy, on the DRFC "Vets." Kieran was selected for the All England U19 team back in the day, but later decided to take a professional contract in "League" rugby, which is slightly different than the version we play now. Anyway, he was a "professional" rugby player back in the 80's, and came back to play with DRFC after he retired. I met his lovely wife Sally briefly before we headed to "the local" (pub) to watch a live band and attend a beer festival. The best beer of the night was the Ginger Tosser, which I guess loosely translates into "redheaded masturbater." I think... Back at the house, thoroughly drunk, we finished the night with whiskey shots in the kitchen. Ouch.
Day 4 - July 28 Derby, England
The kids, staying with host families, decided to attend the Mattlock 10's Tournament. Lou had a work emergency back home in Chicago and spent the day on the phone and computer. I took an hour run out on the country pathway behind Kieran's house. We ordered my first-ever batch of fish and chips (chips are just french fries) with "mushy peas." Then Kieran took us to the veterans "local" where we met some other olde boys and closed the place down. I had mentioned earlier to Kieran and Sally that I didn't really care for Indian food (generically called 'currie' in England) so the old boys took us downtown to the currie restaurant at 3:00am. It was actually quite good; much better than the Indian food in Peoria. Don't remember when (or how) we got home....
Day 5 - July 29 Derby England
Today is match day and the U19 coaches for Derby have allowed us to run a joint practice session with them and their boys. It was quite interesting to see how other "real" rugby coaches work. Then we had a nice lunch in the clubhouse and prepared for the match. We ended up losing 22-12. The Captain was Luc Joseph and Man of the Match (MoM) was Dan Miller. Then we had our first real English rugby party in the clubhouse. It was awesome, with the requisite singing, chugging, boat races (relay chugging) and Zulu Warrior laps (naked around the field for the losers of the boat race).
Day 6 - July 30 London England
Met at Derby RFC in the morning, said goodbye to our hosts and climbed aboard the bus for London. Here we are staying at the Youth Hostel in Hyde Park. Probably about the same quality as Hatter's and Lou and I are again bunking in the same room. Went for a run and got lost. When I'm somewhere unfamiliar, I usually just run out for 30 minutes then back in for 30 minutes... but I missed my turnoff and ended up going way past the park. I asked a copper for directions back but she was just there as extra Olympic security and didn't know the streets any better than I did. I couldn't walk because I figured Lou and Nolan were waiting for me to come back. I ended up running for 2 straight hours before I found "home." Two of our players also got lost, and didn't arrive back until 3:30am. We had already called the hospitals and police when the boys decided to call back to the US. They had forgotten to put Coach Lou's phone number in their cells, so they called back home to have their parents call Lou.
Day 7 - July 31 London England
We started the day with a Peter Pan run, which was in Hyde Park. The largest of the boys started first, and received a head start based on weight. Luc (at 220 lbs) won the race. I came in last, but I didn't receive any age-based head start. Later we toured the Tower of London. Lou and I stopped off at the Austrian Olympic village party and had schnitzel and (of course) beer.
Day 8 - August 1 Ashford England
We left London for a short trip to Ashford, England, stopping at Twickenham Stadium on the way. Twickenham is home to England Rugby and the rugby museum. To me, this was the most fascinating stop. Twickenham holds 80,000 fans yet only has 18 policemen stationed inside during a match. Beer flows freely before, during and after the match, and there are 30 clubs, bars and restaurants inside, plus private corporate boxes. Fans are intermingled, with England fans sitting next to opposing fans, freely. Contrast that to Wembley Stadium (the big soccer complex in London). At Wembley they don't sell beer, there are 1200 cops on duty, and fans are separated in different sections of the stadium. We saw signs in some UK pubs that said you weren't allowed to wear your soccer team "colours" in the bar, lest a fight break out.
Anyway, we stayed tonight at the St James School for Boys. It's a private school that also boards 30 students in addition to the 550 who commute daily. Ben was a PE teacher at the school and rugby coach and treated us very well. We had a nice team dinner at the Italian restaurant, and Ben drove using the school vans to the match the next day.
Day 8 - August 2 Ashford England
Played against Middlesex in Match Two and won 54-14. Luc had three tries and was Man of the Match. Party broke off early as Middlesex was really just a thrown-together team from the county and some boys had to work the next day.
Day 9 - August 3 Caldicot Wales
Bus arrived for the trip to Wales, and on the way we stopped at Stonehenge. Pretty massive, pretty cool, but still mysterious. No one knows why they built it. Got some great pics tho. Arrived at the CRFC clubhouse and noticed that the field was a disaster.... it had been replanted (this is off-season for most UK rugby) and recently mowed. There were piles of grass the size of small cars out there, and no tractors in sight. Our team pitched in with the CRFC boys and used wheel barrows and the trunks of cars to tote the grass to the dumping zone at the end of the club. Then we had a beer. Or two. Or three. And a meal. Then we found out that CRFC hadn't been able to get 15 families to host (it's also vacation time in UK) so they cut us a deal at the local motel... except they were a room short. Anyway, it all worked out. I had a room to myself as Lou is married to a Welsh lady and he stayed with his wife at his mother-in-laws house.
Day 10 - August 4 Caldicot Wales
The CRFC boys picked us up at the motel and brought us to the clubhouse for a nice breakfast, then we walked about 8 blocks and toured Caldicot Castle grounds. Game started at 3pm, and it was our toughest match by far. We lost 17-15. Josue Saucedo was Captain and Sonny was MoM. Afterwards we had the usual rowdy rugby party, but then a DJ showed up with a huge sound system and lights, and they turned the CRFC clubhouse into a teen disco. About 40 local girls showed up in impossibly high heels and improbably short skirts and the party turned up two notches. Sonny was MoM but was busy hitting on some girl at the award time, so I had to stand in for him in the cider chugging contest against their MoM. I kicked his ass. And I got to wear the paper MoM crown all night, which was very stylish and becoming. Made some great friends with the CRFC guys and swapped some jerseys and ties and shirts. If we go to Ireland and Scotland next year, we may have to take a side trip back to Caldicot.
Day 11 - August 5 Bath England
Bus back to England where we stayed at the YMCA in Bath England. YMCA's are sort've like hostels in the UK. Lou was still in Wales so I had a solo room (yeah!)
Day 12 - August 6 Birmingham England (Sunehill)
Toured the Bath Rugby Club grounds and had a short practice in the morning (barefoot in the grass), then walked about Bath before catching the bus to Birmingham. Bath is a very pretty town. BRFC is trying to build a new stadium in downtown Bath but have to be very careful to match the surrounding architectural styles. I would visit Bath again, for sure. Lou rejoined us in Bath.
Day 13 - August 7 Birminghamg England
Arrived at the Old Edwardians RFC clubhouse. Here too, the hosting plan fell apart and they decided we could stay in the team clubhouse on air mattresses and sleeping bags. I volunteered to stay with the boys both nights, but ended up staying just the first night. Old Edwardians is the oldest rugby club outside of London, having been founded in 1882. They were called "Old" Edwardians because at first, they were a team made up of players who had attended the Kind Edward school in Birmingham. So basically, they started as a bunch of guys who wanted to keep playing together after high school.
Took a train into downtown Birmingham and lost another boy on the way back. This kid though, weighed 270 pounds, so we didn't worry about him being mugged, so much as just getting on the wrong train... which he did. We beat Old Edwardians 50-5. The Captain was Ray "Roy" Banak and MoM was Brock Johnson. About 5 families from Derby made the hour's drive over to watch the game and visit again, which was nice.
Day 14 - August 8 Falkirk Scotland
Back on the bus and up to Scotland, about an 8 hour ride (FYI, England is 50,000 square miles. Illinois is about 57,000 square miles). We stayed at the Boys Brigade, a military training institute, and were escorted around by Dougie, a Falkirk RFC coach. Ended up having Indian food again, and it's growing on me. Houses in Scotland seem a little different than in England.. more spaced out, slightly bigger. Went into Edinburgh on the train for a quick look-see, then back to Boys Brigade and a 60 minute run. Didn't get lost.
Day 15 - August 9 Falkirk Scotland
We won the match against Falkirk 71-5. The Captain was Kevin Lydon. The party was good, lotsa of singing, and two pretty Scottish girls had the rapt attention of 28 American ruggers for most of the night. As Luc said, there was alot of cock-blocking going on at the girls' table. Had to walk back to the Boys Brigade through the graveyard, across a swinging bridge and through a large park very late at night... drunk.... in cowboy boots.
Day 16 - August 10 Consett England
Bus came to Falkirk and dropped us off in Edinburgh for some serious shopping. I would have liked to tour Edinburgh Castle but there was a festival going on and the town was PACKED with tourists... worse than London during the Olympics. So we shopped and bought Luc his kilt. Drove back down into England, stopping at Hadrian's Wall, which is the English version of the Great Wall of China. Well, it's not that great, being only 75 miles long at it's best, but hey... we saw alot of old rocks in England. What's a couple more? Pulled into Consett and stayed at the YMCA there. It's right next to the police station (good) and two block from the Consett Rugby Club bar (bad).
Day 17 - August 11 Consett England
Had breakfast in the Y and lunch at The Demi (the bar owned by the Consett RFC), then boarded buses for Newcastle. We were playing the opening match before the Newcastle Falcon's professional rugby match, and it was pretty cool to be on that field that day. No other teams had ever played there except Newcastle and their professional opponents. We beat Consett about 39-19 I think... things were starting to get fuzzy this late in the tour. The Director of Rugby (head coach) for Newcastle came to our party and awarded to Man of the Match trophies. Had a nice dinner then headed back to the Demi for the FINAL PARTY....
Details of this final party shall not be written here. Suffice it to say, there are 16 pubs & clubs within walking distance of The Demi and Consett Y. Let's just say it was good to be next to the police station. Let's just say, we were lucky to make our 5:00am wake up call the next day....
Day 18 - August 12 Manchester Airport
6:00am bus pickup and two hour drive to Manchester. Much better flight home, no delays.