125th Articles (7)
Wednesday afternoon rugby nowadays is mainly the preserve of schools, universities and armed forces but for a brief period back in the 1960s Plymouth Argaum had its own midweek side. As part of our 125th Year Celebrations we take a look at the story behind The Plymouth Argaum Barbarians, a side drawn together from all sections of society to play this great game of ours. Part 1 looks at the side's origins and its first tough season.
At the start of the 1960s Plymouth Argaum was a club on the up. Having recently moved to their new ground at Bickleigh Down and with a new clubhouse that was the envy of many clubs, they were running 4 senior Saturday sides and 2 Colts sides as well as accomodating local rivals DHSOB RFC at the facility. The proposal to have a midweek rugby side appears to have been first suggested at the club's 1961 AGM and then continued to be discussed through the club's Anniversary Year in 1962.
The idea came about because at that time shops had half day closing on a Wednesday to compensate workers who had to work on a Saturday. There were evidently some players who were unable to play on a Saturday due to work committments but would be available on a Wednesday afternoon. That was also the day when most of the city-based Armed Forces would also play and with plenty of ships dropping into Devonport there would be no shortage of opposition.
The club was too busy for the venture to take off during their 75th Anniversary Year but during that time a volunteer was identified to take charge of the running of the team. Ken Pooley, who had experience both as a player and a manager in the post-war years, seemed like the perfect candidate for the job.
The idea to call the team The Plymouth Argaum Barbarians is thought to be based on the fact that there was a pre-war rugby club that also played in midweek, The Devon Barbarians. The club was Plymouth based and as well as playing local armed forces also included fixtures against the likes of Exeter and Blundell's School, Plymouth City Police, Penzance, Okehampton and Taunton Barbarians. The club's pursuits also extended to cricket, rowing, tennis, shooting, billiards, swimming and water-polo. As can be seen from a 1933-34 club fixture card, the latter two activities were in the capable hands of one Harold Sloggett, an Argaum stalwart during that decade who no doubt recruited players from his Saturday club.
A Tough Opening Season 1962-63
There were only eight fixtures on the published fixture card for 1962-63 but by the time the season got underway many more opponents had been found. The Barbarians first match was against HMS Lion at Bickleigh Down on September 12th 1962. The result was not a surprise as the powerful Navy side dominated against an inexperienced Argaum side. Undaunted, the side travelled across the Tamar to Torpopint to take on a combined HMS Raleigh/HMS Fisgard side 'Fisleigh' the following Wednesday. Argaum once again failed to troubled the scoreboard but showed a marked improvement before succumbing by 8 points. Their first points for the fledgling side were registered in a 13-3 reverse at Brickfields against Royal Naval Hospital and a 'fine John Bolland drop-goal' gave the Barbarians the same total at the same venue on October 3rd, Reserve Fleet this time running oput the winners 27-3. Interestingly, one of the try scorers for Reserve Fleet was one W. Annandale and it would be a remarkable coincidence if it wasnt the same Bill Annandale who became steward at Argaum some 20 years later.
The team's fortune's changed on October 10th when they registered their first win in only their 5th outing, beating RAF Mount Batten by 13 points to 6 at Bickleigh Down. A match report from the time recorded that 'the Barbarians pack showed a great improvement in the loose and lines-out'. The home side tries came from Spiller, Bolland and Kittle whilst debutant wing-forward Peter Seamarks made a good impression and converted two of the tries. The full line-up for that game was P.Seamarks, C.Harding, T.Potts, H.Napp, J.Lewis; J.Bolland, S.Fisher; T.Stevens, P.Howell, W.Taylor,R.Earl, A.Kittle, R.Younge, C.Spiller, P.Carson.
Two narrow defeats followed 3-6 to HMS Adamant and 3-9 to RAF Mount Batten who gained revenge for a fortnight earlier. In drizzly conditions it was Mount Batten's front row forwards who dominated the occasion and Argaum's response was limited to a try from center Napp after a forward 'foot-rush'. Next up at Bickleigh Down was a team assembled from the crew of the destroyer HMS Decoy who had hitherto won 5 of their opening 6 matches. It was no surprise that Argaum became their seventh victims with an 11-nil scoreline which doesn't tell the whole story. The Navy side took advantage of the slope and the wind in the first half to build up an 8 point interval lead. The second period saw numerous attacks from the hosts but they lacked the finishing power top get back into the match and it was Decoy who scored a further touchdown. From the match report it appeared that there were a number of positives from an improved perfromance and two newcomers - prop-forward Ivor James and ex-Blundell's centre Clive Mumford 'looked useful additions to Barabarians growing strength.'
There followed a return fixture with RN Hospital on 7th November and Argaum improved on the result of their first encounter in a narrow 3-5 loss. Bolland kicked a penalty goal but Argaum failed to capitalise on good ball produced by their tight forwards and in particular Ivor Jones, now installed at hooker. The story of squandered opportunities continued when their next opponents HMS Plymouth won by the only try (and score) of the game. Scoring wasn't a problem with the return against HMS Fisleigh as the Barabarians scored a try by Terry Stevens, converted by Mumford, whilst full-back Bolland knocked over another penalty goal. Unfortunately the Fisleigh side contained greater speed and run in 7 tries for a 27-8 victory.
Argaum's scoring continued with a flourish in a morale-boosting 22-5 win over Plymouth School of Navigation at Roborough on November 28th. For once enjoying superiority up front they also controlled the midfield through Tony Potts and Clive Mumford. The centre pairing were able to put the elusive wing Huch Napp in for a hat-trick of tries with Mumford adding a try of his own and converting two others. The try scoring was completed with one each for Alan Kittle and Terry Stevens. 1962 finished on a disappointing note with both December fixtues lost against HMS Diana 0-9 and HMS Decoy 0-20.
The winter of 1962-63 was the coldest of the 20th century and became known as The Big Freeze as the weather disrupted the country and put paid to many sporting fixtures throughout December and January. The Barbarians were no exception and it was February 13th before they were back in action at familiar opponents HMS Fisleigh. The two month absence had clearly taken its effect on fitness as Argaum lost two players who had been suffering from flu. The Torpoint based side sportingly loaned two players at half time but they ran out worthy winners by 28 points to 8 against an Argaum side for whom Younge was the try scorer, the ever reliable boot of Bolland converting and adding a penalty. It seems that Argaum were really struggling to shake off the effects of a harsh winter with a 42-3 thumping by HMS Drake although they did get back on track in the following match against Plymouth School Of Navigation. The match ended all square at 11-11 and for Argaum Bolland should he wasn't just a kicking machine with a brace of tries to add to that of Harding, the extras supplied by Avis.
The Barbarians ranks were enhanced when first-teamer Rip Kirby (later to play for Plymouth Albion) joined them for another tussle with RAF Mount Batten. Kirby must have enjoyed the experience, if not the result (3-11), running in for a try. Heavy rain and a strong wind limited the opportunities for both sides in a close encounter with Reserve Fleet who scored the only try of the game in a 5-nil win. Half backs Penny and Stuart Fisher (returning from holiday) 'tried hard to open the game up' and ensured that the score was closer than their last meeting. There was nothing close about the next scoreline when a super-fit 41 Commando arrived on March 20th and racked up 45 points. Argaum, whose ranks were depleted, scored 13 of their own with tries from Flanagan, Lewis and Kirby, who also added a conversion.
A 3rd and final win of the season came the following week against HMS Tiger with an Alan Stevens try, converted by Avis. The same opponents were much strengthened for the return encounter a fortnight later and ran out convincing winners by 20 points to nil. The season was brought to a close with an inter-club match against Argaum Extras, for whom Bill Ryan shone at scrum-half, Peter Seamarks' dropped-goal the only Ba-bas score in a 24-3 defeat.
Looking back on the first season the remarkable thing is that despite two months lost to the bad weather 22 games were still played with a record of P22 W3 L18 D1 Pts99-347. For a fledgling side against some very tough opposition this was by no means a disaster and they would hope to build on that the following season.
A Marked Improvement: 1963-64
The season opened on September 4th at Manadon against RNEC IV and Barbarians improved playing resources meant that the published line-up included two reserves; C. McGill, J.Lewis, C.Mumford, P.Chapple, T.Potts, A.Paget(capt), C.Peters; J.Curtin, P.Keddell, P.Howell, C.Vittle, R.Earl, P.Carson, R.Yonge, R.Evans; Res: R.Laramie, W.Taylor. After trailing 8 nil at one point, Argaum staged a great come back playing up the slope and tries from Chapple and Potts both converted by McGill gave them a 10-8 opening day victory. RAF Mount Batten, also in their second season, were the first visitors to Bickleigh Down but they were a much improved outfit and ran away comfortable winners with 17 unanswered points. John Bolland returned at full back and had a good outing but influentuial centre Clive Mumford played on after receiving slight concussion which left Argaum exposed defensively. Plymouth School Of Navigation, another side that the Barbarians had beaten last term, also found the going easier when they visited Roborough a week later. Gaining the upper hand in the loose, they scored 3 tries, whilst the home side could only manage one through John Bolland, Kirby kicking a penalty and conversion in a 6-16 reverse. Worse was to come result-wise the following week when they were outpaced by HMS Adamant, although it was a much more disciplined performance from Argaum who lacked the speed to finish off the many chances which they created. Peter Carson scored Argaum's only try in 3-24 defeat.
The pattern changed on October 16th as the Ba-bas defence restricted Plymouth & District Technical College to a single try and won the game 6-5 through a Bolland drop goal and Potts try. Seven days later and a fifth home game in a row should have seen another Argaum win but in the end 12 points were shared equally with Royal Naval Hospital. Once again it was a Bolland drop goal and Potts try but there was an honourable mention for big second-row forward J.Pascoe who featured in a spritied effort from an Argaum pack reduced to 7 after losing Evans to an eye injury. The pack didn't perform as well in the next game however as HMS Eagle swooped for a 6-nil victory at Bickleigh Down in appalling conditions. Read, the Argaum winger, impressed with his tackling. Evidently the bad weather continued, as 2 of the next 3 scheduled matches were cancelled, the one that survived was a 26-3 loss to HMS Orion (Reserve Fleet). Bolland's penalty goal the only Argaum score against a strong Navy side which included Hunter, the Devonport Services captain in their ranks, as well as several others with Services experience. Argaum held their opponents well at the start but their cause wasnt helped when losing full-back Paget in the second half. Incidentally HMS Orion actually comprised two ships; HMS Roberts, a Monitor class Battleship and HMS Woolwich, a Depot ship.
1963 ended in a flourish with two good performances in December, the first an eventful encounter with HMS Tiger. A match of coincidences as Argaum once again lost a player with a cut eye, this time pack leader Bob Earl. The forwards, with Pascoe and Stidwell outstanding, led the defensive effort whilst the Argaum points came, remarkably, from the Bolland drop goal/Potts try combination giving them a 6-3 lead going into the last minute. They were to be denied another win when the Tiger second-row forward crashed over for a last-gasp equalising try. No such problem for the Barbarians the following week as they overcame a spirited Plymouth College Of Technology side by 9 points to 6, who in turn became the Wednesday side's first 'double' victims in its short existence. Argaum dominated up front in wet conditions, the prolific Bolland kicking a penalty goal with touchdowns coming from Marshall and Goodenough, who was fresh from last season's Colts.
A much better winter than the previous year but the Barbarians didn't resume until January 15th when they entertained RAF Mount Batten. Once again fitness levels had dropped after the lay-off and a hat-trick from the RAF prop forward Barry Nicholls gave their opponents a comfortable 9-0 victory, although Pascoe and Evens were mentioned in dispatches. Brickfields was the destination next for a return against RN Hospital, but after their draw earlier in the season it was once again failure to take chances that saw Argaum lose out. Bolland and Paget combined well in the backline to put centre P.Blonden over for the Barbarians only try in a 3-8 defeat. Another side that Argaum had drawn with before Christmas, HMS Tiger, also found life easier the second time around with a 21-3 win. Roger Evens, who was the pick of the pack, score the Argaum try whilst Chris Peters 'hooked usefully'; Goodenough and Flanagan preformed well in the backline, in the match played at St Budeaux. HMS Adamant, who had a comprehensive win back in October however, found stiffer opposition in February as the Argaum forwards, led by Evens, showed 'more zest'. A first half try by Thomas was added to by Rip Kirby's converted try after the interval but it wasnt enough to stop Adamant winning 11-8.
The remainder of February saw 3 decent results starting with a 9-9 draw at home to Plymouth School Of Navigation, where the opposition dominated the set pieces. Good work by Yonge and Sandercock in the loose, backed up by Bolland's tactical kicking and full-back John Brown's defensive qualities kept Argaum in the game. Tries came from John Pascoe and Brian Mortimore, the latter of which took up an offer with rugby league side Hull KR at the end of the season whilst Bolland added his almost customary drop goal. Better was to follow as RNEC IV were dispatched by 30 points to 8, a record victory so far and a second 'double' of the season. As well as a Paget hat-trick, tries were score by Pascoe, Goodenough and Pring; Rip Kirby really enjoyed himself though with a try, penalty goal and 3 conversions. Another victory looked on the cards in the next match against HMS Fisleigh when Argaum found themselves 11-3 up at the midway point, John Bolland in prolific form with a hat-trick of tries, one of which he converted. However Fisleigh staged a second-half revival with a couple of tries, one converted, which drew the scores level, 'a just result' according to the report.
At the start of March a new opponent, in the shape of The King's Shropshire Light Infantry who 'just about deserved' their 11-9 win over Argaum, although a conversion was the only difference between the sides. Then, as now, it was a Fijian who starred for the Army side in the form of strong-running centre Fred Tekuleka. Lewis, Goodenough and Paget all played well for the Barbarians, Paget adding a penalty goal to tries scored by Williams and Pascoe. Plymouth School Of Navigation obtained a double in their 14-3 win the following week, 'taking advantage of a strong wind', wing forward Pat Reed's try the only Argaum points.
A couple of cancellations followed and so the next fixture took place on April 1st, although it was Argaum who were looking foolish as they were on the end of a 41-nil hammering. A much improved performance the following week saw another close game with The King's Shropshire Light Infantry who had another Fijian, Kunadomo, operating in tandem with Tekuleka. Argaum may well have won the game if the usually effective John Bolland had brought his kicking boots with him, as despite scoring a try to add to that of Andrew Paget, he missed 3 penalties and a simple conversion, giving the Army side a 14-6 win. The season ended on a high note on 22nd April when Argaum finally got the better of RAF Mount Batten after two previous defeats. Although one short they had enough firepower to secure a 16-8 win, with J. Alexander grabbing a brace of tries, D.Pring and P.Gill one apeice, Bolland and Pring adding conversions.
Argaum's Wednesday side could look back on 1963-64 with some satisfaction as, despite the odd hiccup, they had built on the difficult opening season to finish with a much improved record of P22 W5 L13 D4 Points For 147 Points Against 285.
The Most Successful Season: 1964-65
The Babarians got off to a bad start by losing all four matches in September including a 55-3 thrashing by HMS Adamant in whcih the match report accused the team of 'lacking determination'. Whether that was used as motivation for the next match is unclear but there was certainly more aggression shown as they notched the first win of the term at home to RAF Mount Batten. Scrum-half Colin Burrows was influential and as well as going over for a brace of tries himself, provided good enough service for Argaum's two wingers John Rubython and Tony Potts (2) to also dot down. Joy was shortlived as Reserve Fleet completed an early season double in the next match, with an almost identical score to their encounter in the previous month, a John Bolland drop goal the solitary score for Argaum. After that early season thrashing by their 'A' team, The Barbarians then took on the 'B' team of HMS Adamant and this time had no problem with securing a convincing victory. Tries from Pat Reed (2), John Brown, Andrew Paget, Dave Burchall and John Bolland in addition to the kicking of Bolland (2 pens, 1 con) and Rubython (2 cons) contributed to a 30-8 victory.
A couple of tight games with School of Navigation followed with both sides taking a win apiece before The Barbarians entertained another new opponent in the form of Petty Officers Mess, HMS Orion. Winger Tony Potts this time grabbed a hat-trick of tries in the 15-3 win. It appears Potts was in prolific form as he ran in an interception try from 75 yards the following week for the decisive score against HMS Fishleigh and bagged a couple more when The Petty Officers were once again welcomed to Bickleigh Down the week after. Argaum took their winning streak to four matches when 41 Commando (Bickleigh) were beaten 8-6 in a tight encounter, where John Bolland's conversion proved the difference. The unbeaten run couldn't quite last into the New Year as the Barbarians succumbed 16-0 to a talented Holiday XV (including Leicester player Dick Mainwaring, Devon forward John Smeardon and Argaum first teamers Rip Kirby and Ian Cooper) on the penultimnate day of 1964.
The satisfaction in the improved form of The Barbarians and the respectable mid-season record of 7 wins from 13 must have been somewhat dimmed by an article which appeared just before Christmas. It highlighted a concern for the very future of the side if 5 day opening was introduced into shops in Plymouth, which would make it very difficult for the availability of the mainly-civilian players.
The uncertainty didnt seem to affect the players who set about the New Year with enthusiasm running a decent Plymouth Police side close (Potts and Bolland the try scorers) before overcoming RNEC III (8-6) and 95 Commando RA (20-10). Another tight affair with School Of Navigation (3-3) was followed by a 17-5 win giving the double over RAF Mount Batten. It is noticeable from the reports that Rip Kirby was now playing on a regular basis and his influence must have helped in the most satisfying result of the season when revenge was gained over HMS Adamant A, with wingers Rubython and Potts grabbing a brace of tries each.
Sadly, it was announced that Father John Bolland, The Barbarians full-back and prolific points scorer as well as a Roman Catholic Priest and St Boniface Old Boy, was leaving the area and transferring to Dorset. His boot may well have been missed as two narrow defeats (HMS Drake and Seal Hayne II) followed but they were a prelude to a fine finish to the season. First up were The King's Shropshire Light Infantry beaten 17-3 at Seaton Barracks; Potts and Rubython (2) almost inevitably dotted down but it was Brian Hodgins who stole the show with a hat-trick and, in the absence of Father Bolland, a conversion. Next were HMS Fishleigh at Trevol, Argaum edging a tight game with the help of two Colin Lavers tries. The season was rounded off in style back at Bickleigh Down when Reserve Fleet were beaten at the third time of asking, Argaum's fly-half Ken Daniels with a hat-trick and conversion in a 21-6 win.
Looking back at the season, The Barbarians had overcome a poor start and showed steady improvement to finish with their best return of P25 W14 L10 D1 Points For 255 Against 245.
In this article we look back at the origins of the Annual Match v OPMs and the close relationship between the two clubs. In the early part of the century Argaum were used to travelling on Boxing Day including visits to the likes of Exeter Reserves and Teignmouth. However, our story takes us back over 85 years to the season 1926-27, when seven Argaum players left the club to form the new OPMs side including one George Wakeham, later to become President of both Plymouth Albion and Devon RFU.
When asked to pen some Argaum memories for the 125th Anniversary season I thought “How can a single essay do justice to the wonderful 38 years that I have played for Argaum?” The answer is of course it can’t but at least there will be something on record. My apologies if something is left out or I have remembered an event incorrectly. You see, some of the times were just so good that I can’t remember them, probably, not even then.
Last Saturday saw the end of an era as Club President Steve Barnes played what was probably his last game for the club before he leaves the area to work in the Orkney Islands. Fittingly it was the Presidents v Chairmans match which saw his swansong to a rugby career that began with Argaum in the 1973-1974 season. Countless players have come and gone during that time but Barney has remained a constant, fitting in matches when on leave from his work on the oceans of the world as a Master Mariner. Remarkably Barney (along with famous knitted socks) featured in a number of matches this season coming off the bench to appear for the club in the Cornwall & Devon League. He also found time to participate in initiatives such as Return To Rugby and Pitch Up and Play.
It is this spirit of service to the club that has seen Barney and wife Gerry hold most of the positions in the club at one time or other. This has ranged from the usual committee positions of treasurer and hon secretary to practical help such as fixing broken rugby posts or running the bar. Most recently it has been the vital role of liaising with the various organisations involved in the development of Roborough and the surrounding area as well as representative on Devon RFU committees. The executive committee have therefore asked Barney to continue in his role as Club President in order to keep the continuity with the organisations that he has established links with.
There has been massive change within the club in the last 43 years with perhaps the club now playing at about the same level they were back then. The intervening years saw many ups and downs and there is no doubt that the club owes a huge debt to Barney and Gerry for helping to steer the club through troubled waters. A prime mover in the club's past players association, PAPPA, he will be on the other side of the fence now in terms of catching up with club news. The wonderful thing about social media is that one can still be part of a club even from afar. So will he grace the turf at Bickleigh Down again? With the intention of taking up the whistle north of the border it is a possibility, perhaps as an exchange ref with Plymouth Referees Society; I'm confident The Combination would fund it!
Whatever happens we look forward to catching up with Barney in his new venture and also providing a warm Argaum welcome whenever he and Gerry are back in the area.
Barney's Argaum memories (written for the 125th Anniversary) are well worth a read and can be found here.
It's just about 60 years ago that Argaum started work on building the clubhouse. With the help of donations, an RFU loan and an awful lot of hard work the club were in possession of their own facilities for the first time in their history, a facility the envy of many at the time.
Union Street is a place that has undergone massive change in recent years and you may have noticed that the building once occupied by Feneck’s Military Tailors is now home to Sloggett & Son, ‘Seller of Interesting Things’. Last year I was reading an article about the shop, which sells a range of vintage and antique furniture and homeware, when I realised a possible connection with Plymouth Argaum.