The best Heath Rugby Team?

The Eighties and in particular 1984/85 saw the re-emergence of a recently debated subject (1979), that of the best Rugby team ever to represent the School. A somewhat emotive and subjective topic. For some considerable time this mantle had been in little doubt held by the team led by the man who would play for England, Phil Horrocks-Taylor.

Being such an emotive subject and wanting to avoid causing any offence it may be best to restrict this particular debate to that of the best Heath School Rugby team ‘of the modern era.’ I’ll leave the definition of ‘modern era’ to the reader. The title was challenged for by the First XV of the 1977/78 season, coached by Tony Edwards (fondly known as ‘Stumpy Joe’), led by Robert Schofield and boasting the likes of players including Headey, Taylor, Marshall and the Bates Brothers. Indeed, the First XV report in the 1979 Heathen commenced with the statement, This season can undoubtedly be regarded as one of the most successful in the History of the School. The suspicion may be that the Heathen’s Editor of the day used his licence to add the words ‘one of.’

The First XV of 1984/85 (referred to in the infamous Rugby song as ‘Rodney’s Aces’ even though the coach Rod Kay was actually, to the First team’s great amusement, eventually identified as Roderick) looked to claim recognition as the best ever. In possibly a slightly more modest approach the author of the 1985 First XV report in The Heathen commenced his passage: Last season was undoubtedly the best since 1977.

So who was the best?

The seasons of 77/78 and 84/85 showed great similarities. The former played 20 games and won 18 with narrow losses to Q.E.G.S and Cardinal Hindley while the latter played 17 games and won 14 with narrow losses to Q.E.G.S, Ilkley and Bradford Grammar. The former won The Calderdale shield (the first time in the history of the School) by beating Crossley & Porter in the final 45–15. The latter won the Calderdale shield by beating Crossley & Porter in the final 24–0.

Simply on the basis of the statistics the crown for the best single First XV team must go to the First XV of 77/78. However the Crown for the best team of a School generation must surely go to those who ended the 84/85 season. From the Under 13 team who won the Calderdale shield in 1979/80, of the XV who started the game against Crossley & Porter to win the shield of 84/85, ten of those original members were still present:

Hynes, Tobin, Hamer, Butterworth, Stollery, Opačić, Scrimshaw, Harrison, Blackburn & Potts.

Three Calderdale Shields and a combined playing record over their School lives of:

U12       P7    W3    L2    D2    F135    A26
U13       P10   W8    L0    D2    F300    A71     Calderdale Shield Winners
U14       P21   W16   L5    D0    F443    A117    Calderdale Shield Winners
U15       P18   W15   L3    D0    F461    A99
2nd XV    P19   W12   L6    D1    F332    A160
1st XV    P17   W14   L3    D0    F?      A?      Calderdale Shield Winners

This set of players was finely coached between U13 & 1st XV by Roderick ‘Rodney’ Kay (known as ‘Fat Geoff’ to the students due to his remarkable resemblance to Geoff Capes).

Rob Stollery [Heath 1977–1984]

The game that never was!

Rob Stollery’s 2005 discussion on the best team ever was an interesting contribution as was Dorian’s follow up. As a member of the 77/78 squad a felt that I should add some recollections.

As Dorian correctly states (Heath in the Seventies), Tony Edwards was the coach of the team. He was also assisted in forward play by Frank Schofield — father of Bo Schofield — whose glowering patched-eye presence on the touchline terrified the opposition as well as us. FRS’s tactical advice stood me in good stead then, and throughout the rest of my career, At the kick off you pick out your opposite number and whether he’s got the ball or not ... You hit him!

He also once described my play as being like a ‘Lighthouse at Wainstalls.’ I took this as being a great compliment, thinking he was referring to my towering play in the lineout. It was Bo who kindly informed me later that what his father really meant was ‘brilliant... but useless!’

Formal photograph of the 1977/78 Rugby Team in two rows with Tony Edwards on the left
Edwards, Potter, Mitchell, Dawson, Best, Greenwood, S Beverley, Sutcliffe, Taylforth
P Bates, ‘Jod’ Bates, Brooksby, Scofield, P Beverley, Taylor, Marshall

Looking across the team photo there is Tony Edwards, Jonny ‘JP’ Potter, Quentin Mitchell, ‘Dilly’ Dawson, Alex ‘George’ Best, Neil ‘Dougie’ Greenwood, Stephen ‘Sue’ Beverley, ‘Slugger’ Sutcliffe, ‘Slim’ Taylforth, Phil ‘Gappy’ Bates, ‘Jod’ Bates, Dorian Brooksby, ‘Bo’ Scofield, Phil Beverley, Paul ‘Spud’ Taylor, ‘Pugs’ Marshall. There are many others who played a part in the success of the team particularly Roy Headey, who now as Head of Science and Medicine at the RFU is passing on the skills learnt on Conway’s and Kensington to — possibly — a slightly better team.

Others from memory, who were also involved, included Martin ‘Wilf’ Baldwin, Iain Beverley (predictably making up the trio of brothers/cousins known as the ‘Beverley Sisters’). Others who played cameo roles will forgive me for not remembering all of them.

Naturally we played the game at a time when it still was recognisably proper rugby; no lifting at the line out, handling on the floor was allowed and where even the most callow winger could be drafted in at a moment’s notice as a replacement Prop.

There were several notable results mentioned already, but in many ways the game that was never played provides more of an indication to the teams success. By December we were still unbeaten and the Yorkshire Post was leading its school rugby reports with our games rather than QEGS or the other leading Rugby Schools. In early January our strongest test yet was faced with an away fixture to Bradford Grammar. However, on the Thursday morning prior to the weekend game, Bradford called cancelling the match due to a frozen pitch, which apparently would have no chance of thawing over the next two and half days! Kensington was inspected and the offer to play the game there was made but this was declined as the boys had already been given Prep. So that season Bradford Grammar preserved its 100% record. But for those of us who know, and harbour these things, it was a very hollow record!

Other high spots included a clean sweep of victories over Crossleys (three times) against a side that contained future British Lion Brian Moore — who these days in his television appearances has less hair but more teeth than he did then!

Some of the games that weren’t included in the statistics: a hard fought victory over Halifax Colts on New Year’s Day at Ovenden Park. A packed stand of parents and Old Boys witnessed a bloody confrontation when former Heathens who had left at the end of the fifth year — particularly Hadyn Perrett and ‘Manx’ Masters — took great delight in beating the crap out of those who had stayed on. Broken arms and teeth ensued but the battering was made worthwhile by the Old Boys who soothed the pain through lavish purchase of Webster’s Pennine Bitter — but it was only 20p a pint in those days.

However, the Old Boys, wily as ever, did challenge the team to a social end of term fixture. Here they applied the Webster’s before the game, ensuring that they ran out easy winners.

The team also went on tour to France where two games were played against Racing Club de Rouen.

Belated thanks must go to the organisers who somehow managed to put us against possibly the biggest Colts side in France — something getting lost in translation — Apparently Les Colts in French means someone over 6ft 4in, 16st and recently released back into the community. (I still need convincing that Tony Edwards was in fact a French teacher). Regrettably, both matches were lost — 12–14 and 7–0 — but it was part of our rugby education in so many ways (particularly the player who kept returning for a number of months to practice his French with the daughter of the local bar owner).

The strong Yorkshire tradition of thrift also shone through in true style on this tour. On a stopover in Paris a young fifth former was breathlessly recounting his visit to a certain type of establishment in the Place Pigalle. It wer’ brilliant! They had these films, — 5 Francs for t’pictures or 10 Francs with sound. When asked why he had only spent 5 francs, he stared in disbelief. Don’t be daft, he said, I don’t speak French!

The real spiritual home of the team was, neither Conways or Kensington but of course the Plummet Line — now a sad shadow of its former glory. The snug was usually filled most Fridays and Saturdays — but looking at the team photo — it’s a miracle that we ever got served.

My Rugby these days is mainly restricted to watching and coaching minis — although I still turn out for the Vets at my local Club. I still keep in contact with Roy and on most International Match days you can find us in the St Margaret’s Tavern, in St Margaret’s, close to Twickenham. Any Old Boys particularly those from ‘77/78’ who might be heading down to a game, do get in touch. We can bore the rest of the Bar with our tales of Rugby prowess and how much better the game was in our day. And if you hear me telling how I caught the ball behind my own line, running the length of the field to score the last-gasp winning try, please don’t correct my memory by reminding me that it was in fact only from two yards out!


Jonny Potter