Lincoln rugby patron's love of the game

PASSIONATE: Lincoln Rugby Football Club patron Gavin Barclay, 80, is eager to get back to...
PASSIONATE: Lincoln Rugby Football Club patron Gavin Barclay, 80, is eager to get back to watching rugby when normal life resumes. Photo: Geoff Sloan

Gavin Barclay’s life has taken him on many unexpected adventures. One constant has been the Lincoln Rugby Football Club.

The patron of the club talks to Selwyn Times sports reporter Jacob Page about rugby, the ups-and-downs of farming and a sabbatical in South Africa

How did your association with rugby at Lincoln begin?

I had my first game of senior rugby in 1959 at the age of 19.

I lived between Prebbleton and Lincoln initially and then we moved to Yaldhurst but I kept coming back and playing because that was the best option at the time.

I played junior rugby at Waimate but I retired (from the division one team at Lincoln) in 1978 after 19 years as a blindside flanker.

After that I played lower grade stuff, golden oldies and touch rugby in the middle of the week.

How was life as a blindside flanker in those days?

Tough, physical and no-nonsense but I loved it.

How did you transition from player into a back-room role at the club?

I didn’t really, in fact I was president while I was still playing and I represented the club at the sub-union meetings.

That was in the early 70s and you only did 12-month stints back then. But after I retired, I was president again and it had gone up to two years.

What was it like leading a club back in the 1970s and 80s?

It’s ironic, when we started we got changed in a container and there were no showers which is a contrast of course to modern day.

They were still great times, the camaraderie was there.

It was the days of six o’clock closing so you’d spend a short amount of time in the clubrooms and you’d go somewhere else.

Were there particular places and trips that stood out?

If we played in Leeston, I remember we always used to have a big fry-up using goose eggs.

Our regular place was the Lincoln Hotel which has always been a great supporter of our club.

Did you have a lot of success on the field?

During the war (World War II) it merged with Springston then after that each club went on its own.

We had a long, lean period and then in 1968 we were runners-up in division one. That was a huge milestone in the club.

We had a run in the 70s with a wonderfully stable team.

We had a coach in Mark Marshall, who was a blade shearer and he was the catalyst for our success during that period.

I remember one year in the late 70s near the end of my senior days, two of my boys won their rugby final, I won mine and my wife Faye won her netball final all on the same day.

We followed our boys as they played in town and got to senior rugby but once they gave it up I came back to the club.

What made you so passionate about the game?

I love amateur rugby. I love that all the guys play for the love of the game. Rugby is so precious to us.

The skills and fitness level is so much better than in our day and the improvement is dramatic.

Why do you think the modern day game is better in terms of skill quality?

Increased emphasis on training and the technical side of the game.

Compared to what we did, we were country bumpkins.

How did your life on the farm work with the rugby?

Initially we farmed on Springs Rd in Prebbleton and later had a farm in Yaldhurst.

I tell you something, you don’t need to be a gambler when you’re a farmer because each year can be different.

I was a sixth generation farmer and we had 3400 ewes and 800 replacement stock.

In the late 80s we had a bad drought and my wife said ‘this is no way to live, we’re taking a 12 month sabbatical.’

Well, farmers didn’t really take sabbaticals but in 1990 we went to South Africa and worked on a game reserve inland from Port Elizabeth in Cape Town.

We did things differently to most in that young people go overseas and then have kids where we went overseas once our kids were grown up.

We were booked to go on the Cavaliers tour in 1986 to watch the All Blacks (in South Africa) but decided not to go because of the uncertainty around it all.

Then four years later we had this opportunity come up.

We only planned to be there one year but we stayed from 1990 to 1993.

South Africa must have been an adjustment?

It was a total shock to the system but at the same time it was very stimulating.

I was a project manager, just doing my part keeping the place going, odd jobs etc.

We had 28 species of antelope plus the lions, leopard and rhinos - it was quite something.

There was only one close shave when an elephant tried to charge at us. He eventually ran out of steam but it was bloody scary.

It was a great social period for us because we’d play tennis in the winter and cricket in the summer.

All matches would start at 10.30am with a cup of coffee and then games would go throughout the day but you’d stop for lunch and afternoon tea - they are great memories.

It was the grandchildren that drew us back home but we’d had a good stint and we were happy with the decision.

Was it hard to come back?

We got it out of our systems pretty quickly and went back to farming.

We went back several times and the families we worked with over there, we’ve been able to help out with work over here so it’s been great.

What role did rugby play for you socially?

We would have gone senile without it. It was important to get off the farm and have some form of socialising.

Do you have any favourite rugby memories?

Being on tour watching the 1996 All Blacks in South Africa when they finally won a test series there.

I remember Fitzy (former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick) on the ground exhausted at the final whistle, it was quite special because he was absolutely spent.

What does it mean to you to be patron at Lincoln?

It’s incredibly humbling.

I retired to Lincoln 10 years ago and it’s just great to still be part of the club.

I really take my hat off to people involved in sports clubs these days.

It’s a lot of time and energy that is sacrificed to keep them going and there are so many more teams than in my day.

What is life like in your bubble during isolation?

It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. I’ve got into a routine with the newspaper, crosswords and puzzles and I get on the phone to my relatives and we have a good catch up.

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