UNITY OUT OF ADVERSITY
You can’t miss the Clyde Dam in Central Otago.
Consequently, it’s hard to miss the Clyde-Earnscleugh Rugby Club. About 15 minutes drive south of Cromwell you come to the Clyde township. The main drag takes you to the rugby club. You can easily spot the tall goalposts as you turn off and enter the holiday camp/park.
Waiting for me are club president Kris Robb, who is rather younger than the stalwarts Des Paulin, life member and patron with nigh on 80 years involvement with the club, and long-time seniors manager Jim Page. They’ve got all the oil on this small, yet intimate club which punches above its weight and has sound, growing facilities. Did we mention it plays in a strip that is akin to Waikato colours too?
The introduction to the club on its website is worth repeating here:
“The Clyde-Earnscleugh Rugby Club is a freehold club established in 1889 and, although slowing down during the war, it has been active ever since. Catering for all ages, the club does not threaten the major franchises with defeat, but the game is played for enjoyment and that it provides by the bucketload.”
What a great template around which to build a club.
Earnscleugh is the township just over the Clutha River. It has been combined with Clyde for over 80 years, and the players are drawn from all round the region, from Alexandra down the road, but also from Cromwell and even as far as Queenstown.
Numbers are sometimes thin for the senior team, but 2010 has been a good season under coach and former Southland rep Keith Robertson. A couple of imports have added weight and the atmosphere is a happy one for home games.
Page has been seniors manager since 1994, and says it is a “privilege” being involved in the club.
“What sets this club apart as being different is that we are more focused on our community. So we provide a bit more of a laidback alternative for community sport and our younger players,” says Page.
Paulin recalls the “olden days.”
“If you were a young fella and didn’t come to the rugby, you didn’t know any other boys in Clyde.”
Now the location for the rugby club also has cricket, bowls, tennis and golf on offer nearby.
“The people who couldn’t get a game for Alex (andra) came to Clyde. But when the drink-driving laws came in, they robbed us of a few players,” says Paulin.
But the support remains good, contends Robb.
“Our sponsors’ board is always full, our grandstand’s always full. For a team that was losing a lot, we’ve always had a fantastic support base within the community. Just credit to the people in getting behind us. After a few wins this season, we’ve got even more coming in.
“The success we’ve had this year hasn’t been by accident. There’s a lot of work gone in at the club, committee and team level. We’ve also got a group of players who are here for the club, not themselves. We don’t have guys here who are upset about sitting on the bench. They know their time will come,” says Robb.
The clubrooms were ravaged by fire in the early 1990s but have been rebuilt while the land is technically owned by the Clyde Recreation Reserve.
One last thing: Clyde-Earnscleugh broadly boasts of having the best hot water for the showers in all of Central Otago. That is important in the middle of June when it gets bleak. One could argue there should be no shortage of water given the proximity to the dam but this is nonetheless a valuable commodity.
The golden on-field era of Clyde-Earnscleugh came from 1965-68 when there were championships and White Horse Cup wins to savour.
There were 14 White Horse Cup victories from 20 matches in that four-year period. In 1967 the club defended that coveted trophy no less than six times. Paulin himself was on the coaching and management team of that era, though he also fondly recalls the 1951 side he played in as a flanker which won the championship and the Vincent sub-union sevens competition.
President Robb says the three major tours the club has undertaken have been real highlights. The first world trip was to Australia and Japan in 1983, and it is no small feat for a small club to have had the wherewithal and ability to raise the funds for such a venture. The second tour was to Canada and the USA in 1988, while in 1996 North America was again the destination.
Page has a different take on his greatest moment: “Nothing specific. My greatest thrill is the start of each season and knowing the club is still going. It becomes a challenge every year to get the best out of what we’ve got.”
Player, coach, manager, delegate, president. Now life member, patron and supporter.
Meet Des Paulin, who has been knocking around the club since well before World War II.
Once a tireless “breakaway” for the seniors, where he tasted championship success in 1951, you’ll see Paulin now most Saturdays watching the seniors. His family’s name is etched in Clyde-Earnscleugh rugby history. No less than eight of them attended the centenary in 1989.
“We’ve been through some tough times. I admire the office bearers for how they’ve managed to struggle against the overwhelming odds. We’ve often been put down by some of the bigger clubs but we survive, and we’re coming out of it alright this year, which has been great, really.”
He remembers the days when travel to away games was problematic and some of the facilities were Spartan.
“We used to have an old wooden shed with no windows. When we were getting changed you’d have to hide behind the wall from the sheilas walking past, because they were doing it on purpose!
“There were some hard-case characters around too. One joker – Freddy Attfield – would turn up at two minutes to three to start playing and say ‘Has anyone seen my togs?’ Half the time, they’d haul them out and they stood up by them-bloody-selves. Good footballer though, wee Freddy!”
This weekend throws up another set of games which could go either way.
Which player was unlucky not to make the Wallabies’ preliminary squad for the British and Irish Lions series?