THE OLD BOYS ROLLERCOASTER
FROM TRAGEDY to triumph – it has been a rollercoaster journey for the Oamaru Old Boys Rugby Football Club.
The club has just completed a memorable 2011 season, in which it both celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Old Boys name (the club is technically 144 years old) and claimed another victory in the Citizens Shield competition.
Old Boys beat sister club and great rival Athletic Marist 41-34 in extra time in one of the great finals on June 18, with North Otago possibly hosting the earliest club final in the country.
But there was little celebration just over 100 years ago, when Old Boys’ predecessor, the Oamaru Football Club, had to deal with the tragic death of a player and decided to start afresh with a new name.
Oamaru had been formed in 1867, making it one of the oldest clubs in the country. It dominated the early years of the North Otago competition, and was the first winner of the Citizens Shield in 1904.
But in 1909, Oamaru fullback Thomas Beeson Martin collapsed during a game against Athletic, after having been concussed in two previous games. He later died, with the coroner returning a verdict of “death by misadventure on the football field”.
The death threw the club into turmoil. It defaulted multiple times in 1910, and was even suspended by the North Otago union.
In a move akin to modern ‘rebranding’, the club then changed its name to Oamaru Old Boys, both to cleanse the souls left damaged by Martin’s death and to recognise a close association with Waitaki Boys’ High School.
Old Boys also assumed black and red colours, again linked to Waitaki Boys’. And the club quickly bounced back, winning five straight Citizens Shields from 1919 to 1923.
Other great eras would follow in 1957-59, 1985-86 and in the 2000s, when Old Boys led the radical change in North Otago which saw a huge influx of talented Polynesian players.
Moving with the times has been a necessity for the club, as tempting as it must be to look back at the glory days.
Old Boys once owned the most famous clubrooms in the province. The first ‘Dive’ was a basement turned into a clubhouse in 1936. The second was previously owned by St John Ambulance, and the third and final ‘Dive’ had hosted the National Party.
The difficult 1990s led to major financial difficulties, and Old Boys reluctantly sold the clubrooms in 1998, bringing to an end a 130-year association with Takaro Park.
Some outstanding players have worn the famous black jersey, including All Blacks winger Ian ‘Spooky’ Smith, midfield back Ian Hurst before and after his All Blacks career, South Island back Jock Hamilton, North Otago No 8 Neville McNee and, more recently, former Manu Samoa flanker Joe Mamea, Kilifi Fangupo and Hotili Asi.
Great stalwarts have included the McMullans (Tony, Kevin and Bernie), the Perriams (Terry, Doug and Win), Dave Robson, Tony Spivey, Gary Eckhold, Barry Meikle, Ross Meikle, Terry Fariu, Warren ‘Skippy’ Bloxsom, Garry Jamison and the late David Isbister.
Old Boys has twice toured overseas, to Australia in 1972 and the United States in 1980.
The club now trains at Don Field, one of two grounds at Waitaki Boys’, and gathers under the grandstand at Whitestone Contracting Stadium after games.
It fields just one afternoon team – down from five at its peak – and has four junior teams.
The club auctioned 22 playing jerseys at its centennial earlier this year. And, thanks to the extraordinary research of Roddy Brown and Leo Breen, an exhaustive history of the club was produced.
THE OLD Boys stalwarts still look back on 1985 with a wry smile and a shake of the head.
It was the high point for the club, both on and off the field, even though it came in the middle of a decade when North Otago rugby was struggling to field a competitive NPC team, and the rural-based North Otago economy was being battered by drought.
Old Boys fielded no fewer than five afternoon teams that year – premier, senior reserve A, senior reserve B, under 20 and under 18.
Unbelievably, all five teams won their respective championships. The premier team was in the middle of a two-year unbeaten run under the coaching of Gary Eckhold and captaincy of Peter Johnston.
Off the field, Old Boys was at its peak as a social hub, hosting regular events and raising $18,000 from housie and $14,000 from the bar.
IT HAS been said that the Oamaru Old Boys club would not survive without Barry Meikle.
That’s possibly a little unfair on the other stalwart contributors to the club, particularly the likes of Tony Spivey. But there is no doubt Meikle is one of the heroes of the heartland.
He joined the club in 1956, and 55 years later he is in a second stint as president.
After rising through the junior ranks, he had a 12-year senior career in the front-row, captaining the premier side for six years.
Meikle was a committee member from 1974 to 1989, and again from 1998 to 2010. He was club captain from 1983 to 1986, and again from 1999 to 2006. His first stint as president was 1986-89, and his second started in 2007.
His sons, Daniel and Nathan, both played for the club. And Meikle also pulled a swifty in 1986 when he signed up his nephew, future Otago Daily Times sports editor Hayden Meikle, from the rival Weston Pirates club.
ALL BLACKS (1)
Ian Smith 1965-66
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.