All our yesterdays: Gloucester down the years

Monday 4 January 2021

Kingsley Hyland takes another stroll through the rugby archives, chronicling historical encounters between the club and this weekend’s opponents, Gloucester.

Gosforth 3-0 Gloucester – March 12, 1977

This week’s visitors to Kingston Park were infrequent opponents for Gosforth and Newcastle Gosforth in the pre-professional era.

But for Newcastle Gosforth’s brief spell in the old First Division in 1993-4, the only matches to have taken place between the two clubs were cup-ties, with each side winning two.

The first ever match between the clubs did not take place until March 1977 when they were drawn together in the quarter-final of the RFU National Knockout Cup, then sponsored by John Player Special Cigarettes.

Gloucester were then, as now, a major force in the land. They had won the first ever cup-final in 1972 and had a formidable fixture list featuring the top club sides in England and Wales. Gosforth, on the other hand, were a club still on the rise despite having won the cup the previous season.

Gloucester had beaten Harlequins at the Stoop and Bristol at Kingsholm en-route to the quarter-final, whilst Gosforth had seen off Coventry and junior club Fullerians at home.

The match, played at the old ground on the Great North Road (then known as the ‘New Ground’), was at that stage the biggest in the club’s 100-year history. With no official ground capacity limit and no idea how many would turn up to watch, the club erected temporary stands and laid down railway sleepers to accommodate standing spectators.

Perhaps the magnitude of the occasion was too much for the players as it turned out to be a dour, error-strewn match. It was also at times brutal, with both sides trading punches, both literally and figuratively.

Gloucester had one of the most consistent goalkickers in the game in Peter Butler, who contrived to miss six out of six penalty attempts. One of these failed attempts caused early controversy. With no neutral touch judges in those days the referee’s assistants were provided by the respective county unions. The Gloucestershire touch judge’s flag was raised to indicate a successful kick whilst that of the Northumberland touch judge, Ray Parlett, remained stubbornly down by his side. International referee Norman Sansom was not required to adjudicate as he had spotted a Gloucester player in front of the kicker and in an offside position, and so awarded Gosforth a 22-metre dop-out.

The only score of the game came during Gosforth’s best spell in the third quarter. Malcolm Young had just hit the post with a penalty awarded after an incisive break by the aptly named Richard Breakey, but he made no mistake minutes later with a more difficult kick. For the remainder of the match Gosforth were content to protect their lead which they achieved as the visitors were unable to make good use of their abundant possession and seemed incapable of maintaining their discipline.

The match ended on a sour note when, on the long walk from the pitch to the changing rooms, the referee was assaulted by a Gloucester supporter. The assailant was dragged away by Gloucester prop Mike Burton – himself no shrinking violet – and skipper Chris Williams, who then went into the referee’s room to apologise for the conduct of their supporter who they pointed out was not a club member, as if that excused his conduct.

Sansom had made history in that season’s Five Nations when he sent off Geoff Wheel (Wales) and Willie Duggan for brawling at Cardiff Arms Park, the first players ever to be dismissed in the tournament. Duggan was an Irish legend who guested on one of Gosforth’s summer tours to the USA. His take on the dismissal was that Sansom simply asked him if he would mind leaving the field to which he replied “Sure, not at all, I was buggered anyway.”

The Gosforth team that day was: B.Patrick; S.Gustard; K.Britton; H.Patrick; S.Archer; R.Breakey; M.Young; C.White; D.Madsen; A.Cutter; T.Roberts; J.Hedley; I.Richardson; P.Dixon; D.Robinson.

Gosforth’s luck with home draws deserted them for the semi-final when they were drawn away to a London Welsh side containing several of the all-conquering Wales team of the mid-1970s. Gosforth produced one of their best performances of the season to win 18-12 before seeing off Waterloo 27-11 in the Twickenham final.

Gloucester 19-10 Gosforth – February 25, 1978

Gloucester did not have to wait long for their revenge when the two sides were drawn together in the second round of the following season’s competition at Kingsholm. Only the notorious ‘Shed’ of the current Kingsholm has survived to this day, and it was packed to the rafters on this occasion, lending hostile support to the home team.

Chasing a third successive cup triumph which would have seen them retain the trophy permanently, Gosforth went into the game as favourites. This time the bookies did not get it right as Gloucester outmuscled the visitors up front, and with a totally dominant lineout denied Gosforth any quality ball.

The game more than matched the brutality of the previous meeting between the two with Steve Gustard having to retire at half-time with a badly swollen hand, having been stamped on in one of a number of off-the-ball incidents, whilst several players displayed wounds which bore testimony to the ferocious Gloucester rucking. In the event, it was a one-sided match with Gosforth only coming to life in the latter stages, when the game was lost.

Gloucester took the lead on nine minutes when Vivien Woodley took advantage of a slip by Gosforth full-back Brian Patrick to score the opening try, with Butler converting. Patrick and Young contrived to miss with four penalty attempts between them before half-time, and the only other score of the first half was a Butler penalty which gave the home side a 9-0 lead at the break.

Early in the second half hooker Steve Mills went over on the blindside following a lineout and inter-passing between scrum half Paul Howell and John Watkins. Gosforth continued to defend desperately to keep a now-rampant Gloucester at bay, but missed tackles then allowed fly-half Chris Williams to go over for the try which was converted by Butler to give Gloucester an unassailable 19-0 lead.

With the match lost and the clock ticking down Gosforth at last sprung into life to salvage some pride from a shattering defeat.

A break from full-back Patrick set up a try for wing Alan Moor, and then in added time veteran flanker Dave Robinson took an offload from scrum-half Young to touch down under the posts for a try, converted by Young.

The Gosforth team that day was: B.Patrick; A.Moor; S.Archer; H.Patrick; S.Gustard; R.Breakey; M.Young; C.White; D.Madsen; J.Bell; T.Roberts; J.Hedley; J.Butler; P.Dixon; D.Robinson.

Gloucester went on to win the competition for a second time, beating Harlequins at home in the semi-final (12-6) and Leicester (6-3) in the final. For Gosforth, denied a third successive triumph and suffering their first cup defeat in almost two years, it would be another 23 years before they would bring the trophy, by that stage sponsored by Tetley’s Bitter, back to the North East when, as the Falcons, they defeated Quins in possibly the best ever final, a feat they repeated three years later when seeing off Sale in another classic encounter.

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