Gosforth and Harlequins players in the clubs' first ever fixture back in 1954

All our yesterdays: Harlequins special

Monday 22 February 2021

As Newcastle Falcons prepare to host Harlequins on Saturday, Kingsley Hyland’s fascinating series of rugby reminiscences sees him looking back on 67 years of fixtures against the Londoners.

The visit of Harlequins to Kingston Park this weekend provides an opportunity to look back on some of the early matches played between the two clubs.

Quins did not become regular opponents until the establishment of national club competitions in the 1970s and 80s, and prior to 1979 the clubs had met only four times, between 1954 and 1963.

The first encounter between the clubs was on September 11, 1954, the opening day of the 1954/55 season, when Quins travelled north to play Gosforth at the old County Ground. They travelled in a style befitting their reputation, becoming the first club to fly to fulfil a domestic club fixture.

Quins represented top-class opposition, and reflected Gosforth’s determined post-war attempts to rise above the ranks of junior clubs by strengthening their fixture list.

A crowd of some 3,000 was attracted to witness a one-sided game, with Quins fielding four full internationals. They were both fitter and more skilful than their hosts, and the winning margin would have been greater had they not struggled to come to terms with a number of new laws resulting in them conceding 18 penalties, three of which accounted for Gosforth’s points.

Gosforth were hampered by the late withdrawal of centre Mike Pearey and the loss to injury early in the game of fellow centre Alan Thompson – this in the days of no replacements. In addition, their lethargy may in part have been attributed to the fact that they had recently returned from a three-match tour of Denmark.

Quins ran in six tries in all through Bartlett (2), Barker, Davies, Sanders and Abbott, whilst flanker Harrison, formerly of Old Novocastrians, kicked four conversions and three penalties.

The teams that day were as follows:

Gosforth: W.Charlton; K.D.Patten; A.J.Thompson; G.R.Alexander; D.Smith; E.W.Hoult; J.M.Smith; K.Richardson; D.D.Serfontein; C.Howstan; A.Yeoman; M.I.H. Clements; R.Hollings.

Harlequins: M.T.Wilford; M.L.Grant; J.R.Terry; W.P.C.Davies; D.A.Barker; R.M.Bartlett; W.J.A.Leaver; R.M.Whyte; J.E.Maynier; D.L.Sanders; R.W.D.Marques; P.J.Stubbs; J.S.Abbott; R.I.Harrison; C.M.Yates.

The referee was Ted Brough (Northumberland).

Of that Gosforth side, Danie Serfontein was to become President of the RFU in 1992, but had been beaten to that honour by his team mate Pearey in 1990.

Pearey’s term of office coincided with the club’s move to Kingston Park in August of that year, and he performed the official opening, which is marked by a plaque close to the clubhouse entrance.

The Smith brothers, Douglas and John, were to be hugely influential off the field in the club’s rise to national prominence in the late 1970s, whilst J.J.Fenwick, a member of the dynasty behind the famous store in Northumberland Street, was behind the upgrading of the club’s fixture list in the 1960s and 70s.

This was the first of four friendly fixtures between 1954 and 1963, with Gosforth finally triumphant in 1963, when the fixture lapsed until 1987, although the clubs did meet three times in the John Player Cup between 1979 and 1983 – three matches in which Gosforth failed to register a single try.

The first of these was in the second round in late February, 1979.

Gosforth’s standards had slipped from the time when they were the dominant force in English club rugby but were firm favourites, with the bulk of their formidable pack still playing, although tighthead Andy Cutter was now in the Quins’ ranks.

Inclement weather had decimated the club rugby programme for much of that month, and in echoes of recent events at Kingston Park the players had mucked in to assist with clearly the pitch of snow.

A heavy pitch resulted and contributed to the dour nature of the game, which was effectively won in the first 25 minutes when Malcolm Young kicked three penalties. A penalty was awarded against Gosforth when hooker Duncan Madsen – more recently the Evening Chronicle rugby correspondent - heeled the ball with his head, a technique which he had perfected, but which had been outlawed.

On one occasion the Gosforth pack pushed their opponents back all of 40 yards before Quins realised that their only chance of getting a foothold in the game was to keep the ball away from the forwards. They dominated the second half but had only a Billy Bushell penalty to show for it as Gosforth triumphed 9-3.

It was in Round 3 the following season when Gosforth travelled to the Stoop.

The big pre-match news was that Quins’ high-profile second row recruit, All Black Andy Haden, would not be playing, although no official reason was given. The story goes that he had also joined a club in Italy and Quins were not prepared to fly him back to the UK for the cup-tie. In the event, he wasn’t needed as Quins edged this one by the same score as the previous year’s tie, 9-3.

The Gosforth forwards were unusually sluggish and were well beaten in the lineout, guaranteeing Quins a plentiful supply of ball whilst the backs kicked poorly. Quins went ahead through a Bushell penalty after 10 minutes, but a David Johnson penalty midway through the second half brought the teams level.

The visitors looked set to go through as the away team in a drawn try-less game, but Quins conjured up the winning score as the match entered injury time.

Running the ball from their own 25 it went loose following a speculative kick ahead. Brian Patrick, the Gosforth fullback, was unable to kill the ball and centre Richard Breakey missed with an attempted fly-hack to touch, enabling Quins winger Paul Jackson to fall on the ball for the winning score, converted by Bushell.

In January 1983, two years after reaching their most recent cup-final, Gosforth again travelled to the Stoop, where they lost a game in which they spurned plenty of opportunities to win it.

They had a dominant scrum but again struggled in the lineout despite the presence of Steve Bainbridge, who just months later was to play in two tests for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand.

Two Dudman penalties in the opening six minutes saw Quins race ahead, and despite two penalties from fullback Patrick they led 12-6 at half-time courtesy of a try from prop Claxton, converted by Dudman.

Gosforth pulled them back to 12-12 through two more Patrick penalties, and only 16 minutes remained when his fifth successful penalty put the visitors ahead for the first time.

Quins regained the lead when hooker Olver’s try was converted by Dudman, and this time it was Gosforth who were chasing the game, knowing that a draw would not be enough as Quins had scored two tries to nil. Almost inevitably, a spilled pass in midfield gifted Quins their third try through Jackson, the match-winner three years earlier, with Dudman’s conversion rubbing salt into the wound for a final score of 24-15.

It was to be another 13 years before the teams met again in the cup, Quins winning 44-22 at Kingston Park in February 1996.

By way of balancing things out, the Falcons secured the Premiership title on a memorable day at the Stoop in May 1998 and, 25 years after the club’s first cup-final win, the Falcons triumphed again at Twickenham in 2001, with Quins again their victims.

PHOTO CAPTION

Back row: (L to R) R.J.T.Pollock; E.C.Hilton; E.W.Hoult; R.I.Harrison; J.S.Abbott; K.T.Richardson; C.N.Yates; W.L.Baty; W.N.Sloan; R.A.M.Whyte; D.D.Serfontein; J.M.Stobbs; C.Howstan; R.W.D.Marques: K.D.Patten; D.K.Brooks; J.R.C.Matthews: J.R.Veitch.

Middle row: A.E.Brough; M.A.Pearey; M.L.Grant; A.J.Thompson; R.M.Bartlett; J.M.Smith; D.L.Sanders; W.Charlton: D.A.Barker; J.J.Fenwick.

Front row: W.P.C.Davies; R.Hollings; J.R.Tarry; M.I.H.Clements; W.J.A.Leaver; A.Yeoman: J.E.Maynier; G.R.Alexander; N.T.Wilford; D.Smith.

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