The Iron Duke, by Bobby Windsor

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Few people enjoyed playing against Bobby Windsor. The pre-eminent Pontypool, Wales and Lions hooker of the 1970s was not only technically very skilful, but also equally adept at booting or punching opponents when the referee wasn't looking, and sometimes when he was.

Don't expect any contrition in this autobiography; Windsor seems to have enjoyed every bloody minute. In fairness, most of the opposition appeared to join in willingly, then, in the tradition of the day, share a pint or 10 afterwards.

While the tales of Pooler's fearsome front row and the all-conquering Lions tour of South Africa in '74 bear repeating, there is more to these memoirs than merely war stories of yesteryear. It does no harm to remind those who mourn the passing of amateurism just how unpleasantly patrician the unions could be to their players.

When Windsor, a steelworker with a young family, won his first cap, against Australia in 1973, it came at a price: 16 hours' lost wages, and the cost of hiring a dinner suit for the after-match banquet. He explained to the WRU secretary, Bill Clement, that the soles were hanging off his only pair of black shoes and that he had no money to repair or replace them. Clement pulled out a large wad of notes, held together by two elastic bands. Removing the bands, he handed them to Windsor, saying: "Tie these round your shoes until the next pay day."

Yet the Iron Duke doesn't approve of the professional era either, complaining in a chapter with the Fred Truemanesque title "The Game's Gone Soft" that the new laws have devalued scrummaging and line-out skills, and turned what used to be a game for all shapes and sizes into one where at the top level only bulked-up behemoths need apply.

Not always a happy hooker, Windsor is never a dull one.

Published in hardback by Mainstream, £16.99