Rugby Union: Ashton's Fylde of dreams

David Llewellyn finds a once-grand club hoping that history will repeat itself today
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The Independent Online
LIFE at the foot of Allied Dunbar Premiership Two is a long way removed from the heady days of the 1960s and 1970s, when Fylde were a force to be respected.

A generation ago the club, which is situated a competitive par four from the ninth hole at Royal Lytham and St Anne's, was a springboard to representative honours for county and country; these days it is more likely to be a launch pad for wannabes seeking their fortunes with rugby's upper crust further south or north-east.

This afternoon's visit to Loftus Road, where Fylde tackleWasps in the fifth round of the Tetley's Bitter Cup, will revive a host of memories for many of the club's former players, including the Ireland coach, Brian Ashton, who played for them from 1966 to 1973. "The last time I went to Wasps with Fylde, in about 1972 I think," recalled Ashton, "we beat them. The reason I remember that is because I scored a try and I think the final score was 12-9. In those days we looked upon Wasps as one of the big fixtures of the season."

The scrum-half Ashton finished up captaining Fylde and remembers the first-team debut of the sixth XV full-back, one William Blackledge Beaumont, in the position in which he would carve out a distinguished career - lock. "It was in 1971 or 1972," said Ashton, who won 56 caps for Lancashire. "I was impressed with him from the start. It was a remarkable transition from sixth-team full-back to first-team lock in a short space of time.

"But Bill was a natural footballer. For someone with his bulk he possessed a surprising turn of speed and was a remarkably adept ball player. Of the Lancashire front five Bill and Fran Cotton would have fitted easily into the modern game in terms of the ball-playing requirements of the forwards."

Fylde are no strangers to relegation - a descent into Jewson National One would mean their third demotion in seven years, having achieved promotion a similar number of times. And their famous son, Beaumont,readily acknowledged that consolidation is not their forte.

"Since the advent of the leagues we have been a real yo-yo side," he said. "But I think these days Fylde are up against it. They can't afford full-time professionalism and against a lot of sides with massive budgets, such as Bedford, they cannot compete.

"But then I don't think Fylde would ever envisage getting into the top flight. They might talk about it and dream a bit, but the finances are such that clubs like Fylde could not do it. Unless you have a massive budget you are not going to get there."

They have just two full-time professionals, Matt Filipo, a prop from Auckland, and the Canadian international lock Barry McCarthy, who when they are not training, travel around local schools promoting the game and the club.

But, while it could be argued clubs such as Fylde have been left behind, there is not a hint of bitterness; indeed Beaumont positively welcomes what has happened. "I think a lot of the benefactors who have come into the game have improved the standard," he said. "Certainly some of the First Division games are tremendous. I'm only slightly disappointed there are not more Englishmen playing in it."

Unlike Ashton and another Fylde old boy, Tony Swift, the chief executive of Bath, Beaumont has eschewed any opportunity to remain in the sport in a professional capacity. The RFU committee and his textile business occupy too much time.

But he still watches them when he can and while some things may be different, the essentials are still in place. Beaumont explained: "The club itself has not changed that much since my playing days. There are still the same people knocking around there, it is still a friendly place. Fylde was never that glamorous, although we still had a pretty strong fixture list and we would do reasonably well against the likes of Gloucester, Leicester, Wasps, Moseley and so on."

Ashton agreed, and added: "Even now I always look out for Fylde's result." He will not be the only one today, just in case there is a repeat of his last visit as a Fylde player to Wasps.