'About these police - will there be many of them?'

Lions tours have traditionally concerned more than just rugby. Hugh Godwin recalls some legendary moments
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Surprise appearance

Surprise appearance

The 1950 Lions set sail with the wife of the Scotland scrum-half, Gus Black, deciding to keep mum over the news she had just fallen pregnant, for fear of spoiling his trip. After the six-week round journey, and four months of matches in New Zealand and Australia, Black disembarked the boat to find his wife bulging out all over. "We had to persuade Gus it was his," said a team-mate.

Boyo Bobby

The tack-sharp steelworker Bobby Windsor was either the instigator or the butt of more pranks than any Lion. One night on the 1974 tour to South Africa in the Kruger Park he climbed into bed with Tommy David, convinced that lions of the flesh-eating variety were out to get him. He convinced David too and the pair gripped each other in terror at the sound of roaring and banging on the walls of their hut - until Mike Burton, Chris Ralston and Ian McLauchlan piled in laughing.

No Smoke

Willie John McBride confessed to trashing a few hotel rooms around New Zealand in 1971, but the South African expedition three years later was the most notorious. In Port Elizabeth the sound of splintering furniture, exploding fire extinguishers and the lapping of water in the lobby brought an apoplectic hotel manager to the room of the Lions' captain. "Mr McBride," the manager screamed, "your players are wrecking my hotel." The great man sat cross-legged on his bed in his underpants, puffing on his pipe. "Are there many dead?" he enquired. "I've called the police," the manager replied. "And tell me, these police of yours," McBride said. "Will there be many of them?"

In their elements

In New Zealand in 1977 the heavens opened and stayed open. Peter Wheeler sent a postcard home saying: "It only rained twice last week - once for three days, the other time for four." Gallows humour abounded throughout the trip, and various Lions have been fingered with the tale of one of them at breakfast annoyed there was no bacon to go with his eggs. "Who'd have thought it? Six million sheep in this bloody country, and not one rasher of bacon."

Not a dry eye

The former Scotland lock Gordon Brown passed away from cancer in 2001, much mourned by those who hung on every word of his richly-told anecdotes. During the brutal Third Test in 1974, in between the fighting and McBride's all-in "99" call, there was a shriek from one of the Springbok forwards. Johannes de Bruyn had lost his glass eye and the warring packs ceased fire to find it in the mud, whereupon De Bruyn popped it back in its socket. "And there was Cyclops," said Brown, "with tufts of grass hanging from behind his eye. I stood in amazement, he just nodded." Years later, with Brown in failing health, De Bruyn came to London for a fund-raising dinner, confirmed the story was true and presented his old adversary with the glass eye mounted on a carved wooden rugby ball.

Cash and carry

With up to £25,000 to be earned from the forthcoming Tests, these days money not fun is perhaps a Lion's king. In 2001 there was little hilarity, save for anxious looks around the hotel when Jonny Wilkinson and Neil Jenkins went missing. The van driven by the one of the PR flunkies had broken down coming back from kicking practice. In the less fraught days of 1974, the tour manager, Alun Thomas, angrily asked which Lion had charged £87 of telephone calls to his room. No reply. Thomas flourished what he thought was his trump card. "I have checked with the International Operator and the calls were made to Newport 684210." Bobby Windsor, the only Gwent man on the trip, leapt to his feet and cried: "OK, which one of you bastards has been phoning my wife?"

Comments