Mike Blackmore was in the forefront of a small but significant influx which gave rugby league in the early Sixties a distinct West Country burr. Bobby Fleet, from Torquay, was a member of the Swinton three-quarter line that took them to two championships, but the club to benefit most was Hull Kingston Rovers, who recruited five West Countrymen in quick succession.
Rovers had already signed the Cornishman Graham Paul when an advert placed by the club's chairman, Ron Chester, in local newspapers drew a response from North Devon. Mike Blackmore had been a precocious talent in Devon rugby. He played for England Under-15s whilst a pupil at Barnstaple Secondary Modern School. By the time he was 16, he was on the wing for Barnstaple first XV and at 17 he won the first of his 42 caps for the county.
He went on to captain the side and played in three County Championship finals and five England trials, but was never selected for a full cap. Paul believes that there was an underlying reason for that: "Like me, Mike was from what you might call a modest background and it always seemed to be someone from the establishment who was selected," he says. "Background counted for a lot in those days and I think that was one of the main reasons he switched."
In 1961, Blackmore duly tried his hand at the other code and was an immediate success. "He was a big, strong wingman, very brave and a good finisher," recalls Colin Hutton, who coached him at Rovers. "He was very popular with the fans, because he took his opportunities so well." Paul calls him "a lovely guy to be with, with a soft North Devon accent that belied the way he played the game".
In all, Blackmore scored 96 tries in 190 appearances for Rovers, as well as kicking six goals for a career points total of exactly 300. The undoubted highlight was the 1964 Challenge Cup final at Wembley, where he played on the left wing against Widnes – Paul was on the right. It was not a good day for the West Country, however, with Widnes winning 13-5 in front of a crowd of over 84,000. With two of their best forwards missing, Rovers were overpowered in the pack and Paul and Blackmore saw little ball on the wings. It nevertheless made Blackmore one of the select band of dual-code players to appear on major occasions at both Twickenham and Wembley.
After retiring, Blackmore returned to Devon, where he worked mainly in the motor trade, and only a few players followed in his footsteps by "going North" to play league.
Michael Blackmore, rugby player: born Barnstaple, Devon 29 September 1937; married (one daughter, and one son deceased); died Barnstaple 1 January 2008.
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