All the struggles just to watch the most boring game in history
The beginning of 1963 witnessed heavy snow and freezing conditions since the worst of all winters which was in 1947. I recall the 1947 winter vividly with snow on the ground for four months. It was just as bad in 1963 but nothing on quite the same scale.
Wales and England was only played at Cardiff Arms Park in the January because some 15 tons of straw had covered the playing field for quite a while to protect it from the snow and the severe frost. In the final days of 1962 a severe blizzard had spread throughout south Wales.)
In the hours before the game dozens of volunteers helped to clear the straw just beyond the touchlines. It was said that the temperature was minus 6 degrees during the game. Wales lost 13 -6 in a game that was the only sporting event that took place in the UK on that day. In truth it should not have been played, parts of the playing surface were frozen and the referee tried to get the game called off, but there were some 55,000 in the ground.
I was there being a rugby fanatic and a student at Cardiff University.
A fortnight later, February 2nd, Wales was due to meet Scotland at Murrayfield. The weather was still bad – snow and frost – but the pitch had an underground heating system so there would be no doubt about whether the game would go on.
In any event along with a few of my student friends I was sat in the common room of what was known as the new Arts block of the University. Somehow the topic of the game in Scotland came up and more surprisingly the conversation about going to see the game came up. This was the Thursday afternoon.
Anyway it ended with a bet between me and William ‘Nash’ Bevan, a school mate from Gwendraeth Grammar days as well. The bet was who had the courage to thumb it to Edinburgh. Matters got out of hand and both of us foolishly agreed to meet at 4.30 that afternoon outside Cardiff castle and go from there.
I remember going to my digs in Grangetown to collect some stuff, all the while desperately hoping that ‘Nash’ would not be there by the castle. My heart sank – he was.
So off we went along Queen Street and then on to Newport Road trying to catch a lift. Eventually a jeep stopped with an open back. We sat there until Birmingham, desperately cold. When we were dropped off in the centre of the city the first thing we did was to go into a telephone kiosk to plan what to do next, but more importantly warm up. Why a kiosk and not a cafe or pub – don’t ask me!
By now it was around eight in the evening so off we went again and this time got a lift from a lorry. I am not sure which way we went – was it towards the North West or the North East of England. In any event around eight in the morning we were dropped off not too far from the Scottish border. We came across a pub, and went in, explained to the landlord what had happened and he was kind enough to let us wash etc and also cooked us a breakfast. We stayed there a while to recover and warm up.
As we were about to leave a man came in for a break and it turned out he too was going to Edinburgh so he offered us a lift in his rather big car I seem to recall.
By mid afternoon we were in Edinburgh. Now came the decision what were we going to do about accommodation for the Friday night. But first we took a stroll along Princes Street. Then to my surprise we came across a group of Tumble RFC players and got chatting and going to a pub with them. (In the 1962/63 rugby season I was playing for them every Saturday – travelling back home from Cardiff on the Friday night each time).
When they found out what we had done they thought we were nuts and in any case just asked me ‘why didn’t you come up with us on the bus?’ I explained all this was a spur of the moment decision with no thought given to the implications.
One fortuitous thing happened. They said you can stay in our hotel. The management won’t know because half of us won’t be back in the hotel until the morning. So it turned out. When we were having breakfast on the Saturday morning in came about ten of them from their ‘night out’.
They also suggested we could travel back with them, but that was not going to be until the Tuesday, so again we foolishly declined.
So on to the game on a bitterly cold day. Two spare tickets had been given to us by the players.
What a game! There had been nothing like it before or since. In fact the rules on kicking straight to touch was changed as a result. There were 111 lineouts. It was a war of attrition between two sets of forwards. Clive Rowlands (nicknamed ‘Top Cat’) did not pass once to David Watkins the outside half – he just kicked to touch from every scrum and lineout. He set out to win, as Wales had not won in Murrayfield for over a decade, and in that he achieved his aim. Wales won 6-0.
We had already decided to start on our way back after the game. This time we would go via Glasgow. The snow was starting to fall as well. We picked up a lift pretty soon after starting from Edinburgh and reached the outskirts of Gretna Green. I just recall us hanging around in a bus stop shelter for quite some time. Snow falling and being bitterly cold.
The journey back to South Wales is vague in my memory now except arriving in Newport mid Sunday afternoon. But the irony was ‘Nash’ and I were so tired and cold we caught a train to Cardiff!
So there we go, not quite as described by Max Boyce in one of his famous songs The Scottish Trip