February 12 2016
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Mennaye Happy Memories
Call me a dewy-eyed sentimental old git if you will but I have to confess that when I heard the news last week that our deeply loved Pirates were returning to Penzance my heart skipped a beat.
Oh I know my brain tells me there are all sorts of complicated PR and financial ramifications to all of this but surely if there is no romance left in rugby it soon becomes a pretty sterile exercise. Anyway the feeling I got was one that I guess the old fishermen must have experienced when, after a tough few days at sea, they pulled back into Mounts Bay and saw the cheery lights of Newlyn twinkling on the skyline. Home!
For those of you relatively new to the Pirate family, suffice to say that the newly combined Penzance and Newlyn club leased a piece of wasteland equidistant between the two towns at the close of the Second World War after it had been used as a troop mustering area. Legend has it that General Eisenhower – later of course to become US President - reviewed his GI’s there. Perhaps someone will tell me whether this oft-recounted tale is actually true or not.
Through sheer hard work by volunteers and the Club’s burgeoning Supporters Club the ground had, by the late 1950’s, been developed to more or less as we still see it today. Ever since then it has been somewhat stuck in a cosy time warp rather like a comfortable old pair of slippers which you just cannot bear to throw away. Hopefully the Stadium for Cornwall will become a reality soon but I for one intend to enjoy the interim to the full.
My first visit there was way back in 1956 to watch not the Pirates but Cornwall (did somebody boo?). They were down to play against a team called D.R.Gents XV. If these sound to you a bit like the toilets at your local GP’s surgery think again.
They were a heady concoction of current internationals and British Lions brought together by an old fellow called Dai Gent. He had preceded Dewi Morris by about ninety years by being a Welshman who played scrum half for England – including against Wales - and not only lived to tell the tale but like Morris became a rugby media hack who raised a star-spangled team and provided plenty of free beer on his paper’s expenses.
Why did I go? I guess I was just a star struck nine year old kid. In the advertised line up were Tony O’Reilly, Dicky Jeeps and the great Jack Kyle. Having just started playing at school and seen them on my auntie’s flickering black and white TV, I just wanted to see it all for myself.
The crowd seemed huge and, knowing the ground as I do now, there must have been 8,000 people crammed in there. Who says that, given a bit of safety work, the ground cannot still be made to hold 4-5,000 with ease?
I paid my shilling at the gate, squeezed down inside the railings and sat on the grass with my mates from school only to be told O’Reilly was not playing. Oh bugger – but Jeeps and Kyle still were.
The place I found myself was just in front of the pay box as you go into the stand – or ‘grandstand’ – as they liked to call it in those days. After the game had been going for about five minutes somebody booted the ball high into touch where it bounced on the stand roof, came down and landed with a ‘thwack’ on the back of my head. Everybody laughed at me but maybe that bang on the head explains my crazy fixation with rugby and the Mennaye ever since.
Within a week or two my parents could never keep me away and the Pirates became MY team and the players became absolute Gods as far as I was concerned. I once even stood in the rain outside the old Nissen hut which served as their dressing rooms for half an hour waiting to get Geoff Vingoe’s autograph. ‘Sad or what’ you may say but whenever I was there - win or lose - I always felt supremely and blissfully happy.
Who knows – maybe a little bit of that old magic is still in the air!