No sign of the ‘real JR’ as Sidmouth Chiefs take Dallas, Texas by storm – the club tour to the USA in 1980

PUBLISHED: 10:26 07 May 2020 | UPDATED: 10:26 07 May 2020

The SRFC tour party before their departure for the 1980 tour to the USA. Picture SRFC

The SRFC tour party before their departure for the 1980 tour to the USA. Picture SRFC

Archant

Sidmouth RFC undertook an overseas tour in 1980 that began at Dallas, Texas in the United States of America, writes Terry O’Brien.

Sidmouth RFC in action against Dallas during the 1980 tour to the USA. Picture SRFCSidmouth RFC in action against Dallas during the 1980 tour to the USA. Picture SRFC

Two years before, in September 1978, Sidmouth was the first stop on Dallas RFCs tour of the UK.

The Chiefs won a close game 6-3. The tourists were accommodated in the homes of club members. Fun was had, friendships were made, and an invitation was extended for Sidmouth to visit Dallas.

A quick decision was made to accept the invitation and plans were got under way to undertake an ambitious tour, not just of Dallas, but Texas.

Five venues were arranged for what would be an 18-day tour. Many fundraising events were arranged with a target to travel in April 1980.

Sidmouth RFC tour party receive a wonderful welcome in El Paso, USA. Picture SRFCSidmouth RFC tour party receive a wonderful welcome in El Paso, USA. Picture SRFC

To make the tour affordable, like Dallas in Sidmouth, accommodation would be hosted by members of the opposing clubs.

And so it was that, on March 26, 1980, a party of 46 players and supporters, including guest players from other clubs, wives and girlfriends, set off for Gatwick Airport, where another tour leaders nightmare occurred. The name on a ticket must match the one on the passenger’s passport. I had made the wrong assumption that a guest players partner was his wife!

We just managed to jump the resulting bureaucratic hurdles in time to board the ‘Big Orange’, a Boeing 747 of Braniff Airways to Dallas.

Despite the lavish welcoming hospitality, we managed to win both games.

Sidmouth RFC in action against Houston during the 1980 tour to the USA. Picture SRFCSidmouth RFC in action against Houston during the 1980 tour to the USA. Picture SRFC

On Friday, the Quins won 13-10 and, on Saturday, the Chiefs by 12-10.

During the former, the Dallas fullback, who had not yet got to distinguish between rugby and American football, executed a perfect no-arms tackle on yours truly when the ball was 20 yards (the USA still uses imperial) away. I sustained a broken rib and Steve Lewis kicked the resulting penalty to win the game. I believe this is called ‘taking one for the team’!

Dallas is well known for two things: the assassination of JFK, we visited Dealy Plaza, and a TV show ‘Dallas’. However, with due respect to the latter, the only JR we saw was John Richards.

The next stop was Houston, and, in a contest played under lights, Sidmouth won 12-4.

The SRFC tour party on an airline heading for the USA tour of 1980. Picture SRFCThe SRFC tour party on an airline heading for the USA tour of 1980. Picture SRFC

On our one free day, we packed in visits to the Houston Astrodome, the World’s first multi-purpose indoor sports stadium, NASA Mission Control and Galveston, a major port on the Gulf of Mexico, population 50,000, which Pete West declared was ‘just like Exmouth’.

And so on to El Paso! On arrival we were greeted by a reception party led by the mayor of the city, who awarded each of us a certificate conferring on us the Freedom of the City.

One of Donald Trump’s first acts as president was to rescind this honour after two certificates had been spotted on eBay in Mexico!

In the match, played on Easter Saturday, the wind was so strong that a kick in either direction would end up over the leeward dead ball line.

We attributed our 16-21 defeat to the altitude and the previous night out in Juarez (not attended by any of the opposition players). This was made to appear a bit hollow by the Quins 32-16 victory.

We undertook an enjoyable trip up into the surrounding mountains, where snow was still lying, and great scenery could be enjoyed. Some of the party went on to Carlsbad Caverns.

On to San Antonio where our two-day stay was somewhat low key as the partying caught up with us and we took the chance to recharge our batteries.

The famous Riverwalk provided an ideal setting to relax. We also spent time at the somewhat underwhelming Alamo, for John Wayne fans at least. Its position in the middle of the city detracts from the heroic wild west illusion.

The match was cut short when the sprinkler system came to life with 10 minutes to play. However, with the Chiefs leading 41-7, this was academic.

There followed another tour managers nightmare; the last-minute change of itinerary.

Instead of flying to Dallas for our last few days and final match, we were diverted to the capital Austin, where Dallas were taking part in state play-offs.

Flights had to be cancelled and a hotel booked. Fortunately, Dallas provided transport for the 75-mile trip in the form of a yellow school bus driven by the ever-hospitable ‘Roy’.

Having completed the hasty rearrangements, I caught up with the main party in time to enjoy a couple of hours rafting down the Guadalupe river.

On the Saturday, the 15 players still able muster a jog, lost 6-9 to a Dallas XV. The only highlights of the game were the five successful penalties.

After the game, we cleared the furniture from our largest hotel room for a farewell party. Graham Bess had another of his less lucid moments when he decided it would be a good idea to dive into the swimming pool. From the fifth floor. When the pool was on the other side of the building. Fortunately for our insurers, he was talked out of it.

Our flight home was delayed by six hours. Having consumed our complimentary meal, we embarked on a tour of the six bars in the various passenger terminals. Once on in the air, with complementary drinks consumed, we offered the remainder of the tour kitty to a hostess to keep serving drinks until it ran out. She declined informing that we could just help ourselves. Soon after, Braniff Airways went into administration!

Meanwhile, at home, the remaining players fulfilled the normal Easter fixtures winning all three games.


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