Rugby players from down the decades scrummed down again to celebrate 90 years of the sport at the King's School. Together with a group of alumnae netball players, King's welcomed back some of the sportsmen and women who have given the School a national reputation for sporting excellence.
Up until 1929, The Macclesfield Grammar School, had always been a football school in winter with cricket the main sport in the summer. However, the arrival of two ardent rugby players on the staff, Messers M. S. Fox and S. Taylor, alongside a new rugby enthusiast T.T. Shaw, who eventually became Headmaster, saw King's start rugby and adopt the handling game officially in 1931. Their first game was against Manchester Grammar School Second XV, who were beaten 15 - 6, the big city sidewinders soon sending their first XV alongside dozens of other top schools across a hugely competitive Northern circuit, one of the great spawning grounds for the English game. Every year since then First, Second and often Third XVs alongside sides from every year group, often A and B sides, have competed week in week out during the autumn and winter terms.
From former England international Jos Baxendell to the only surviving member of the 1945 'Magnificent Seven' William Hancock, now aged 94, King's stalwarts of the game shared the happiest of memories on a heart-warming Saturday. Jos, who left in 1990, having been a member of the national Oxford Sevens winning team, then going on to play for Sale for 12 years with two England caps at centre, summed up the feeling: "It was fantastic fun and I'm still mates with all the boys now. King's gave me a great grounding for my professional career but most importantly it was just an absolutely wonderful and immensely enjoyable part of my life."
Former pupil Rick Wright flew in from Ghana for the event, and was a member of the same group of players as Jos. He has since set up rugby clubs in Beirut, Sierra Leone and Ghana, and went to see Jos play an international in South Africa, added: "My closest and oldest chums are all King's rugby players and when Jos got capped by England it was an incredibly proud moment for all of us."
The celebration event gave the School’s former sportsmen and women a chance to explore the new £60 million King's campus on Alderley Road, see the magnificent sporting facilities, enjoy a former pupils’ netball tournament and rugby game followed by a hog roast and open bar.
Every man and women expressed the same overriding feeling as the veteran and oldest surviving rugby player of them all, William Hancock, said: "It was the camaraderie and the fun. I can still remember the thrill of playing in front of the whole school and the then headmaster T.T. Shaw, shouting at me from the touchline, 'Go Hancock! Go Hancock!'"
William, who played throughout the war years from 1938 to 1945 and went on to play as a guest for Macclesfield, Congleton, Stoke and Wilmslow, added: "Because I played rugby and was also in the school orchestra, I felt I was T.T. Shaw's blue eyed boy, but he knew all of us." William, who found fame in the local press as a member of the Magnificent Seven that won the Manchester Schools’ Championship in 1945 added: "I still have the newspaper cuttings to this day and very much remember all my great friends of that time."
The women of more recent years enjoyed being part of the great netball tradition. Katie Hindson, who left in 2003, remembered the netball tour to The Netherlands. "At that time the boys were going on rugby tours to exotic places like South Africa, so we said we wanted our turn and went to Holland.
"It might not have been as far but it was still great fun, meeting up with other schools for an overseas tournament and I have to admit sneaking off at night to go to a club."
Ali Mair, of the same year group, added: "It was thought we might have a civilising influence on the boys, but that wouldn't be fair, they were already civilised and were very welcoming. We had got to know the boys through a whole range of social activities before hand anyway."
The event also saw some of the school's legendary rugby masters and former sports coaches meet up with their former charges. Guy Mason, a former King's player and latterly King's Head of Rugby, brought his new school side Lancaster Grammar for a series of matches on the celebration day. Guy said: "I remember the great coaches: Reg Davenport, Graham Wilson and Mark Harbord, who are all here today, and I still use some of the techniques they taught me."
The aforementioned Reg Davenport, a former Wasps and Bradford back row, who captained Yorkshire in the county championship before coaching at King's, said: "Rugby and team sports in general focus on getting a group of guys or girls together and working to achieve a common goal. The relationships you developed on the sports field enabled you to have a much relaxed and positive relationship with the student in class."
Mark Harbord, who played fly-half for Lydney and Macclesfield and was a county second XI cricketer, added: "It developed all sides of the character: residence, importantly the ability to cope with failure and team work. It also helped people with their confidence. Boys or girls who might not have been the best in class could develop their confidence on the sports field."
Many old friends attended the event including two dashing three-quarters from the class of 1961 Aubrey Blakeley and Alan Hanson and their comrade from the class of ‘63 Richard Garner, another dancing backline star. Aubrey said: "I loved the comradeship. The education was second to none and it helped me get through school, university and get on in business." Alan Hanson added: "I was the goal kicker and one of my great abiding memories was kicking a goal from the touch line, toe end as the style was back then, in front of the whole school and landing it to win 5 - 3. I'll never forget that day."
Richard added: "I was a soccer player before I got to King's and didn't think much of rugby at the start. When they said 'where do you want to play' I said, still thinking of football, 'I'm a forward' but when I saw that sweat box, I said, 'No sir, I must be a back" and I enjoyed every moment thereafter."
There was even a current representative of the fourth generation of King's sport at the event, Grace Cornford, 16, showing her father Robert Cornford around the new school and even finding a photo of her dad in the class of ‘83. Robert said: "I bowled a bit and batted bit and wasn't that good at either, but it was huge fun and I'm delighted Grace is now at the school as the fourth generation of King's pupils, with one of her grandmothers also going to Macclesfield High."
Some had come many hundreds of miles to see the new school, Paul Allmand from the class of ‘63 travelling up from Farnham and his classmate Ken Maddock, a former Deputy Leader of Somerset County Council, coming up from the West Country. Ken said: "I wasn't that good at sport, but this new school isn't just about sport; it appears to be all things to all men and to all women and I could tell within half an hour, that it is an absolutely fantastic place and better than the school I knew."