County Ground Days – Roy Huxtable part 2
Part two of our interview with Roy Huxtable...
I understand that the Fixtures Secretary was an important job- I must ask how you ended up with it?
“I believed I was conned into becoming Fixtures Secretary . I agreed to do it late at night! The existing fixtures secretary had resigned at short notice in mid-season. The chairman sidled up to me and asked if I would take over - he bought the drinks as I remember. I said yes, only realising a few days later just what I had taken on! I was the Fixtures Secretary at Exeter for 12 or so seasons and looking back I think I made a reasonable job of it (or perhaps nobody else fancied the role), making friends along the way. We used to run 4 teams, 1st XV, A XV, B XV and Colts at the County Ground, with an additional pitch over at Cowick Barton. Your priority was, of course, to obtain the best fixtures list possible for your club and our ideal arrangement was 2 sides home and 2 away with a good balance of homes/aways. No team appreciated travelling away week after week; it does also seem to upset the treasurer! Working around the local circuit, the above was achievable bearing in mind at the time we were regularly playing Taunton, Torquay, Plymouth etc. and these clubs also ran 4 teams. So, for example, the 1st and Colts home with the A and B sharing a coach to play away, but then again this didn’t work for the Colts when the 1st XV was playing at Bath, Bristol, and Gloucester and possibly further afield in South Wales or the London area”.
How did Rugby Union move from “friendlies” to leagues?
“Exeter was a member of the 25 strong Major Clubs association - I think we were the only club this side of Bristol. In the early ‘80s moves were under way to create two 12 x 12 national leagues with of course no promotion/relegation. In this era our playing strength was poor, we were going through a very bad time on the pitch and it didn’t take much working out which of the clubs was going to be pushed out and we were. However we were soon thrown a life line with an invitation to join in the formation of an additional national league; this initiative came predominantly from the north of the country. Plymouth Albion was very strong at the time and their support/influence was critical to us being invited. Two or three of us spent a lot of Sundays attending meetings in the Midlands talking with representatives from the other clubs. Jack Challenger, who was our chairman at the time, used to pick up Mike Cook and myself in his Rolls Royce - you can imagine the impression we gave arriving in a Roller! We did at times share transport with the Albion representatives but never in the Rolls, that is pushing friendship far too far! The initial league consisted of 7 clubs from the north, 2 from the Midlands, 1 from the London Area plus Albion and us. This league became known as the C Merit Table. We eventually obtained the necessary permission from the RFU and we were up and running”.
How did the introduction of the Merit Table change the traditional fixtures?
“The first task was to free up some Saturdays to accommodate the new clubs; we of course had existing fixtures with Albion. I had to make some quite difficult phone calls, dropping old friends whilst at the same time trying to hang on to the likes of Bath and Bristol. The financial considerations were considerable with additional travel and overnight accommodation. If possible you did try to avoid travelling to the north of England in mid-winter. On one occasion we travelled to West Hartlepool, only to find on arrival that their pitch was unplayable and with no other suitable alternative. That of course was not the end of the problem as the fixture was required to be re-arranged with us picking up the additional cost. The financial sub- committee’s problems were far greater than mine”.
How did you get on during the first few seasons?
“Again we had some luck. As I said previously, our playing standards at this time were not great, but to be fair Birmingham were equally as poor. One very wet Saturday, with the County Ground un-playable, we ended up playing Birmingham over at Cowick Barton and sneaked a win. We just managed to keep our head above the water (excuse the pun) and our fortunes slowly started to change. Looking back at some old records I note that by the season ‘87/88 we were in Courage National 3 league with most of the original 'C' Merit Table clubs; however by ‘93/94 again in Courage National 3 but now with the company of some famous old clubs. Times were changing with clubs going bust and others coming up through”.
Looking back how would you sum up the last few years?
“Changes - massive changes. From the old County Ground to Sandy Park, from playing Birmingham on a wet Saturday over at Cowick Barton to our opening premiership fixture against Gloucester. We did of course win both.”