It is my sad duty to inform users of this forum that Clive Best, a member of Barrow's 1955 cup winning team, sadly passed away yesterday after a short illness.
(1952 to 1956)
Date of birth: 4 August, 1931.
Place of birth: Tredegar ( Wales ).
Signed from: Ebbw Vale RUFC (on 21 November, 1952 ).
Debut: 22 November, 1952 v Bramley (at home).
Last appearance: 24 March, 1956 v Wakefield Trinity (away).
Went to: Retired from professional Rugby League at the end of the 1956/57 season.
Known professional career:
Barrow (1952 to 1956).
Bradford Northern on loan (1956).
Full Back (49).
Career length: 3 years 124 days.
Ebbw Vale RUFC star, Clive Best was a former Welsh Rugby Union schoolboy international, who Barrow persuaded to switch codes in November, 1952. He had previously been courted by Oldham RLFC, but after playing in a trial match for that club, decided not to sign for them. Clive proved to be a good signing and gave nearly five years service at Craven Park before calling it a day at the end of the 1956/57 season because he wanted to concentrate on a career away from rugby. The affable Welshman played 52 times for the Barrow first team and also gave tremendous service to the A team during his time with Barrow. Strangely, despite being a naturally attack-minded, rather than defensive, full back, and also being a decent goal kicker, Clive Best never scored any points for the Barrow first team. It was a different matter for the reserves though, where he was a regular scorer. In fact, in his first season at Craven Park , he once scored eight tries in four matches for the second team! Clive’s greatest moment during his time at Barrow was undoubtedly in 1955, when he was a member of the team that defeated Workington Town at Wembley Stadium to bring the Rugby League Challenge Cup back to Barrow-in-Furness for the only time. By the early part of the 1956/57 season, Clive was playing exclusively for the A team. There was a brief spell on loan at Bradford Northern (where he kicked three goals in four first team appearances), but, at the end of that campaign, Clive decided to hang up his professional boots. Anybody who has ever been in Clive’s company will tell you what a likeable person he is. He is also a great raconteur who can captivate you for hours with humorous stories about the 1950s at Barrow RFC. Shortly before this book went to print, Clive sent me some of his memories about his time at Barrow and they are well worth repeating here as they contain some fascinating stuff:
After playing quite well for Ebbw Vale RUFC one Saturday, a well dressed man approached me in the ground and said he wanted to talk to me about Rugby League. By this time Gay (my then girlfriend and future wife) and I were an ‘entity’ and I was desperate about raising funds to talk about marriage. I made a hasty decision and gave him my brother Desmond’s address and said I would see him in an hour. I made my excuses and missed the social ‘bits’ after the match and went up to meet him. When I took him into my brother’s house it was quite awkward because neither my brother, nor his wife Moira, knew anything about the meeting or Rugby League. He introduced himself as Arthur Fairfax, an Agent for Rugby League clubs and said, if I was willing, he would arrange a trial for me with a club who were looking for a running full back. He would make all arrangements, pay all expenses and it would cost me nothing; and if I signed he would claim his fee from the club involved. I agreed and we made arrangements to meet at Newport Station on the following Thursday morning. I asked the name of the Club and he told me Barrow-in-Furness . I had never heard of them or any of their players. I had to search on the map to find where it was. Gay made excuses for me at the Badminton Club we played in and I cried off the next Ebbw Vale game. We caught the train at Newport and travelled, via Crewe and Lancaster ; it seemed an endless journey especially as he resisted all conversation except that of the matter in hand. I purposely pleaded ignorant of the Rugby League game and certainly did not tell him of my Oldham experience. On arrival at Barrow railway station we took a taxi to a hotel called the White House, which seemed quite pleasant; Mine Host was a gentleman called Brown who introduced himself as a Director of Barrow Rugby League Club. After tea I gathered my playing kit and we went down to Craven Park . The entrance wasn’t very salubrious and I immediately thought of Oldham , however once in the ground things brightened up. The Coaches, Jack Bowker and Wally Bowyer, were very welcoming and introduced me to some of the players down there for training. We then went through all aspects of the game especially the play-the-ball. I think they were surprised I was able to understand most of the technical bits. On the Friday we had a look around Barrow and had another run-out, concentrating this time on kicking. A couple of the players came to watch, knowing I was a ‘triallist’. I had no idea at the time but, of course, if I was signed, then one of the existing players lost his place, so not many were wishing me ‘good luck’. On the Saturday afternoon, I went down to Craven Park quite early. The match was against Bramley, and Barrow were clearly the better side. I don’t remember much about my part in the game; afterwards people told me I didn’t drop a ball or miss a tackle, but I only remember kicking and having a great deal of luck with the ball bouncing into touch. I do remember being very impressed by the outside half and captain, Willy Horne, who had tremendous skills; also the speed and skill of the wings, Jim Lewthwaite and Frank Castle. As I was changing after the game, a chap came into the dressing room and came over to me. I was shattered; despite all the clandestine movements and silence, there was John Lewis from Ebbw Vale who knew me! He was the son of a former teacher of mine and he was stationed in the RAF at Millom. I was devastated, because if once he mentioned this back home, I would be barred from playing Rugby Union again and my bargaining for a signing-on fee would be compromised. I quickly arranged to meet him later in the evening. Then, whilst very hot and bothered, went with Arthur Fairfax to the Directors’ Room. Fortunately, no one knew I had been ‘spotted’ so I was not compromised as feared. When we walked into the Directors’ Room my heart dropped. There were seven or eight people sat around the Board Table and a seat at the end for me. There was no support at all. Other players had Solicitors; I had no one. The Chairman stated straight away they felt I had shown some good qualities and they were interested in signing me. My mind was racing, with the thoughts that I must sign or word would get back to Wales and my rugby days would be over. However, I was still calm on the outside. They asked me what were my terms. Ever since my schooldays, £1000 was the magic figure for everything; be it a year’s salary or an amount to be aimed at saving. So I told them £1000. They then asked what else, and I added £100 for ‘x’ number of games. They then asked about work and (although I was only earning £4 10s a week) I told them I had a good education and would want a job paying at least £11 a week. To this day I have no idea why I did not say £10 or £12. At this, one of the gentlemen (Mr Laurens O.B.E.) nodded his head. He was well up in the management structure at the Shipyard. This gave me confidence so I asked for a House, but was told quite firmly they didn’t ‘do houses’. I then calmed down and sat back while they had a discussion. They then said they were willing to sign me for £900 with the £100 clause and guaranteed me a job with a minimum of £11 per week. I would start in the 1st Team on a £17 per match bonus. I was disappointed and, but for the visit of the Ebbw Vale chap, would have argued further. However, I signed there and then. I felt no malice toward my Welsh visitor John Lewis and paid his Bed & Breakfast so we could enjoy a couple of drinks to celebrate. This of course meant I could relax and go back to Wales without the fear and trepidation which would have been present if I had not signed. And I had a cheque for £900 in my pocket. When I returned home, I told my Mother all about it. I had kept everything from her because I was sure she would not fully understand the implications. When I gave her all the details and tried to explain about Rugby League, she said she knew all about it because her brother Eddie Webb had signed for Bramley! I travelled home on the Sunday and the news was in the Monday papers. Because he had been such a poor employer, I had great pleasure in telling my boss, Mr Prole, I would finish on the Wednesday because I was playing the following Saturday. Most folk were surprised but pleasant about the news, but there were those who were less than gracious. Dan Thomas, the Chairman of Brynmawr Rugby Club crossed the road rather than speak to me. Several others appeared to be upset about my move and made snide comments about me having signed professional forms. Colin Boseley, a former Chairman of the London Welsh Club, who I had played against in schools and club Rugby, went on saying this for years and, when my two sons played for the London Welsh, he would tell everyone around ‘their father played Rugby League’. When I meet him now at the Welsh Rugby Union A.G.M, he still carries on the charade! The following Thursday I travelled up to train ready for the next match and it was during training that I found out just how fast Frank Castle was. I had two more nights in the White House Hotel and was then told I would have to find digs. The Club Secretary then told me he had fixed up digs for me with him and his family. After the next game, which was played on a very hot day, I was sitting on my own with a drink when Phil Jackson came up and more or less whispered ‘do you fancy a bevy?’ I told him I already had one, but he then said ‘a pint out later.’ I nodded and he said ‘The Strawberry at 7.’ I went back to the hotel, changed and went to the Strawberry and there was Phil with six Rugby Union boys around the table. Thus a new life began! Phil introduced me to all the boys, mainly from Vickers Sports RFC, who had played that day; they were Alan Forshaw, who I am still in touch with 56 years later, Andy Graham, Ben Bolt and Davy Black who were great guys but have now, ‘gone on’ and Ken, an American, who was a mystery man to me, but quite pleasant. That was the beginning of a great social group and I felt privileged to have been allowed to join them. The only rule was that the two Rugby League players (Phil and I) we put double the amount in the kitty, because we were being paid to play. Phil now lives in Australia in Wagga Wagga, and every time I visit my family out there in Australia we meet up. Alan lives in Ulverston still and we meet up with him and his wife Anne whenever we come back to the area. Another guy who joined our group when he returned from the Merchant Navy was Ralph Haynes and we have met up several times in Wales when he has been on holiday. He and his wife Sheila now live in Perth Australia and we still keep in touch. He was the only one in our group to drive so we would cram in his father’s car for nights out in Windermere. My days in ‘digs’ with the Club Secretary were numbered. It was purgatory. My survival was only possible because of Phil and the ‘gang’ and Hughie McGregor and his lovely wife, who invited me over to Walney regularly to their home. I quickly went to the Club Accountant and told him I would like to buy a house I had seen in Windsor Street (for £1100). He said fine, he would arrange a mortgage. However, I handed him £100 and told him to add this to the signing on fee, which I had invested with him, and buy the house outright. So 23 Windsor Street became my home. Rugby League was a new game, but a very close relative of Union . I felt it was a relationship like Tennis and Badminton. At no time was there a playing situation I didn’t understand. Initially, I began to recognise that, although the existing players were reasonable in their attitude to me apart from Phil Jackson, Willie Horne Dennis Goodwin and Reg Parker (who was always asking what my signing on fee was) and Jim Lewthwaite, I was a bit on the outside. I accepted that my signing meant someone else’s ‘demise’. This social divide disappeared as the seasons went by. Off the field, at social events, I suffered a great deal of teasing about being another Welsh full back; I was not aware of the antics Lloyd Davies had got up to in his stay at the club back then. In the early days I was surprised that although I was signed as a running full back I was rarely involved in any moves. I understood that, although I had kicked quite a few goals for Ebbw Vale, I was not given any kicks because Willie Horne was a superb kicker, tried and tested. At that time in the Rugby League game there were two kinds of full backs, the kickers and the runners. My Rugby Union game was to be a fast but safe full back. I realised the three safety elements were tackling, catching and kicking for touch, and my left boot was quite long and accurate and I loved tackling. A variation on catching the high ball was my first real lesson in the new game! I had no fears of catching any kind of ball in the air, but I was very orthodox with two arms up-stretched to bring the ball into my chest safely. Some years before I was signed, Barrow had signed a Welsh full back called Joe Jones. I had seen him training with the A team and there appeared to be a ‘Mickey taking’ attitude amongst the other players who threw him ‘triallist passes’ and generally laughed at him. I was surprised at this because I knew Joe, who was from Cilfynydd, had played for the Wales XV in the Victory Internationals at the end of the war. Before one training session, Joe called me out on the field and started a kicking dual, where each kicker attempted to make the other miss the ball either by long kicks or short ones; the aim being to bounce the ball into touch. After a while, when I felt I was holding my own, Joe had me kicking high and he caught it in dramatic ways, over his shoulder, sliding to catch it sitting down, dropping to one knee etc. He then explained to me this is what the crowd wanted to see. I was very impressed and found I could do some of the skills immediately. However, my safety first background was a hindrance. After this session I made it my business to tell everyone how skilful and helpful Joe had been to me. Later he repaid me by appearing at the dance following the match against the New Zealand team in a Welsh blazer, dancing with everyone and telling them he was the new Welsh fullback. When I danced with a girl she asked me if I had played in the match and in what position, when I told her she said that this could not be so because she had just danced with him! Another lesson was when Eddie Wearing appeared in Barrow in a Rugby League Schoolboy Show with Bert Cooke, the New Zealand full back, and they asked me to be the catcher and kicker opposite Cooke in a demonstration for the schoolboys of Barrow. I must say Bert Cooke impressed me, but Eddie Wearing was a bit slick; fancy dressed and lots to say. Back to fitting in with the Team. In my first week at the Club I was helping the Secretary Arthur Hurst, and one letter I opened was from HM Prison at Walton Jail, Liverpool . It was a threatening letter from R H Lloyd-Davies, demanding that the ‘addle-headed’ Barrow Directors appear in Court on his behalf. He had been picked up in France with the wrong papers and trying to pass a cheque he had written in a chequebook he had stolen. The other players then began to tell me stories of his quirky behaviour when he was a player there. Of course, when he signed he had a magnificent game kicking goals from everywhere. Then began a slow deterioration in his behaviour and play. Among the older Barrow players, stories of Lloyd are legend. John Ducie tells of a game with Swinton when he was captain, and centre partner with Lloyd, toward the end of the first half Lloyd called to John ‘look up in the front of the stand’. John looked up and there were two attractive girls sitting with legs ‘akimbo’. Just then the referee blew up for half-time and, as was the arrangement, all the players trooped off to the dressing rooms. They came back on to play and the game went on for about ten minutes and Barrow were awarded a penalty. John called ‘Lloyd’, as he was the kicker, and then suddenly realised what had happened and looked up into the stand. There was Lloyd sitting between the two girls! When Barrow played in South Lancashire , a journey of about 100 miles each way, they always stopped at a Roadhouse just outside Preston . A light snack and a brisk walk on the way to the game and a formal meal and a few drinks on the way back. There was one occasion when the players all rushed through their meal and left the Directors in the dining room. Lloyd-Davies immediately went up to the bar and announced to everyone there that Barrow had just achieved a great win and there were drinks all round for everyone in the crowded bar. The Directors, with a few drinks inside them, just signed the cheque totally unaware they had bought everyone drinks. Unfortunately, despite his rugby talent, Lloyd-Davies spent a good deal of time in jail! At a recent lunch at the ‘Rose & Crown’, Merthyr, I chatted to the famous Welsh Centre Bleddyn Williams (now more than 80 years old). He asked me if I had met Lloyd-Davies in Barrow, and when I told him of the stories he was highly amused. Apparently he had been best man at Lloyd’s wedding and knew all about him. My first team run ended when I collapsed on the field with a torn cartilage in my knee, was carried off on a stretcher and taken immediately to hospital for an operation to remove the cartilage. I could not play for two months. I was replaced at full back by Jack Gibson, who I liked very much. However, I felt I was younger, faster and a better tackler and kicker, but once you lost your place, and the team continued to win, you had little chance of getting back in. For a long period I was in the A team and, despite the loss of pay, I thoroughly enjoyed playing there in a successful side, with other players who had played in the first team but had also lost their places for a variety of reasons. I was very proud of our defensive record which had developed into ‘they shall not pass’ mode and we tackled with great gusto. Some of the players went on to play first team rugby, and even went to Wembley Finals. It was during this spell that I learned that selection politics existed even in the professional game. I turned up to one game and found I was selected as a prop forward! I played but I was furious and went after the game to challenge the Director in charge of the team. He told me that the Directors had been told by the Club Secretary that I had requested the move. I very quickly refuted this and went to the Secretary to challenge him; his excuse was he thought I would make a good prop forward. I very soon found out that he was anxious for the club to sign Danny Leatherbarrow, who was from the same club in Kitt Green, Wigan that the Secretary came from! Despite this part of the game, I enjoyed my time in the A team, and made some good friends there with the Ducie boys and Johnny Rea and Jim Trelore, etc. There were some good players in that side who I felt were first team material. ‘Dinks’ Harris was one A team player who many of us thought was the best scrum half in the Club. Certainly he was better than many first team players in surrounding clubs. He was also the victim of some clever politics from Ted Toohey, who held that position for several years. After a successful run in the A Team, I was once more promoted to the seniors, and enjoyed some fine games playing with (except me) an all-International back division. An early round of the Cup was against Salford and I enjoyed a good defensive game in the mud. I felt then I was established in the first team and went on through the rounds to the Final. Life was good; Gay even had good cuts of meat from the butcher. Once we were through to the Final the whole town was buzzing and it was hard to keep your feet on the ground. The thought that one might get injured before the Final conflicted with the 100% effort you wanted to give to the team. Much has been written about the Final. To me it was fantastic. We travelled to a hotel on the banks of the River Thames at Maidenhead. I was struck immediately by the change of temperature. We had left Barrow in a swirling cold wind and here in Maidenhead the weather was mild with quite a few spring flowers out. We had a training session on a private ground and we were all very upbeat and worked very hard. To relax we hired a couple of cabin cruisers on the Thames . I remember we were so fit it was difficult to walk anywhere without breaking into a run. We also had a run out at Wembley Stadium, not an event I remember well. The game is well chronicled. Early on, Bill Ivison came running through and Phil Jackson shouted to me ‘get him’. With the shout he threw his arm out and ‘bloodied’ my nose and lips. Fortunately, I did make the tackle. The game went very quickly and so did my memories of it. I was quite friendly with Workington’s Bill Wookey and was glad he had a good game. Going up for the medals was like walking on air, and I do remember the Duke of Edinburgh asking, because of the blood, if I had lost my front teeth. I only shook my head and laughed because I had been without the teeth since I was fourteen! After the Final we had some great celebrations and the arrival back to Barrow Town Hall was tremendous. The supporters were superb. Soon it was a new season and we were back at league games, which seemed much harder after the Final. Another injury, a stiff arm split my eyebrows in an out of season Charity match in Blackpool , gave me a medical experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I was led off the field with my eyebrow gushing blood. A Doctor took me behind the stand and put in five stitches there and then. My memories are of flinching with each jab of the needle whilst looking out of my good eye, not at the white tiled hygienic ward in a hospital but a filthy area with dog muck and used condoms everywhere. The following week we played Leigh and it was felt I could play with a heavily strapped eye. The inevitable happened, and in ducking to avoid a swinging arm at my injured eye it caught my good eye for a further four stitches. These were inserted in the quite clean medical room at Craven Park . Unfortunately this again meant a period of not playing, followed by games in the A team. By this time (1957) I was married with a young son, and yet, despite a reasonable Grammar School education and some good experience in the Accounts Department in the Vickers Armstrong Shipyard, without the first team payment and bonuses I was struggling financially. I also realised if I was injured again I would not survive on the reduced income so I decided to leave Rugby League and look for training for a profession either Teaching or Social Work, the latter coming into the equation because of my wife Gay’s training and experience. I informed the Barrow Club of my intentions but no one discussed it with me except to remind me I was on their books. Shortly afterwards they informed that Dai Davies (Manager I believe, from Abertillery) at Bradford Northern was interested in taking me on a six week permit to fill a gap he had in his team. I took up this offer and enjoyed my games for Bradford Northern except for the two home games at the Odsal stadium which were both mud baths. I really enjoyed playing against Leeds at Headingley with Lewis Jones and Pat Quinn in the opposition. In a recent conversation with Phil Jackson, we discussed our days at the Barrow Club. Neither of us could really remember any Director speaking to us about our performances or careers. The one exception was Mr. Laurens who congratulated me on my athletic performances for the Vickers Armstrong Athletics team and also my part in the Vickers Tennis team (where I partnered his daughter). At the end of a five years period no one shook hands and I just left. Phil’s story is even worse. He does not remember anyone congratulating him on his International career or to say good luck when he left for Australia . In contrast the supporters of the club were great and very considerate, although it could be a bit testing to walk a quarter of a mile up the Gun Shop in Vickers with every engineer and apprentice making roughly the same comment about the game, whether the comment be good or derogative. If we wanted a night out we usually went up to Windermere and we were even spotted there. The following Monday in work someone would tell us which pub we were in and what drinks we had. Eventually Gay and I applied for Social Work jobs, and were successful with an application to London County Council and appointed to become Residential Social Workers in Hornchurch Essex. This work was very hard with long hours, and a poor ratio of staff, but initially Gay carried me with her experience and knowledge. Then I went to train and qualify as a Social Worker. This enabled Gay and I to apply for more Senior Posts. Eventually I became a Senior Advisor in the Social Services and Gay became a Matron. The promotions gave us more free time and I went off to watch Romford & Gidea Park RFC playing in a local park. Some guy came up to me and said you’re big enough and you’re Welsh, you ought to be playing ! Bring your boots up next week there’s a trial. The following week I turned up and there was only one chap there. He was Welsh too but I had never met him he told me he had been playing for the London Welsh as full back. Then a gang arrived and the captain organising the trial was another Welshman. He came up and said he knew of my brother ‘Clive’. He had mistaken me for my brother Des! He then asked me where I played and remembering the first chap (Wyn) saying he was a full back, I replied ‘Anywhere’. He then called out the teams and I was a ‘prop’. I was promptly pushed and punched, and, because of my identity, I could not cause a scene. When the first quarter ended I went up and told him I wasn’t really a prop and he informed me I would be a Second Row for the next quarter! That was in 1958 and I played centre for the 1st XV (there were five XVs) for several seasons. In 1969 I organised an Over 40s side called the Phyllosans and played with two of my sons (who went on to play for London Welsh) until I was 50. I am pleased to say the “Phyllosans” are still going this season (2008/09) and I am proud to be Chairman. In 1980 I had qualified as a Teacher for several years and Gay and I were appointed Principal and Matron of a Residential School in Cwmbran so we were back in Wales . We continued to work until retirement and Golf and Bowls have now replaced Rugby of either code. Rugby wise I have been re-instated by the Welsh Rugby Union and I am the present Chairman of the Welsh Counties RFC, Secretary of the Breconshire County RFC and Chairman of the Ebbw Vale RFC Past Players Association. Gay and I now play regular golf and Gay plays Bowls. I need a buggy due to an unsuccessful knee replacement but manage 3 games a week.