20th Old Boys Dinner
14th November 2015
Rain, rain and more rain, the northern English autumn had kept this back, perhaps to welcome the imminent arrival of an international rugby legend to Hale Barns. Or would there be more than one?
Welcomed in by the youthful enthusiasm of the first XV tour hopefuls, all seemed bright inside the “new” school, with upbeat music in the bar, draught Tetleys, Peroni, Boddingtons – until the lights failed, raising the Spectre of trouble in the dreaded BMS (Building Management System). It seems that emails to servers have replaced light switches in the world we now live in. Fortunately there was no panic and the lights returned in seconds.
The irrepressible Peter Riley opened the evening, our 20th dinner since 1996, and the fourth in the new school – and the third without a music quiz! We had a truly packed programme. Tony Moriarty won the Champagne at the Heads and Tails, but graciously gave his prize back to Shelley in the sparkly dress (who had really come second!) from the St Ambrose staff table. Full marks to a true gentleman. It would have been a magnificent gesture if our Chairman** had actually brought the champagne with him to hand over to the winner.
Peter Riley introduced the new Headmaster – or was he? Mr James Keulemans, (who once played International Rugby Union for Holland) is officially St Ambrose’s first Principal. (What’s the difference between a Headmaster and a Principal? About £35,000 apparently). Our new Headmaster’s wife Debbie Keulemans’ birthday was approaching soon (in March 2016) – but that was “near enough” for Peter Riley to bring the traditional rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ from the assembled crowd. Mr Keulemans had to mention the day’s England v New Zealand rugby match (England had actually won 20-14, but this was Rugby League, not Union) and recalled Bernard Stafford’s first memory of watching a rugby game, Wigan v Warrington in 1948, apparently Wigan won (Keulemans 1, Riley 0?).
The ice broken, Canon David Roberts kindly said Grace, with a prayer for deceased old boys and family members, and for those victims of the terrible violence in Paris only 24 hours previously.
Francs served a delicious menu with a deliberate New Zealand twist, with Ham Hock Terrine, Rack of New Zealand Lamb, Meringue with Kiwi fruit and ice cream, Coffee and Mints.
Peter Riley was on form, as ever, batting aside good-natured heckling from a Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen lookalike at the back, he described how the SAOBA tie man, Mr Bernard Stafford, after a recent health scare, had decided to order “enough ties to see me out”. Bernard had apparently ordered 2,847 ties, so we now expect he will live to 187 years of age. Meanwhile he set our Treasurer Mr Simon Harrop a tie related mental arithmetic problem, where not surprisingly, he excelled!
We had another former Rugby Union International among us in Dr John O’Driscoll (Ireland and the Lions). And to think we already had Dave Hallas, Nigel Handy and Paul Howarth in the room. John O’ Driscoll now works as a Consultant Dermatologist in Manchester. Peter Riley announced that Dr O’Driscoll had invented a marvellous new cure, but unfortunately there wasn’t an Illness for it yet…
But tonight we also had Mr Sean Fitzpatrick, former captain of the New Zealand All Blacks, and a Rugby World Cup winner, sitting in our midst. Fresh from his commentaries at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which the New Zealand All Blacks had won for the third time, becoming the first ever nation to retain the Rugby World Cup. Sean joined us as a guest of the Kennedy family, to mark the occasion of Mr John Kennedy’s last dinner as Chairman. Underneath a respectable growth of Movember stubble, this was 100% Sean Fitzpatrick.
Amidst the banter, Peter Riley stuck to his patriotic guns – “England are still the only country in the world ever to have won both the Rugby and the Football World Cups!” There was quite a long silence … followed by “I can’t believe I just said that” … “better get the motor running!”
In fact we had not one, but two Mr Fitzpatricks in the room – Sean Fitzpatrick of the New Zealand All Blacks and our very own Peter Fitzpatrick, flying the flag for England. As Mr Riley helpfully pointed out, Sean Fitzpatrick and Peter Fitzpatrick have (between them) won 92 International Rugby Union Caps, and scored 11 tries and 0 conversions. Peter Fitzpatrick stood on his chair and cheered to celebrate this remarkable achievement.
To great applause, Dr Tony Dixon invited Sean Fitzpatrick up to present a retirement gift to our Chairman of 20 years, Mr John Kennedy. We all hope that John will continue to serve the Association in a new capacity on our Committee, as our first ever Life President. John Kennedy handed over to our new Chairman, Mr Adam Mitcheson. Adam made a considered and self-assured maiden speech as the new Chairman, (somehow managing to mention his new business venture, www.my2be.net which sponsored the dinner), and invited more of the younger OBs to come forward to join the committee – there is still potential to bring down the average age. Adam was presented with boxing gloves by Mark Gallimore (and fitted with the same), in commemoration of his recent charity bout. Adam found that wearing the boxing gloves didn’t half complicate drawing the raffle. We have a recently discovered Tombola drum, made decades ago by the legendary St Ambrose woodwork teacher, the late, great Mr Don Hibbert. Lest we forget his words of wisdom, “Keep your wood as long as you can, for as long as you can” and “Never plane against the grain”.
And finally, the main event, Peter Riley formally introduced Sean Fitzpatrick to us all. Sean treated us to a real insight into the mindset of being an All Black. He has written three books on this subject, with so many lessons for life, transferable to any team sport or workplace. How to develop a winning culture and a winning mentality, how to be the best that you can be. And perhaps surprising to some in other sports, the importance of good character. Better people make better All Blacks. Humility, leaving arrogance on the pitch; Celebrating success, but parking it quickly; Remembering your losses more than your wins; Harnessing the fear of failure into a motivator; Preparing and training to a higher level than your competitor. These ideas are worth considering, coming from a nation which has won three Rugby World cups with a population of only 4.5 million people. Sean recalled his own initiation into the All Blacks, and his recent involvement in maintaining the winning culture for the younger players. Finally he was kind enough to give us an insight into the workings of the selection process when a national team has to change coach. Who would succeed Stuart Lancaster as England’s next Coach? One name came to the fore, in complete confidence. All present were asked to keep the information disclosed completely confidential, we cannot divulge further, but it will be in the press very soon.
In a closing flourish, Sean Fitzpatrick assembled the Rugby Squad (who had been serving drinks all evening) for a training session in the “Haka”, where they were joined by our own Dewsbury RL player Mr Luke Adamson. “Just remember this next time you play against Alty Grammar or Lymm!” To those of us on the receiving end, the result was an intimidating sight. Bernard Stafford even abandoned his business principles and presented Sean Fitzpatrick with a SAOBA Tie.
Finally four All Black Shirts, signed personally by Sean Fitzpatrick, were auctioned for the tour (Paul Kennedy, Peter Fitzpatrick, Liam O’Hara, Tim Burgess). Sean stayed behind with us for photographs, which were kindly taken by Matt Prior of the Altrincham Today website.
So by the end of the night, we had met the new Headmaster (or is it Principal?) and the new Chairman of SAOBA, we had inaugurated our very own President Kennedy, we had listened to Sean Fitzpatrick of the New Zealand All Blacks, and we had witnessed the St Ambrose Rugby team’s first ever Haka. Most importantly we had raised £2000 for the Movember charity for Men’s health and £800 for the forthcoming St Ambrose SE Asia Tour. This was truly a night to remember.
(** = Incoming Chairman!)