At 94 years of age, Ronnie is our oldest member and started coming to The Memorial Ground in 1948.
Ronnie - welcome. Why did you first come down to Waterloo?
When I returned from my army service where I ended up in Austria, I was looking for somewhere to socialise and to play rugby so I came down. That was 1948 and I came as a guest before joining two years later. I used to play scrum half at Merchant Taylor’s school and wanted to carry on. So I played for the Waterloo fifth team, but came to realise that I was not at the standard for Waterloo, so I played my rugby at Hightown, initially at scrum half and towards the end of my playing career in the forwards.
Of course I must include the time that I captained the Liverpool Timber Trades team in 1960 when we played the Manchester Timber Trades team at Wilmslow.
But you returned to Waterloo?
Yes, when I finished playing, I became involved in running the house side of the club for a number of years and always thought that the members should be able to buy beer more cheaply than in local pubs. Of course not all the directors agreed. Some thought it was a privilege to drink in such historic surroundings as Waterloo and that should attract a premium, but I stuck to my guns.
And we now have a loyalty card system.
Yes we do, thankfully.
What was the club like back then?
The Players bar ran from the current office, across where the World War 2 memorial is located to the changing room doors. The barman was only referred to as ‘Jenkins’ and he addressed everyone as ‘Sir’, even 15 year old boys. Beer was 10d a pint (4p today) and we held the annual ball in the Blundellsands Hotel.
Catering was done on a voluntary basis by the wives and partners of players, members and the Committee. And as a thank you, the Committee put on a dinner at the end of each season for the ladies and acted as waiters, even doing the washing up. The cooking was done by Michael Swanson who was known as ‘the Mecon’, but assisted by me and Howard Sloane.
What else have you done at the club?
When we got a Public Address System, somebody thought it would be a good idea if I did a commentary for the home games, so I agreed to do it and did it for round 20 years.
My favourite recollection of you doing the public address was announcing the forwards’ pushover try at the far end and you came onto the PA and said “Try to Waterloo scored by . . . “ then there was a long pause before you added “by the scrum”, which was correct.
I think it was more than 20 years that I did the PA until around five years ago.
That was probably about the time that we lost the use of the PA System so it is fair to say that you ran the PA system for all of its life.
Yes, that’s true.
Some years ago the RFU suggested that clubs with only formal titles should also adopt more colourful logos. Waterloo members contributed many suggestions including W’loo “Wanderers”, “Wizards”, “Wombats”, “Whippets” etc. Someone no doubt with the Duke of Wellington’s army at the battle of Waterloo in mind came up with “The Drummers”. This was approved and adopted which prompted me to buy a scrap base drum and to refurbish it and decorate it in the club’s colours.
The drum is still to be seen high up on the outer wall of the Player’s bar.
What memories do you have of particular games that were played here?
I remember when we played at the top level against Bath, Bristol, Gloucester, Harlequins, Richmond, all the London clubs and many others, they all came up here to play and it was great. And we also had international teams here, Australia, when we must have had several thousand people here. It seemed that the whole of the Liverpool business community had decamped to The Memorial ground for that game.
Possibly an awkward question, who are the top three players that you have seen in your time here?
Dick Guest, Dick Uren and the chap with the motor car name, Austin Healey and of course I must mention the forward who distinguished himself playing for England, Ben Kay. I saw Ben rising up from the mini and junior section.
Well that’s more than three . . .
I need to go on and include Ned Ashcroft who sadly died recently, Lester Turnpenny, Peter Buckton, Lol Connor, Njike Tchakoukte (Cheeky), John Tattersall, Biff Handley and Freeman Payne.
A most interesting member and player of the club was Norman Curtis. He was known for whatever reason as ‘the squirrel’ – no one knows why. But he, despite his rather frail stature, did row a nine foot dinghy across the English Channel to raise money for charity.
What is it that you enjoy about coming down here?
Just the comradeship and the beer
In which order?
The beer (laughs). No, in all seriousness I do enjoy the company and Wednesday evenings are particularly special. We used to have a cheese club with everyone contributing- cheese, biscuits and even pickled onions. Maybe we should start it again?
We know it is a different time, but what do you think of the players today compared with 70 years ago?
I think today they are so much fitter but I’m not saying they are more skilful. I think the players 70 years ago were very dedicated and took playing the game very seriously. But of course there was no money involved, it was strictly amateur. We did try professional rugby for a few seasons, not very successfully but I have to say that we did attract some good competition and this of course attracted big crowds. I remember that for some of the games we attracted so many people that we had to have portable toilets in the car park and there was a queue at every one of them, which reflected the level of beer sales.
What would you like to see at our club in the next few years?
I’d like to see its image amongst the local residents improve and I’d like to see more of them coming here as members or just visitors to enjoy our excellent facilities and quality bar service. I think that we should advertise, and that is one criticism that I might make of the club’s public relations. We don’t advertise in the same way that Marine FC and other clubs do. We could get a lot more weddings, christenings and other functions here than we do at present if we advertised.
We’ve had lots of dinners here over the years. Who do you remember as a notable speaker?
They’ve all been good but I was impressed by our former lady captain and President Gill Burns. She was very confident and performed very well in front of a large gathering. I really enjoyed that dinner and I also enjoyed the Irishmen from Dublin Wanderers over the years. They were always good. I also remember Mike Gibson who came in his green smoker’s jacket - he was terrific
So finally, what does Waterloo mean to you?
It’s just a big part of my social life and I will always be very fond of it. Waterloo has been good for me and I have thoroughly enjoyed all my time here. I have met many, many interesting and friendly people through the club
Ronnie Craig, thank you very much.
Edited with grateful thanks by Peter Wilson.