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The Manila Nomads Rugby Tens: The Beginning By David Hodges Nomads Rugby Captain 1986-88 As the Chinese

celebrate the Year of the One Eyed Trouser, it’s perfectly apt to recall the beginnings of the Manila Tens, now all set to host the twenty-fifth tournament, & the introduction of the Nomads Rugby Section to the tens format. In essence the tournament started due to a directive from the new Nomads President of the time, one Oberlieutenant Albert Robert, who decreed that all sections should put on a special event in 1989 to honour Nomads’ 75th anniversary. Now this should have been a pretty simple task but, of course, as with all things Nomads, it was not. As I had captained the side since 1986, the task was put in my court but what would that special event be? We already had a sevens tournament running since 1976, The Toby Kent Sevens. Toby played centre for Nomads and had worked at ADB until a tragic accident at their office on Roxas Boulevard had taken his life in 1975. So the story goes, while reading a newspaper waiting for the elevator, as the doors opened he walked into the shaft but not the lift. Now while sevens play is fantastic to watch when played by internationals & those who’d not taken alcohol for a year, for the Nomads’ species it was not a spectator sport. Playing in the heat around Chinese New Year and on a pitch that had yet to enjoy irrigation, the tournament could only attract one overseas team. With the greatest respect to Mr. Kent & his mother, who had stopped replying to the annual tournament reports, it’s days were numbered. But despite the fact that we’d played in a tens tournament every year since 1985, tens was not the only choice on the list. Having been invited to play with the newly-formed Rhino’s rugby team in 1988, which included a group of exNomads now playing elsewhere in Asia, it had been suggested that a match be played between the current team and the “old.” The only way that the old boys were going to get a side together was to play the weekend before the Hong Kong Sevens, when not only the Asian based players would be up for it but also those travelling from further afield, Europe and the USA. So the date was set and this became key. When the proposed old boys’ skipper, one Gary “Baby Whale” Crist, then based in Guam had his doubts about getting a full team together we realized a fifteen-a-side fixture was a non-starter. But they might be able to get ten.

It has to be said at this time that even getting the current Nomads fifteen together was no easy task. These were uncivilised times before email and, in the case of the Philippines, a proper working telephone system. Captains of the day earned their salt. No flicking off a mail to all and sundry with one click and “hey presto” the word was out. Informing 15 players care of PLDT could take all week and several hundred engaged tones. How well I remember my first phone with a redial facility. Pure bliss. Add in memory and speakerphone, orgasms all round. The political situation in the country since Ninoy Aquino had been brutally assassinated at the airport in 1983 had sent foreign firms and, more importantly, their rugby playing employees packing. The People Power revolution in 1986 was welcome all round but the continual coupe attempts on Cory Aquino, the country’s first female President made the local situation very unstable. Given the situation, ten-a-side rugby had become a very appropriate proposition and the Nomads had some experience of it. In 1985 we were invited to our first tens tournament, the Combined Old Boys Rugby Association (COBRA) Tens in Kuala Lumpur. To celebrate British Airways’ new route from Manila to London, via KL, BA donated free flights to the rugby section (and the football also). This was extremely good news for Nomads but very bad news indeed for British Airways. It has to be said, the team (exactly ten including eight forwards and two backs) were not the best behaved. In fact in today’s climate the wearing of pillow cases over the head on the flight out, with slots cut for the eyes and the beer, would be considered criminal. When our French prop Alain Bourgogne put his hand up a passing female passenger’s skirt, ironically while we were getting our final warning from the chief purser, there was no hope for further refreshments. I will never forget the depth of mauve her face went mid-bollocking, when all words had suddenly failed her. No charges were filed, however. The shocking behaviour carried on throughout the weekend and was matched by a similar performance on the pitch. The Tens was a steep learning curve for us with losses to Singapore Police and Anchorman. It was also our first match-up with the New Zealand army “The Bunnies,” then based in Singapore. An extremely embarrassing story from that tour was later revealed at the Captain’s Dinner at Christmas in the Manila Club. The speaker, aptly enough, was the BA country head David Evans.

One of the tourists Mike Crago, was actually flying back to UK for good with the family straight after the tour. He’d originally planned to wait in KL for his family, who were on the plane from Manila that the team would have just got off. He decided however, that if he did this he’d be missing out on the tour’s last (and free) piss up. Big mistake. Unbeknownst to him their stewardess in business class was the big busted Essex blonde that Mike had given copious amounts of stick to on the flight out. “And what can I get you to drink?” she asked the family. A couple of cokes and a bloody mary, came the answer. “And would sir like to squeeze my big tits now?” When Mrs. Crago’s jaw finally got off the tray table, any chance Mike had of a much needed kip on the long flight back to UK evaporated with that sweet invitation. Despite our lack of players I accepted the invitation to the inaugural Hong Kong Football Club Tens in 1986, to celebrate HKFC’s centenary. Picking up players in Hong Kong in the week before the sevens was not a problem. In fact we were helped out by the Askeans from England, who also toured Manila at that time. Unfortunately the Haberdashers couldn’t help us win our first game of tens rugby and we lost both games (one against them) leaving Nomads with the honour of being the first team to the bar, as there was no plate competition. This was short-lived for me however as I had to return the favour to the Askeans and come on as a substitute for them in the final against Hong Kong, who won in a close game 6-0. In the 1987 event we actually toured with ten players and we even picked up more when the Pacific Command (basically Clark) pitched up for the tournament without an invite! Sort of like the way they go to war really. I was awash with players. Success came quickly and we beat Seoul Survivors 16-10 in a cracker. We lost to the defending champions Hong Kong 22-0 but we’d qualified for the cup. The next day we lost in the quarter final against European Golden Oldies 116, who had ex-British Lion Mike Roberts in the team. Mike ran a travel agency called Sport Abroad and later provided teams from the UK for our tens including legends such as Alan Martin and Sandy Carmichael. The Kiwi armed forces beat Hong Kong in the final 26-8 and went on to win the tournament two more times. Manila Nomads were the only team to score a try against them in 1988 (modesty prevents me saying who).

For the 1988 event we arrived in Hong Kong with five players: Tim Polkinghorn, Lindsay Cameron, Simon Goddard, Joe Leighton and myself, so Edinburgh University did the honours with five more. We beat ISCI comfortably and then held on to beat Dubai Exiles 10-7 before losing to the hosts HKFC 22-0 on the second day. On inquiring at the organizers desk who our quarter final match was against, I was given the bad news that it was NZAF. Now I’m not one to lie to my teammates but as the match was not for another three hours, and fearing a rash of “injuries”, I realised, in this instance that the truth was not the way to go. Their faces were a picture as this long, even black line of evil emerged from the Club dressing room. “Hodges you bastard” was repeated several times before the kick-off. However, we steamed straight up the middle and won a penalty on the 25 yard line & kicked it to huge applause from the crowd. Going 3-0 up against the Kiwi armed forces is not good for your health. The resulting onslaught was relentless. We didn’t give up, however, and a try in the dying seconds brought the crowd to it’s feet and us off our knees. We got a standing ovation and the right to turn a pasting into a victory with every beer that followed. Fixing the date became the key to setting up our own Tens tournament. As we had been playing in a tournament every year for four years previously and we played in the HKFC event during sevens week, the concept of making a week of playing rugby, finished off by watching a great sevens event was a nobrainer. However, rugby matches and Easter holidays are not a good mix in the Philippines and not just because of the flagellation. Bars generally close at this time of year as the staff storm the provinces. After much deliberation and reassurances from our bar manager friends in the old Ermita, especially Gary Poyser from Superstar (God rest his soul) we were convinced the event would be a success, at least off the pitch. So together with Rob Guest, who later developed the tournament into a world class event, and Joe “cocktails, cocktails” Leighton, who was the incoming captain in 1989 and who’s company produced the famous (aforementioned) Nomads carabao hat, we put the word out to the usual suspects in the region. The Manila Nomads Tens Tournament would be played on the 24-25 March 1989, a week before the sevens. It’s a testament to the Nomads that the first event was held slap bang in the middle of Easter with the first day’s play being on Good Friday, after we’d all gone to church first, of course.

A hotchpotch of teams turned up. The Clark Outlaws from the US air force base in Angeles were our regular competition and we had just beaten them in the previous month 31-6. The Flying Kukris from Hong Kong had been the lone team that played in the now defunct Toby Kent sevens. HKFC had a few boys in town for Easter and were able to borrow a few more. Similarly ISCI had only half a team on arrival, as well as Singapore Cricket Club and they combined. SCC had a lot of trouble attending the first three Manila events as alcohol had got in the way at Changi airport. Famously they had been ejected from a PAL flight when a Philippine Senator had complained. A few guys had actually been woken up to be thrown off. Guam Ex-Nomads was the residue of the original Old v New match. The British Club Bangkok (who were to hold the cup for several years later) brought a golf team including David Wallace (later to be Chairman of the event). A golf game was held on the Sunday at Calatagan (a little bit further away than Intramuros!). As we had “upgraded” from a sevens event, the rules allowed for three-man scrums and, in fact, as many as you liked. This allowed extra strategies of scrum play to suit your teams’ ratio of backs and forwards. You could go with just three, or add a fourth as an extra scrum half, or put in five when close to their line. Alas safety rules that were enforced a few years later took this option away. The format for the rugby was not finally decided until just before kick-off, which was at a very comfortable 1pm! After much deliberation it was decided that there were enough for six teams and hence two pools of three. The rest of ISCIs’ team didn’t arrive till after their first game so somehow ended up playing in both pools! Some teams were deciding who they were at the finish of the match dependent on what ringers had the majority! Anyway everybody got a chance to lose a lot of skin and players whose teams were eliminated on the first day were pretty much guaranteed a game in the semis on Saturday afternoon. We won our games on the first day against ISCI 16-6 and the Kukris to go marching down the strip full of confidence and set a Nomads’ precedence that would be followed by successive Nomads teams for years to come. A pattern of post-match entertainment had evolved over the years with Nomads rugby that included a bikini dance contest between both teams onstage at one of the girlie bars downtown. I’m proud to report Nomads were never beaten.

On Saturday we won our semi-final match up against the combined ISCI/BCB/SCC/HKFC team to go into the final against Clark who had surprised the Kukris. Clark’s knowledge of the rules of rugby were sketchy at best due to American Football. Just because you don’t have the ball doesn’t mean your not fair game (see Men of Disney passim). Alas we were beaten 12-4 (that’s how long ago it was) by a fast black winger called Ford, who won Man of the Tournament, ably assisted by some shocking refereeing. So nothing’s changed there then (just kidding Gittus!). At the awarding ceremony I remember standing on a chair in front of the assembled to do the presentations, several of which were for the best player of each team. The prize was a free barfine downtown (the tournament and club weren’t as family orientated as they are now). The recipient for Guam was Damien Sharply, who was 14 at the time, and later bemoaned the fact that his mother had “confiscated” the offending ticket. So the first one was in the books despite Easter and a good time was had by all, with lots of potential for the future. The success of our tens tournament owes a lot to Clubs’ event. We attract great players now who go on to play midweek in Hong Kong. We made many friends in our three year stint at their tournament and it brought us more touring teams and entrants to our own event, down the line. Ironically both events followed the same pattern in the initial setting up. Both were organized to celebrate an anniversary (and not necessarily an annual event) and both were meant to be social rugby for the, ahem, older player. Both events have passed the test of time and become major tournaments in South East Asia. For us, the hard work of Rob Guest (up until 1998) and the committees chaired by the likes of David Wallace, Rossco Schirmer, Peter Young, Chris Hartley and now Bill Bailey have added innovations to the event annually to make the Manila Nomads Tens the best tournament in Asia. Here’s to another twenty years.


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