Times Past

  • 1st May 2004

Joe Asher OBE was invited to our Presentation Dinner this year (2004). Unfortunately due to ill health he was unable to attend. I promised on the evening that I would publish in full the words Joe very kindly offered to write. The read to many Old Meadonians will be interesting and enlightening as we approach our seventy fifth year. Below are Joes words as handwritten by himself at 86 years young. Many, many thanks Joe. (written by Dave Tyler)

Joe Asher OBE

Your Chairman, Dave, who most kindly keeps in touch with me, asked whether I would attend this years’ Presentation Dinner. Sadly, the answer had to be ‘no’. Travelling has become very difficult for me and also I am awaiting a hospital place, when hopefully, a hearing difficulty can be cured. Who needs a ‘hole in the head?’. Thats what they think I’ve got. At least I wouldn’t have heard the speeches.

You gave me a most generous reception when I came on my 80th Birthday, six years ago, when I was still young, fit and able to drive. For that I was very grateful, as I am also to Young Eric and the various Chairman who have put up with me over the years. One difference between the Club now and when I joined seventy years ago is that the oldest member then was 21 years old.

I hope you all have a most enjoyable evening. You deserve it. The Club has had an incredibly successful season, both on and off the field. You really have put the Old Meadonians on the map. The players, the officers and all concerned, deserve great credit.

When I had to say ‘no’ Dave suggested I should write something to read, so for what you are about to receive blame him, not me! I will try to cut it short but at my age reminiscences tend to flow on.

I loved School at Chiswick. Like many of my generation, born during the first war, I was fatherless. There was no welfare state and life for my wonderful Mother was hard. School filled gaps – so many extra-curricular activities and young able Masters, who became sort of surrogate Fathers. It bred in me a loyalty that carried on into Old Boys’ activities.

I started playing for the Meads in 1934, in the afternoon after morning matches for the School. I joined as a full member on the 1st January 1935 and a year later took office as Social Secretary, at a time when I was working through University for my degree as an evening student. I have been connected in some way ever since.

It was natural, therefore, that in 1946 I should take the initiative in reforming the Club as Chairman, Secretary, Team Secretary, Match Secretary, PR Man and 1st Team Captain. We had a Treasurer – Peter Rank who was at the Dinner six years ago.

As we grew and organised properly so I dropped everything except Chairman and Captain. The latter ended when I damaged my spine, falling on a frozen, rutted pitch at Alperton. But I stayed as Chairman until 1966, when my career took me to happy days in Northumberland. That 20 year stint as Chairman would be quite inappropriate today. You, they, then elected me President which I remained until 1985 completing 50 years service, when I suggested Young Eric would be much better in this office. As ever, he did not let me down and proved me right. He is coming up to his own 20 years in the position.

I was also the first Old Boy to be President of the O.M. Association, so I feel I have repaid my debt to the School.

Enough of me.

Looking back over the years I see much continuity at the Club but also change through a steady process of evolution. The latters good, because its a process that tends to endure. The humour in the Newsletter is just as corny. The spirit remains very much the same, with enjoyment of the game and the manner in which it is played at the heart. I suspect that, as with the national game, the give and take is fiercer, which to me is a backward step. The approach to play is much more professional – trainers, coaches, managers and Directors – whatever next. When we only had 18 members it was difficult to turn out teams – when I prowled round the offices on a Friday afternoon the younger men kept their heads down in case I was searching.

Late cry offs still seems to be a problem but we rarely had ‘no shows’. The excuses were probably better. Harry Snazle cried off one Saturday morning to my office. “Sorry Joe, must cry off”. I knew instantly it was genuine. “Nothing serious Wink?”. “No, I’m walking an elephant from the station to the Zoo”. He was Managing Director of Chessington Zoo. Imagine him in a phone booth, with an elephant tied to the door! What happened if it sat down?

Gerry Kinlock – a delightful young wing half, who Reading were scouting. He had recently married and was a very happy young man. “Sorry, Joe, must cry off”. Again no need to query, he loved the game too much. “Whats happened Gerry?”. ” I trod on a rake and the other end came up and hit me”. “Oh, so you’ve got a black eye?”. “No, its a short rake”. “Oh dear. Whats the damage?”. “It’s swollen to the size of a football”. “What are you doing for it?”. “I’m patting it”. “Try Zambuk, don’t worry it should go down in a year or two”.

I mentioned Harry Snazle. He was a small full back on the right, in the style of Roberto Carlos. Very twinkle toed, he loved to raid down the flank, at a time when backs and centre halves were supposed to stick to whoever they were marking and never, never venture out of their own half. He took time off, one season, to play for Chase of Chertsey, an amateur nursery club for the Arsenal. He had two rather good brother contemporaries called Leslie and Denis Compton. Oh yes, we had good players in those far off days.

Les Russell and Jack Whiles both played for the League pre-war.

Stuart Way, post-war was the next. It came about in the odd way things do. I was on the League Council and had a certain amount of extra influence, as we met in my board rooms. I resented the way the League side was picked by the Secretary alone – a bloke called Gerry Hildersley whose whole life revolved around the Old Boys’ League. He tended to select from the top four teams in the Senior Division.

Each year I threw out a challenge to beat the League side with a team selected from players in the lower divisions. My contention was that most sides had good players – it was just that the top sides had more of them. Each year the challenge was rejected from fear.

There came an occasion when the League had a lesser match and the top sides were largely “cup tied”. To shut me up I was invited to nominate someone and put forward Stuart for centre forward. At any sport he was a big occasion player. Each boring week he might give you 80%. Make it an occasion and he produced 110%. He did this for the League and scored twice, so they couldn’t drop him. The next match was significant because, after much bellyaching from our League that the AFA ignored OB players, their selectors turned up to watch. Again Stuart rose to the occasion.

Sir Stanley Rous, the great secretary of the F.A. before he became President of F.I.F.A., as guest at the previous AFA Dinner, I attended had suggested that to mark the reconciliation between the two associations there should be a match between a selected FA Amateur Xl and the AFA. The FA amateur Xl would be on trial for National Amateur selection. The AFA selectors, who didn’t know or care that Stuart was a humble Meadonian – that today would be a contradiction in terms – picked him on merit. The match was played at Gillingham, Stuart did well and played the Oxford University centre half out of contention for England.

The League Council got rather nasty about it – or some of them. It should have been a Senior side player! They got a blast from me. Stuart had done everything they moaned never happened. It was not a crime to be a Meadonian – I was, of course, biased- did they know Stuart had been invited by the FA to Captain and take a youth Xl to Holland.

He had that sort of presence.

Stuarts premature death was sad. I am still in touch with his widow Ann. The School and the Club were both lucky to have two such gifted players at both sports as Stuart and Young Eric at the same time. They both have been a great credit to the Club. Eric was the one who gave you 100% each week. I’ve never publicly said this before but if I could only pick one it would always be Eric.

The Club made its mark when, along with Ealonians, we organised an extremely successful five-a-side competition at Easter in 1951(?). – at our pitches at The Imperial College Ground near Heathrow. The engravers made a mistake and The Sipson Trophy was engraved “Old Meadonians-Etonians”. It was won by Old Danes and was a very handsome mahogany lavatory seat that I had mounted and furnished with silver plaques. It was square with a suitable opening and had served the Earl of Donaghmore for many years at his London home in Mayfair- post war my office.

The last reminiscence- cheers- is about the Schools changeover to Rugby. It was badly handled and boys came to us in dismay, asking us to intervene. I took the view it was not our business if the School had only Rugby pro masters – Jock Ironside and others. If it was done for snobbish reasons it would fail. The Evening Standard wrote a piece about it, which freed me to write to Mr Cooke. He replied regretting I had learned of it through the press, who hadn’t asked his permission to publish. Some Schoolmasters are so unworldly. He told me a date when an OB Rugby Club would be formed and when he calculated we would close down. I replied we would help the Rugby boys when the time came but, thankyou, we intended to keep going for a long time. That was about 50 years ago. Indeed we benefitted, as schoolboys became less toffee nosed about joining a Club that would not automatically guarantee first team places.

In conclusion may I remind you what I said in my 1963 article about the pre-war days. It concluded “Happy is any Club which has a number of very old members on the line and in the bar – theres a fair chance it will then have a pavillion in which to have its beer”.

I am so proud you have made my forecast come true – David Stanners on the line and many in the bar.

Toast proposed;

“The Club, its past, its present, its future”.