Interview with Leo Lacey - LI player 1950's - 1970's

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Interview with Leo Lacey - LI player 1950's - 1970's

by PaulHP on Wed Feb 28, 2007 9:30 pm

Leo Lacey played for London Irish in the late fifties, appearing for the first’s, the Geese, and ended up playing for the Wanderers in the Seventies. He also played for Rosslyn Park, Bristol, Bath, Surrey, a few clubs abroad and for Nigeria. Now aged 77 he lives in Northern China with his wife Zhaoli and kindly agreed to answer my questions when I met him in Australia recently.

Leo Lacey

Full name?
Adrian Leo Lacey

Date and place of birth?
20/12/1929 - Hounslow, Middx

When start to play to rugby?
1941 or 42 at St Johns School, Leatherhead, Surrey

Did you always play prop?
No, started as a hooker, got slower and stronger and moved to prop, occasionally played second row but, at 6ft nothing was a bit small for that

When did you join London Irish and how many games did you play for them?
1958. As to how many games I guess it must have been between 200 and 300

How many points do you score?
I used to get about one try a season by lurking about offside

What brought you to London Irish?
John (JLA) Brown - we were mates

J.L.A. Brown

Who was coach?
God knows

How did you find out that you had been picked to play?
I just used to get a card through the post

What was training like?
Virtually non existant - after playing for Bristol where training was three nights a week and you were encouraged to play extra games for other sides to increase match fitness. London Irish was a doddle

Did you ever play at the Rectory Field, Blackheath?
Yes. But only two or three times. Basically only the first played at Rectory Field, on alternate weeks with Blackheath. But occasionally the Geese got a game there

What do you remember of Fitzy's bar?
It was just a wee corrugated iron shed with a concrete floor. In it were the two changing rooms, showers and a bar. It was bitterly cold in the winter and drinking after the game continued until the last man fell down

What was your favorite away ground?
Probably Headingly, Leeds

Who did you consider the best player you played with at London Irish?
My mate JLA Brown. I know he received several advances from Harlequins, with the promise that he would play for England if he would only leave London Irish. In those days Harlequins played at Twickenham not the Stoop which didn't exist then and they were well able to ensure someone of theirs was in the England side. But at that time there was no way that someone from one of the exiles teams would get selected for England. Old Boys teams or even Ipswich YMCA, but never from the exiles. After retiring from rugby John became licencee of a pub at West Clandon but his wife scarpered with the civil engineering agent of an outfit repairing the road outside his pub and he came down in the world, becoming a barman at a pub near Ockley. There he put on a heck of a lot of weight and smoked like hell. He had acupuncture and gave up smoking but developed leukaemia and died at about 58 or thereabouts. He was a lovely man

Who were the characters at London Irish?
Like most props (basically unintelligent) I really remember only other props and Tommy Tranter stands out amongst these although there were two second rowers, both dentists, John ? (1st team
skipper) and Mick Doyle who were huge fun to be with

Paul Whittaker & Leo at Bective Rangers Ground (around 1961-2)

Do you still keep in contact with any of your old team mates?
No - since the death of John Brown and Paul Whittaker I don't

How good was the LI XV in those days?
Well, probably, of the exiles clubs it was the least strong. London Welsh were really good at that time. But London Irish was unpredictable and could beat the best sides on it's day. However few were picked for Ireland from LI in the 60's

Do you miss London Irish?
Of course, but you get older

Do you have a favourite stories from your playing days?
This goes back to when I was playing for Rosslyn Park in about 1954. Rosslyn Park was playing London Irish at the Old Deer Park. At the lineout JLA Brown was opposite me and, as the first ball came in he gave me a real haymaker ( we were friends, it was just a friendly biff) - so next lineout I
waited my chance, John went up and I swung an almighty blow at him, he ducked and I hit Dennis Brown, the Rosslyn Park captain that day on the side of the head. He went out like a light and no one knew who had hit him (luckily) - John Brown thought that this was the funniest thing he had
seen in years

I can remember Robin Roe, holding him up in the scrum and him using the worst language I've ever heard anyone use and then being amazed to see him wearing a dog collar in the bar afterwards. And I thought that he was a Naval Chaplain rather than an Army one but I'm probably wrong

Neville Smith and Leo (around 1961-62)

Did you go on any overseas tours with London Irish?
Yes. One Easter to play Old Belvedere (at Bective Rangers ground), Bandon and Skibbereen
I was particularly pleased to see Tommy Tranter on two of your photos as, although rivals for the front row, we were good mates and had some wonderful times together - especially on one trip to Ireland where a sort of "Drunks London Irish" team lead by the 1st team skipper, John (can't remember his surname but I think it began with E and he was a dentist). God, but my memory isn't what it was

How difficult was it for London Irish to field a First team on Inter Provincial weekends?
I suspect not very difficult. For a long time London Irish was a source of last resort
for the Irish Provinces

How long did you play for London Irish?
About 12 years in all

What sides did you play for?
Principally the Wild Geese, for the First if they were really desperate and for the Wanderers in my dotage.

Jackeen's side at Bournemouth during the 1960's. Leo is wearing the ripped shirt

What other clubs did you play for?
1941 started to play rugby at St John's school, Leatherhead, Surrey as a hooker. In 1945 was hooker to Johnnie Burges as scrum half who went on to play as scrum half for Ireland

1948 and 49. In the Navy and played with both Devonport Services and United Services Portsmouth
Late 1949 joined Rosslyn Park as a prop - they had Nick Labuschagne, the current England hooker at the time. Stayed there until 1952. Why Rosslyn Park? That was where Johnnie Burges played

Nick Labuschagne, England 1955

1952 and 53. Worked in Kuwait and founded the Hubara Rugby club. Back to hooking. We played on rolled sand. It was formed to provide rugby for the expats from the 5 British contractors working on the infrastructure, Wimpey, Laing, Costain, Cubitts and Taylor Woodrow. We pricipally played against the Kuwait Oil Company who had a fine (sand) pitch at the base in Ahmadi but we also flew up to Basra and played in the Gulf Sevens in 1953 I recollect
Late 1953 Returned to Rosslyn Park, but sent to work in Bristol.
1954 and 55 Bristol as a hooker or prop. Played for Surrey
1956 Bath. Propping
1957. Ashford in Kent. Played for Kent County Vs Kent Town
1957/8 In Lagos, Nigeria, playing for the Ikoyi club.
1958 Returned to UK and Rosslyn Park but they upped sticks from the Old Deer Park and moved to Sheen, opposite the Red Rover pub. This involved bussing everywhere and I hated it and left and joined London Irish. Pricipally because of my mate, JLA.Brown. Played there until 1968
1968 Moved to Melbourne and played prop for a club called Powerhouse.
1977 back to the UK and played with the Wanderers. I think it was that year that I got an Honours Tie - I was 48 then. But in 1978 I retired from rugby
In 1993 I was working in China and somehow found myself asked to play by the Australian Embassy in Beijing in early 1994. We played the Beijing Agricultural College and I propped ( well, at prop there is always someone to lean on ). But that was definately my last game

You where awarded an Honours Tie when was this?
Got this finally in 1977 or 78 when I led the Wanderers - probably for long service rather than skill. I was then 47 or 48 years old. I still have it and wore it when being honoured by the Governor of Henan Province in China in 2003

When did you stop playing rugby?
In 1994, final game that I played, in Beijing, was really just a combined side of Australian and New Zealand guys got together by a lad from the Australian Embassy - it wasn't an Embassy side as such. I was 63 or 64 then and next day I felt as if I would never walk again so I said Amen.
In the early 90's there were not all that many expats in Beijing and the embassies were the core of all the expat social life there. For example I used to play darts (!) for the German embassy and I certainly haven't any German blood in me - they were just a nice bunch of people and the social
circle was very small in those days. You played whatever you could, where
you could

Did you play County Rugby?
Yes, for Surrey. Plus a trial for Kent and whilst with Bath I was picked for Dorset and Wilts on the same weekend as I was first picked for Surrey

How different was the standard of County rugby compared to club rugby?
Not a lot

Did you win any other Honours?
Well I played for Nigeria in 1957 or 58 but in those days their standard was about that of the Wild Geese. We played against the Cameroons. It happened just shortly before I left Lagos and I only played the one game and broke several of my ribs in it for my trouble

Who was the biggest influence on our rugby career?
St John's School, Leatherhead. There I hooked as a 14 or 15 year old, for first John Burges who went on to play for Ireland and then Pat Sykes who went on to play for England. Both
were scrum halves. Later the sheer professionalism of Bristol impressed me

Do I still watch rugby?
Of course

Are you still involved in Rugby?

When were you last at a London Irish game?
I visited LI last in 1994 and met Vinnie Moore there, with whom I played many games. A great guy

Has your old position changed since you played?
Yes, enormously. In the old days a props job was two fold, protect the jumpers in the lineout and win the ball in the scrum. Now they have to LIFT the jumper and RUN. None of us could run in the
50's and 60's

Which modern player would you have liked to play with?
Jeff Probyn

Do you prefer the rugby today or when you played?
The Super 12's are good to watch but I would never have played ANY first team rubgy today - I was much too slow

What was your occupation?
I was a Civil Engineering Agent - nowadays called a Project Manager but taught English in China in my 70's after retiring

Resume of your career:
Royal Navy
Civil engineering 1950 - 2001 with periods in Kuwait, Nigeria, Norway, Holland, Australia, Bougainville, Singapore, Germany, Denmark, the Ukraine and China.
Teaching English 2002 – 2006

You must appreciate there were four props at LI in my days. In order of skill they were JLA Brown, Bish Gallagher, Tom Tranter and myself. If I ever made it into the first it was solely due to injury or other non-availability. I wasn't really very good - just lucky to play with other people who were more skilful than me.
Last edited by PaulHP on Fri Mar 07, 2008 9:20 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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by Mrs Chicken on Wed Feb 28, 2007 9:53 pm

when you met him in Australia recently?

You globetrotting loon, you!

Another good interview, mind.
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by AlecW on Thu Mar 01, 2007 8:00 am

Paul "Whicker" HP, is it?

I think that has to be just about the best interview you've done...!

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by PGT on Thu Mar 01, 2007 2:40 pm

Obviously there is a super budget behind the SC these days, picture the conversation

PB: "DP hope you don't mind but I'm just nipping off to Australia as there is a London Irish player from the 1950's I want to interview.
DP: That's fine, go business class though instead of First will you.
PB: Ok, see you in about 3-weeks"

A great interview, thought might be given to publishing these interviews as a fund raiser. Maybe OR could advise on that.
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by dom_pedro on Thu Mar 01, 2007 9:55 pm

Business class? No, we're too cheap for that, we both went economy. :lol: I wish.

A very, very good interview!
This cruel country has driven me down, teased me and lied.
I've only sad stories to tell to this town
My dreams have withered and died.
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by Loobs on Fri Mar 02, 2007 8:06 am

How to upset a Client's representative? Travel with him which makes his Company downgrade him to economy to travel with you. Leads to a great working relationship at the other end...

As always, great stuff on these interviews.
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by PGT on Fri Mar 02, 2007 2:39 pm

Worse still, client has economy only policy on any flights less that 8 hours but agrees to upgrade external adviser but not own staff member. Situation redeemed when client told it was important that clients representative and external adviser had the opportunity for discusion on the flight (the fact that the flight departed Heathrow at 2230 didn't seem to matter!).
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by Loobs on Fri Mar 02, 2007 10:01 pm

:D Now that scenario would have made the guy suicidal from his sulky state.
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by PaulHP on Tue Mar 13, 2007 11:42 pm

I sent Leo a copy of a "Passion in Exile" he has emailed me the following:

Just ten minutes ago I went to our mailbox and there was a parcel awaiting me from you. Thank you very much. I will read the print off it.

And, my memory has chimed in. The First team captain that I liked so much was John McKenna. I can't think why I thought his name began with E. But that's old age for you.

John and his mate Mick Doyle, both dentists' were great advocates of Sunday rugby - during the period I played at the Irish there were Sunday games almost every week, there was even a sort of Sunday league around London and I rather think that the team photo that I have got is one of these Sunday sides. They used to be a great mixture with people from almost every team playing together - just people who loved rugby.

Mind you it was a good way to get injured, and many did, as you were playing more casually and often still limping from Saturday's game. But the sing songs afterwards were great - Slatterey's Mounted Foot and The Bold Tatie (?spelling) Quill come to mind

Well, I've read through the period from 1950 to the end of the 70's and there are a number more names that ring a bell to me.

But first I'm happy to see that my memory was finally right about John McKenna and see that it was 64/65 that he was captain. He and Willie Doyle (I got that wrong) were inseperable and were the two regular loose forwards in the first. My memory says that both were dentists but I may be wrong but anyway both were keen members of the Sunday side as well.

As for the lad whose face I remember on the pictures that you forwarded - I think now that it must be Johnnie Bamber. Whoever he was he too was someone who really loved the game and he didn't seem to care who he turned out for.

Who else - well, of course, a couple of other props, Tommy Joy, a hard man, and Simon Jones.

Then I loved to see the two pictures of Fitzie and was interested to learn how John Brown came to join the Irish - he never told me that.

Good ,too ,to be reminded of the Duke of Yorks although really at the time I went there it was a bit of a waste of time but still it was good crack.

Murphy-O'Connor was known to everyone but the name that really pleased me to see is that of Dave Craig. He really worked hard to make London Irish a good club . Friday night after friday night he would be ringing up "you've got a card for so and so but we need you to go with someone else". He was truly a great guy.

The other name that amused me was Brendan Quirke. I played alongside him on a number of occasions and he was a great buddy of Paul Whittaker, who was one of my mates (despite being a back). Paul often told me tales about Brendan, who was a lawyer, and who apparently had all the top jockeys from the Epsom stables on his books. In the bar after a game Brendan was even funnier than he used to be on the microphone .

One thing in particular I do agree with is that the period when I was playing was an awful lot of fun. Drink driving was considered totally normal and I can remember waking up one sunday and going out to my motorbike and wondering why it had a flat on the rim of both wheels. That afternoon, going to Sunbury on it, for a game to sweat the beer out, I saw a roundabout with a rut right across it and realised that I must have just gone straight over it the night before on my way back from Fitz's bar. I had absolutely no memory of how I had got home at all, let alone remember going over the roundabout.

I also remember seeing Tom Reid at Sunbury but I never played in the same side as him. A big man in those days - which were before Wade Dooley came along and second-rowers had to be 6'6" at least. The couple of times that I was at Fitz's when Richard Harris was there he was with his wife, who was Lord somebody or other's daughter, and whilst he had a good gargle, he behaved himself.

One last one. Johnnie Johnson. He was a prop for the Met Police and played for Middlesex. He was a darned good prop too. When he stopped playing he took up referreeing and (amazingly for a prop) he knew the rules and was a good ref. He stopped me once on his police Triumph for doing something a bit batty and when he saw me he recognised me and said "Don't do that again, you silly bugger' and that was the end of that.
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by AlecW on Wed Mar 14, 2007 8:11 am

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Re: Interview with Leo Lacey - LI player 1950's - 1970's

by PaulHP on Fri Oct 27, 2017 11:27 am

I have just found the following obituary for Leo on-line. R.I.P. Leo. ... -a-tribute
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