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.
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
Who was coach?
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 (aound 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
J.H. Burges Middlesex 1948-9
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
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?
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?
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:
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.