In the first part of a two-part feature, Rugby Union correspondent Bill Marshall talks to Steve Brooke about his lengthy involvement with Wibsey and the roles that he has filled there.

THE landscape of rugby union in the Bradford district has changed somewhat this season.

Not only are Old Grovians missing from the Northern Division structure, but also Wibsey.

Both clubs have battled against the odds to keep going for so long, but a combination of serious injuries, small squads and other commitments for the players have sounded their death-knell.

It will hopefully be a case of au revoir for both rather than goodbye but once clubs have stepped down into the Merit Leagues, how difficult is it to climb back up a greasy pole?

Steve Brooke has been at the centre of Wibsey RUFC for 12 years but even he has had to end his association with the men from Northfield Playing Fields and Beldon Lane.

“It is down to three things - in essence having to be on call daily for my 87-year-old mother, the lack of a junior set up at Wibsey, and the senior players all growing older together,” explained 52-year-old Brooke, who has held just about every position at his club.

No great shakes as a player, the former Buttershaw Comprehensive pupil explained how he got started in rugby union at Wibsey.

He said: “I started playing there when I was 15. I got accosted by the chairman of Buttershaw St Paul’s Cricket Club (Ian Gregson), who was hooker for Wibsey at the time.

“He collared me at the cricket club late one Friday night and the third XV were playing at Sedbergh next day, and he said ‘Do you fancy a game?’ and I said ‘Yes, go on then’.

“He knocked on my door on the Saturday morning and said ‘Come on then, I will give you a lift’ so I played at Sedbergh and just carried on playing.

“I started playing rugby league at school, and I played at Sedbergh when I was 12 or 13, but none of the (Wibsey RUFC) lads know that, and I played union when I was 15.

“You cannot play at 15 in senior rugby now - you have to be 17 with parental consent or, if you are in the front row, 18 - but I was average at best.

“I started on the wing and it is rite of passage to go to full back and then centre. I have pretty much played every back position but scrum half, but when you lose that yard of pace - that half-yard of pace that I never had - then you move into the forwards after you have been drinking for several years and get a bit chunkier.

“I played back row and my last couple of seasons I was hooking. I played for the first XV a handful of times but only because we had got to the dizzy heights of Yorkshire Division One when (former England captain) John Orwin was our coach, and when the money ran out we were in Yorkshire Division One a lot of our players went to Bradford Salem, who were higher up the pecking order than we were.

“We had basically lost 10 players from our first XV and got relegated fairly quickly but we had to fulfil our fixtures and then we dropped out and went into Yorkshire Division Six.

“It is like the cycle of life. You start rebuilding again - I think that every club has been through that - and you work way up again and players retire and you start again.”

Brooke may have hung up his boots when he was 29 but found his forte in volunteering and administration with Wibsey, admitting that he took up some roles because he was a bit of a soft touch.

He remembered: “About 10 years later I got into the off-field side of stuff. I was never a good watcher as you always think that you can do a bit, and ‘Clumsy’ (Steve Clegg) said that they needed a bit of help.

“I was never going to be a coach - I can barely play the game, let alone show someone else how to do it - so I asked Dave Grayson from Heath RUFC, who was my general manager at work at the time, and I knew that he had done did some coaching, to have a look for us and do three training sessions, and he ended up doing three years!.

“He did a season, and I wasn’t even on the committee at the time. He then gave me a role as rugby manager as Dave said ‘If I am doing a bit then you can do a bit’ so he created this role for me, which was basically making sure that we had kit and water bottles ready on match days and then it grew into something else, which was completely my own fault.

“I wasn’t doing anything at the time, and we had Dan Hartley as treasurer but James Birkbeck, our skipper, was doing most of it and ‘Clumsy’ was doing a bit.

“The lads should just concentrate on Saturdays and should not have to worry about going to Yorkshire West (RFU) meetings and all that sort of stuff.

“It was more of a social thing really and I was brought up on putting brass behind the bar. We were out for the night, although we were getting hammered on the pitch all of the time but we had a laugh while we were doing it.

“We needed to get (RFU) accreditation so we had certain roles that needed to be filled. We had a fixture secretary, which was Matt Hartley, and he was doing hon(orary) secretary too but he had got a job in Leeds.

“So I got Macca (Andy McDonnell) to do the fixture secretary role so I took on the hon secretary role, but we had to have a chairman, so I took that as well.

“To me it is kind of the same role so I stuck my name down for that as I was going to all the Yorkshire West meetings. I had a sit-down chat with Bert Hamilton, who was chairman before me, and he told me the ins and outs because I didn’t have a ‘Scooby’ what I was doing.

“You need that decision maker don’t you after having a chat with everyone else? - to have someone to blame when things go wrong - and there were other roles like volunteer co-ordinator, which I took on.

“It took us two years to get our accreditation. There were a few of us that did that - Matt Hartley, Dan Hartley, myself, Rob Greenwood, Andy Rose, Clumsy - probably not all in the same room at the same time but everybody did a bit.

“We brought in Paul Hibbert to start a junior section and he did that with Dan Horsfall, but it never really got off the ground, which is partly why we are where we are now.

“The original conversation when ‘Clumsy’ rang me up was he said ‘It looks like we are going to drop out of the league and I said ‘You can’t drop out of the league’ and I said ‘What do you want?’

“I was chuntering on to Lisa (my wife) for about two weeks and she said turned round to me and ‘If you are going to do something about it then do it right or shut up’, and that was 12 years ago.”