A Rugby Life

A Rugby Volunteer's Blog

Sandy Sanders 1924-2011

I was saddened to hear about the passing away of Sandy Sanders this week, aged 87.  Sandy was President of the RFU for the 1989/1990 season and won nine caps at prop for England between 1954 and 1956.  You can read his obituary on the internet and hear about his life from people that have known him for decades, but I wanted to record my memories of a man that I got to know comparatively recently.

I first met Sandy in 1999 when I joined the Suffolk committee which he chaired.  He made a point of welcoming me, and whenever he saw me at committee meetings or at games he would always take the time to see how I was and ask what I was doing in rugby.  I was then in my thirties and Sandy in his seventies and in those days I was always trying to push boundaries and was not always too respectful of rugby traditions, but Sandy, while steeped in those traditions was always supportive of innovation, recognising that the game couldn’t stand still.

He showed me that you can achieve change without necessarily dispensing with custom and convention.  He made me realise that it may take a bit longer but there is great value in bringing the traditionalists with you when you want to implement new ideas.  The game on the field has moved on immeasurably from when Sandy was playing for England but from talking to him it was clear that the core values are as strong now as they were then, and the friendship and camaraderie the game fosters is a gem that is to be treasured even when four decades separate people in age.

I am sure there are many stories that will be told about Sandy but here are a couple that only increased my admiration for him.  Sandy was a member of Ipswich YMCA (now shortened to Ipswich YM) and he was fiercely proud of his club.  When he was selected to play for England he insisted that the match programme had Ipswich YMCA by his name as well as Harlequins, his first class club (see below).  I doubt that would be allowed nowadays!

Programme for England v Wales 16 January 1954 (click for full size image) Another RFU President Peter Yarranton played in the same team and Cliff Morgan played for Wales

When Sandy heard that I was a member of Colchester Rugby Club he told me his memories of the old clubhouse in Mile End Road that had iron rods across the width of the room inside.  His party trick was to hang by his toes upside down from a rod and drink a pint of bitter.  There are current members at Colchester who remember this exploit that showed not only his strength and athleticism, but also his high regard for beer as I’m told that he never spilt a drop!

I last saw Sandy a couple of seasons ago when he came to what was to be his final game at Twickenham.  He found walking difficult but despite his failing eyesight he still remembered me and asked about Colchester RFC and some of his old friends there.

He was a true gentleman who will be missed by many, and I am privileged to have known him.

The funeral will by at 12:30pm on Friday 11 November at Rushmere St Andrew Church.


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