On the 28th April it will be the 30 year anniversary of what many consider to be the beginning of the "Bath Rugby golden era".
With Jack Rowell's arrival in the late 70's Bath had been slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with in English rugby, starting to compete on a level with the likes of Leicester, Bristol and Gloucester, proving they were no longer the smaller team in the West Country.
In the 1983/84 season Bath found theirselves in the John Player Cup Final after beating Nottingham in the semi-final, aided by a chip from Prop Chris Lilley for David Tick to run onto and score. http://youtu.be/WfOjt9V-r-0 Next step was the final in which they had to travel up the M4 to Twickenham to take on their local rivals Bristol.
The final was an incredibly tense and close match which could of been won or lost by either side, luckily Bath won and Bristol lost becoming one of 'the' games in Bath's history.
Bath; C Martin, D Trick, J Palmer, A Rees, B Trevaskis, J Horton, R Hill, G Chillcott, R Cunningham, R Lee, N Gaymond, N Redman, R Spurrell, J Hall, P Simpson
Bristol; P Cue, A Morley, R Knibbs, S Hogg, J Carr S Barnes, R Harding, J Doubleday, D Palmer, A Sheppard, N pomphrey, P Stiff, P Polledri, M Rafter D Chidgey
Bath were the more dominant of the two sides, showing their intent with a drop goal by Horton within 5 minutes of the kick off. The attack continued with Simpson coming off the back of the scum to score a try 18 minutes in, Bath had control although Palmer missed the conversion.
Palmer also missed a 4 penalty attempts before Stuart Barnes got 3 points for the current champions, Palmer grabbed 3 points back and Bath's 7 point lead was restored giving Bath a 10-3 lead at half time.
The second half saw Bristol fight back, a tap and go penalty by Harding and Barnes taking a further 2 points the game teetered at 10-3. Bath were not done yet as Horton attempted another drop goal, only to miss and Simpson was tackled short of the line denying him and Bath a second try.
The moment that will go down in Bath and Bristol's history happened in injury time, a break by Bristol looking almost certain to score, when Trevaskis tackled the legendary winger Alan Morley just before he caught the ball, with the referee awarding Bristol a penalty kick (some may say it should of been a penalty try). Barnes stepped up to win the game for Bristol with a 30m kick, but it was not to be, the ball sailed wide to the tune of the final whistle,10-9 and Bath were the champions and so the Blue, Black and White dominance began.
Giving their views and memories of the game and that period in time at Bath are two huge legends in the Blue, Black and White- Gareth 'Cooch' Chilcott and David 'Tricky'Trick.
The John Player Special Cup win 1984 symbolises the start of what was to become "Bath's golden era". What expectations did you have on the day of the final?
T- If I’m to be totally honest I had high hopes and low expectations. In the seasons leading up to the match, Bristol were the stronger team and a win was always going to be hard to achieve. Having won the match, I can’t recall ever going into any subsequent game thinking we could possibly lose. The victory certainly had profound effect on my mental approach to rugby.
C-The 1984 cup was the first cup we won, but the golden era I believe started two seasons previous, when Bath became a unstoppable force in British Rugby, the odd fluky win in Wales on a wet midweek game turned into a regular occurrence, and we started to set the standard for most clubs, the big guns of Bristol and Gloucester were also falling to Bath.
How much of the game can you still remember?
T- My most vivid memory is the final penalty kick which saw Stuart Barnes (then of Bristol) narrowly missing the target. Seconds later the final whistle blew and our captain Roger Spurrell ran over to Stuart, rubbed his head, (possibly kissed him) and said, “thank you”. We won 10-9 I think, so the kick was vital. I have an extremely hazy recollection of the coach journey back to Bath, but do remember it was a lively trip down the M4. My over-riding memory is how tight the match was from the first minute to the last.
C- I remember the game well, from Barnsey's missed kick to Baths back row dominating the loose and a strong front five performance that more than held its own, Horton was his usual jinky self, and it would I believe been a injustice if Stuart's kick would have snatched it at the end.
What was the atmosphere like in the dressing room after the game?
T- I have no recollection of the changing room after the game. I know it would have been noisy, I can guarantee John Horton would have said, “Never in doubt” a few times and Richard Hill would have said, “All in a day’s work”. I do remember the following day, going to Jack Rowell’s house (coach) drinking a lot of his wine before moving on to Lansdown Cricket Club, with the John Player Cup, for a few beers at lunch time before moving on the The Recreation for a few more and then finally going out to The Boater & then The Pulteney Arms to celebrate!
C- Fantastic atmosphere and most of the lads stayed on the pitch with the fans for a long while after the game as I remember the Bath supporters just invading the pitch at full time.
To T- You already had a few seasons under your belt at Bath before the cup win, you were taken in by Jack Rowell as an 18 year old, did you imagine then Bath would become the force you did?
Quite simply – NO, I had never even heard of Bath before I started playing for them. I was in my final year of school at Bryanston in Dorset and the school selected 6 games they wanted me to play in and made me available for Bath for the rest. One thing I remember when I started was how inconsistent we were, one week we’d win by 30 points and the next lose by 30. However, every year season was an improvement on the previous one in terms of victories & losses, culminating in the cup winning season of 1984. The rest as they say is history…
To C- You already had a few seasons under your belt at Bath before the cup win, and arrived just before Jack Rowell, how much did he change the club and drive it into the force you became?
Jack gave Bath, targets and goals, he got the best out of players collectively and gave us the belief that we could compete with the best etc.
Do you still keep in contact with any of the other players from back then?
T- I do and we always remind each other of how great we were. There’s an old saying, ‘the older you get, the better you used to be’. Many of us are godparents to each other’s children and we see one another at least once a year, although I keep in better contact with those who still live locally. We all shared some very special times during our rugby careers.
C- We all keep in touch and bump into each other when we can.
To C- When Stuart Barnes joined, did anybody mention the missed kick?
All the time, every hour on the hour !!!!
To T- The John Player special cup was the pinnacle tournament at the time, now as the LV=cup does it you its now seen as a developmental tournament and lost its stature?
It does surprise me as I always considered the winner of the cup to be the best team in the country. I suppose it’s inevitable now the game is professional and other competitions, such as the Premiership & Heineken Cup (soon to be revamped) generate far more money for clubs than the LV cup.
A big thanks to Tricky and Cooch for helping me relive this huge part of Bath's history and celebrate the time when Bath became the dominant force we came to know and love!
Also enjoy- Bath v Bristol cup final 1984 - The Big build up