Peter Jackson: When WRU called Cliff a ‘cheat and liar’ over 4d!

Cliff MorganWhen Cliff Morgan made his debut for Wales in 1951, he caught the bus from his home in the Rhondda and travelled down to Cardiff with a full load of supporters.

“The bus was packed,” he told me. “So I stood for the whole journey.”

The letter from the secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union, Captain Arthur Rees, is a quaint reminder of how players used to be informed of selection. The note at the bottom reflects the austerity of those early post-war years:

“Please let me know by return of post whether you can attend. You are to wear the white-topped stockings issued for the Scotland match. Please do not forget them, as stockings have become very scarce.”

Stockings stuffed safely into his modest kit bag, the new boy caught the last bus home that evening, elated to have won his cap in a drawn match against Ireland but acutely aware of the penny-pinching policy of the WRU treasury. He may have entertained a crowd of almost 60,000 but before the Union paid him his bus fare they asked him to identify himself to the treasurer, Mr Eric Evans.

“We walked up the first flight of stairs in the hotel and Eric was sitting there with his card table and a black exercise book,” Morgan recalled. “When I got to the front of the queue, he said, ‘name?’”

In those times long before decimalisation, Morgan claimed five shillings (25p) for his return bus fare. According to Cliff, Evans consulted his black book, then said: “You liar and cheat. Two shillings and four pence return (11 1/3p), Trebanog to Cardiff. That’s four shillings and eight pence (22 2/3p).” An overclaim of four old pence (1 1/3p).

Imagine that happening today. Morgan took it in his stride, just as he took everything else, on and off the rugby field. And now, in his 82nd year, the Grand Old Man of Welsh No.10s is to be recognised as never before with a special award from the Rugby Union Writers’ Club, an august body made up of scribes young and old from the world over.

No sooner had Morgan ended one glittering career than he started another, rising to the dizzy heights of BBC head of outside broadcasts, responsible for televising what was then the biggest live event in the corporation’s history – the wedding of Charles and Diana.

At 41, he survived a stroke which meant he virtually had to learn to speak and walk all over again. Cliff managed it in his own inimitable way, invariably more concerned about the well-being of others than himself.

At the age of 81, he will be honoured at the Rugby Writers’ dinner in London tomorrow night as the recipient of the coveted special award. Unable because of ill-health to be there in person, Cliff will send a cheery message from his home on the Isle of Wight.

Only the very special win the Special Award. Over the years it has been won by men who made history – Australia’s World Cup-winning coach Bob Dwyer, former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar, Sir Clive Woodward, of England, and the indomitable Scottish Lion, Jim Telfer.

It has also been won by Telfer’s compatriot Sir Ian McGeechan, among other towering figures like Lawrence Dallaglio, Philippe Sella and Jason Leonard. If Morgan’s innate humility makes him wonder why he should find his name up there with the biggest, no company is too exalted for the collier’s son who set out on that momentous journey more than 60 years ago from 159 Top Trebanog Road.

Never have the rugby writers made a better choice. And never has Wales had a finer ambassador although it would have been very different had his mother not talked his father, Cliff Snr, out of signing for Tottenham Hotspur in the Twenties but that’s another story….

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