History – Men’s Rugby

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After enjoying many years of success on the fields in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, the Pirates slumped to the bottom of the standings in the 1965 and 1966 seasons. After that time, a concerted effort was made to recruit young Canadian players and, as a result, the club began to rise up again.

By 1968, the club reintroduced its annual Seven-a-Side Tournament, which opened the season in Edmonton. The tournament was the largest in Edmonton and was very popular with clubs from all over Alberta. The club had a mainly Canadian membership, interspersed with members from all over the world. These members added their experience and knowledge to the enthusiasm that already existed.

The game of rugby is played in a different way from most other games. It is played for the love of competing – not just winning – and it is played, generally, in a very sporting manner. No one knows this better that the players of the 1970’s, who on Saturdays, often played a game or two either for or against the Pirates. In those days, you just showed up and there was always a shortage of players for any given game. One would finish playing a game for the Pirates and then play for another club.
An annual tradition was to stock up for the weekend at the A.L.C.B. Store and then head off to the Bell’s (Jim & Bobby’s mother’s) cabin at Pigeon Lake, where variations on many sports were played, like tackle volleyball. After the sun went down, Ray Fielder kept everyone entertained with his guitar as they sang by the fire pit.

In the early 1970’s, Craig Kinniberg was one of the taskmasters charged with whipping the players into shape. He made knuckles bleed doing drills where you would scramble on all fours across the field at Coronation Park. Training also consisted of playing tackle basketball games at St. Francis Xavier Catholic High School.

Pirates R.F.C. – 1974

Back row – Reg Monteyne, Harry Sanders, Doug Aitkenhead, Blaine Cassios, David Metcalf, Tim O’Brien, Brian Ritchie, Mike Rixon, Terry Smyrl
Front row – Eddie Murphy, Bob Mallett, Ralph Killips, Mark Spelliscy, John Dzenick, Bobby Bell

A big part of training was the attention to diet. Dave MacLaren should be considered a leader in this science. Dave’s approach was ~ food is energy ~ the more you can eat, the more energy you might have. Therefore, to enable you to eat more food, one needs to stretch out the stomach. What better way is there, than to use liquid, let’s say beer.

Several times per year and always during Stampede Week, the Pirates would go to Calgary for games. Somehow these trips and the search for accommodations would often turn into an adventure.

Rugby is a rough and complex game, and it did not end with the final whistle. After the games were over, one of the other aspects of this sport came into its own. The players from both teams and the spectators would go to one of Edmonton’s finer ale houses and entertain each other with as much enthusiasm as they would put into the game itself.

Someone once said of rugby, “It is not just a sport, but a way of life!” and that’s exactly how it was in the 1970’s.

The 1980’s were, in a way, the decade of arrivals. It began with the invasion of the Voyageurs that is the players from M.E. Lazerte. It may likely have been one of the turning points in the Pirates’ history. Beginning with a man named Daryl Grass, when others from Lazerte looked to the Nor’westers, he chose the Pirates, and soon after followed a host of others.

Then came a few blokes from Scotland, followed by the Irish crew, consisting of Paddy Lamb, Paul Clinch, Dave Fitzgerald (Fitzy), Aiden Gleeson, the Mehigan brothers and Gary Forster, all of which played a hosting part in the 1987 Ireland Tour. On to Wales and the arrival of Skin, Jeff Williams. In between these guests arrived some Kiwi’s, the most notable being Kevin Brady. In there also was a Japanese guy, Yudai Hisanaga, whom we abducted on his way to Alaska. Certainly, it was because of the way these gentlemen were hosted by their Pirate friends that some chose Canada for their home.

Coaching in the 1980’s also had an international scope from Malcolm Reed of Scotland to Fitzy and Richard Maxwell of Ireland.

Our list of rep players in the 1980’s is long, but noteworthy were Darren Starchuk, Paddy Lamb and Mick Walton having been selected to the Alberta Senior Men’s on a few occasions.

The notable championships of the 1980’s were:

– the 1985 Edmonton 1st division crown
– the 1985 SNAFU championship
– the 1985-88 Kalispell tourney wins
– the 1989 Jasper and Pirates Seven’s 1st division crown

The 1980’s also marked the beginning of the era of the physiotherapists. A lady named Shirley, who took no crap and won our respect, indoctrinated the club and broke the ground for all those who have followed.

The facilities, we trained at during this decade, varied from the Edmonton Ski Club to the Ottewell Curling Club and McNally Composite High School, while we hung our boots and socialized at the office off Whyte Avenue, then at the Panter /Pietz house in Millwoods.

The 1980’s history would not be complete without the mention of… BINGO, an era of fundraising, working at halls such as City Center, Londonderry, South Center and WEMBA. During this time, playing three games of rugby and working three bingos per week was not uncommon.


1985 – Edmonton 1st Division Championship Team

Back row – Steve Johnson, Craig Dockery, (Roo), Charlie Bulmer, Blaine Cassios, Rod Gregory, Aiden Gleeson, Jonathon Stanley, Jim Bulmer, John Henderson

Front row – Cormack Mehigan, John Osborne, Stewart Wright, Barry Richards, Colebe Massie, Paddy Lamb, Bill Pietz

A few things from “that 80’s show” that will live on forever (if only in infamy) are condom tricks, stair rolling, gang planker shirts, tour themes, Mooses Saloon in Kalispell, Blain-o-isms, Bulmer songs, Rambo, and Wilk and his ball. We may not have won a lot of games, but we did win respect and had a lot of fun.

The 1990’s started very much the same as the eighties ended; Wilk still always had his ball, but had upgraded his wardrobe to include spandex.

Coaching in the high schools was strong with coaches such as Bill Pietz, Wilk Mah, and Darwin Knibbs. During those years, our tackling improved considerably, it may have been due to the fear if it did not, they would have to tackle Darwin.

There was also the start of the annual Pirates Snow Seven’s. The games were played in a field across from the clubhouse on 76 Avenue, in snow that was typically two to three feet deep. Snow Seven’s was held in February and had only one rule, if you scored you had a “shot.” It was a great way to prove to our teammates how we had continued our rigorous training in the off-season. Larry Mah (Lucky) made his extra hot chili to warm everyone up after the games. Only two members ever ate more than one bowl ~ Darren Starchuck and Rob Norton. Not surprising, our beer sales were always strong after the chili had been served.

The tournaments continued with the most notable being SNAFU. The club also started to take the trip to Regina for their snow tournament in late January. All the tournaments the club participated in or hosted were always a source of good rugby and great friendships that will last forever.

Through the years, many clubs have recognized the Pirates for our camaraderie, and as players moved to Edmonton, this is one reason they selected the Pirates as their team. Ken Campbell, Sid Fontoura, Mark Bednorski, Richard Nelson, Cecil Parris, and Matt Parrish to name just a few.

The team continued to improve, but always seemed to just fall short of that play off win needed for a championship. The junior program began to grow each year and many of these individuals moved through the organization playing for the top team. The club continued to improve their play over the nineties and by 2000 moved back into 1st division.

In rugby, one is not invited to try out, but to play. Anyone wanting to play, no matter the skill or talent, can be assured of playing with one of the teams. Rugby is also a game of sacrifice. Watch a great backfield in action and it is quickly evident that the whole design of the game is to create opportunities; not for oneself, but for a teammate’s glory and that is achieved by sacrificing one’s self.