Background: I interviewed Bill Salter in 1989 before the YCAC rugby tour that year to South America. The interview was the culmination of my search for the oldest surviving YC&AC rugby player in order to write a story for the YCAC tour program. I had never heard of Bill Salter before I set out on my quest but I was familiar with the name Cecil Arab because of fame as a lawn bowler. The first two paragraphs of the story are over 25 years out of date but I’d like to leave the story I wrote in 1989 as it was originally written.
There are several foreign rugby players and ex-rugby players in Tokyo who would say they played for the YCAC in the ‘˜old days’ (and the good old days at that) when the YCAC had regular fixtures with some of the top teams in Japan. There were games against Meiji and Doshisha which the YCAC used to win more often than not, a fixture against the ‘shakaijin’ (company) champions and even the occasional match against the All-Japan squad. The seven-a-side team could do what seems impossible these days ‘“ get to the final (albeit the plate final) in the national sevens. There are (or were until very recently) five people (who can name them?) still living in Tokyo who played in the 1974 game against an All Japan team which the YCAC was winning until 10 minutes (or was it five minutes or even two minutes?) from the ‘˜no side’ call.
However, those who think that Brian Pinder (played 1968-1974) is YCAC’s oldest surviving rugby player in Japan maybe surprised to hear that there are a couple of fellows still around who were playing rugby for the YCAC quite a few years before Brian was born. These two even played together in one of the Japan Exiles games against the All-Japan OB’s in the early thirties.
Yes, incredible as it may seem, the rather sprightly-looking William Salter who showed up the other day to watch the All Japan Seven-a-Side tournament first played on the YCAC field in 1927. (For those ruggers who can’t count, that is 62 years ago). The other was Cecil Arab who is still one of the leading lawn green bowlers at the club.
Getting to meet Bill was no easy task because he still puts in a 50 hour week at the accountant’s office where he works. The other basic problem was that Bill is rather modest of his achievements in those days and doesn’t believe the little he claims to be able to remember is of interest to anyone these days.
After I managed to pull him away from some old girlfriend and sit him down in a secluded room, I worked hard to dust off some of his old memories of rugby and the YCAC. As Bill is a delightfully articulate old chap, I’ll try to let him speak for himself: The words in italics are my asides.
‘As a club, the YCAC was getting along rather nicely (in 1927) ‘¦ They ran two teams, the first XV and the second XV, ‘¦ and hockey and soccer etc’¦ sometimes I used to play for both (rugby) teams, especially if it was on a Sunday. I’d play in the morning and play in the afternoon’¦ I used to walk up the hill (Bill lived in Yokohama)’¦ there wasn’t a Yamate station in those days ‘“ there were tram lines. The tram stop was at a placed called Yamotocho’¦ down the bottom there, and I used to walk up.’ Bill recalled that there were ‘Quite a few’ rugby players in those days ‘“ mainly British and not many Australians. ‘I used to arrange the fixtures. I was the only one who spoke Japanese. We played the universities and the ‘˜old boys’ teams’¦ Acorn wasn’t in existence then (!). ‘˜There were a fair few spectators. Many would come up in rickshaws. We had no grandstand so they’d sit in the blinkin’ rickshaws and look at the matches’¦ it was really good! ‘˜There were ‘˜quite a few’ Japanese spectators too. ‘˜They’d always like the beer at the end of the game not the spectators so much as the players of course. (Same today, isn’t it!)’¦ They all wanted to come down here’¦ they enjoyed it very much’¦ especially the get together and the couple of noggins of beer and a few sing songs.’ (sounds very familiar).
One day Bill and the boys drank the bar completely dry. ‘It was a game’¦ I think against Keio. I got up here early in the morning about 8 or 9′¦ it looked alright then but then it started to snow a bit. I thought a little bit of snow ‘“ it doesn’t really matter’¦ I was just waiting for the Keio team to come up but they wouldn’t’¦ the snow got thicker’¦ and I thought let’s go to the bar and have a quick one (Some things change over the years and some don’t) and in the end we drank the place dry’¦ the whole of our fifteen were up here’¦ drunk as lords!
Here is Bill on various topics:
On the level of play in those days: ‘As far as we were concerned, we weren’t too bad. Not quite as fit as we should have been (Fancy that!) but in those days things were much easier than they are today. There were no airlines’¦ we waited for the ships to come in and worked like mad for a week or so and then waited for the next ship to come in.
‘The Japanese were very, very fit but the only trouble with them was they couldn’t dribble the ball. The forwards were no good except Meiji. Meiji were always very good. ‘¦the Japanese were good at tackling’¦ they were short so the lower they get, the easier it is to tackle. They were similar to today except that they weren’t quite as aggressive as they are today’
We were on a fairly even par (with the Japanese teams) and then later (in the late thirties) on they beat us hollow and the first fifteens wouldn’t come down anymore (I do believe history has been repeating itself recently!)
‘We practiced any night we could get together’¦ the spirit was very good.’
On the YCAC pitch: ‘When I was walking out there this morning, it was a bit damp with yesterday’s rain and I remembered there was a terrific dip on the right hand corner up top (near the swimming pool) and when we got a bit of rain, sometimes to score a try you had to dive under the bloody water!’
On Interports: ‘The first, one of the first anyway, in the late twenties down in Kobe’¦ the KRAC grounds were not fit for use at that time (have they ever been?) so we had to go to a ground called the Konnan School Ground and it was rocky! Rocky is not the word for it. Honestly, if you got tackled, you were out of the game almost. But anyway we had lots of fun and I remember I scored the winning try. I shouldn’t have but I did. As a result, I got very nice and high that night and the next day an insurance bloke came and said you’ve got to take your insurance out’¦ I couldn’t put him off so I did go down and get inspected by the doctor and he said ‘cor blimmey! you’ve got a terrifically enlarged heart and you’ll probably die in three years!’’¦ I went back three weeks later and he said ‘you must have had a noggin or two before you came the last time!’. Unfortunately, it was too late to reverse the doctor’s report and so the insurance company put a twelve year lien on our noble young player’s policy. ‘˜That was a bad thing’¦ and all because of the Interport. After the Interport there was a big ‘˜black tie’ reception at the KRAC clubhouse attended by ‘˜hundreds’. (No doubt, while resting from dancing The Charleston, the boys were also bar-diving and throwing bread at the speakers.)
Cecil Arab was playing for the KRAC against Bill in many of those Interports. He confided to me that Bill was not a star but was ‘pretty useful player’.
Bill worked in Kobe too and played hockey for the KRAC. ‘They made me a life member here (YCAC) but they didn’t down there’ (Typical of Kobe!)
On the difficulties of getting the team out: ‘It wasn’t really difficult getting the team out but ‘there would be quite a few who would be ‘˜non compus’ on a Sunday morning (Gerry O’Hegarty ‘“ you weren’t the first!). We used to have to take it in turns’¦ I don’t know if you do it now but one week we’d take the Saturday and the next week we’d take Sunday morning and if we had time we’d have a second game.’
On playing All Japan: ’11th February is a national holiday and we used to have a thing called the All Japan Foreigners against All Japan (The Japanese called the team the All Japan OB’s). The team was a mixture of YCAC and Kobe and any other visiting ruggerites. The games went very well (for us) for the first few years that I can remember. I can remember one thing (against All-Japan)’¦ it was a snowy, wet, damp day’¦ it was muddy’¦ I played all over the field’¦ at the time I was playing fullback of all places and I scored a try! The only reason a fullback scored a try in those days was that the ball was so slimy that nobody could handle the damn thing and I dribbled the thing all the way until I touched it down’¦’
‘One year Prince Chichibu decided to attend the All Japan against the All Japan Foreigners side and I happened to be playing’¦ we were told by the president of the Kanto Rugby Football Union that we had to be dressed properly because the price was coming’¦ and that meant we all had to wear jockstraps’¦ and I had terrific knock knees and if I wear anything there’¦ cor blimey’¦ I suffer agony’¦ and so I said ‘˜Sorry sir!’ ‘¦ and he said ‘˜Well! you have to’. I had to’¦ the first half was agony’¦ it was terrible’¦ so I went up to the ref and said ‘˜I have to quite because I’¦ ‘and he took me down to his dressing room and he says ‘˜take that thing off! Wear this!’ and he gave me a Japanese Fundoshi (Japanese style jock)’¦ Well, you know! It was very comfortable! I wear them to this day! I can show you’¦ I’m wearing one now’ (records show there were 12 such games played between 1930 and 1941. All Japan won 6, the foreigners won 5 and the first one was a 9-9 draw).
On the outstanding players of those days: ‘Fleming’¦ he was a Scotsman’¦ he used to work with Hell’s Bells (nickname of one of two British accounting firms operating in Japan then)’¦ he always considered himself to be the fittest forward on the field but by golly! When he got drunk, he got drunk and he shouldn’t have driven a car but he nearly fell into Motomachi creek there’¦ the only thing that saved him was the cable from one of these telephone poles’¦ there he was dangling’¦ the ‘˜fittest forward on the field”¦ Oh my God!’¦ we had some characters’¦ Archie Scherrer’¦ he used to be with Babcock and Wilcox’¦ we had another fellow who was very, very short but very nimble’¦ chap called Devison’¦ and we had one chap’¦ a very young fellow’¦ a chap called Edwards’¦ who was rather good’¦ but if he played too well, his right shoulder would come out (Mr. Edwards latest reincarnation is Alan Lamin!)’¦ my God!!! ‘¦ and we had another chap who’¦ he always had a little pocket’¦ the watch pocket and two lumps of sugar in there’¦ and every now and again if he played too hard or something he would go into fits and so we had to grab him, take the sugar out and stuff it in his mouth’¦ even during the game.’
Cecil told me that he thought that perhaps ‘˜Lampy’ Lamport, who was an Oxford Blue, was the outstanding foreigner of those days.
Those of you who have seen the rugby boys totally out of control may be interested to know that back in the twenties and thirties Bill Salter and his team mates used to egg each other on to do outrageous things by promising a night’s free drink for outstanding performances. Here are a couple which both involve Yamate police. I hope the statute of limitations applies to these offences. Anyway, if they read this, the unfortunate police in Yamate may be able to close the file on a couple of mysterious unsolved cases. Ironically, as Bill was describing the adventures below, the Yamate police were busy giving me a parking ticket!
1) ‘McIntyre and Butcher (both worked for the Hong Kong Bank and both could speak German) went down to the koban (police box) in Honmoku (the gay quarters in those days). Butcher got them into chatting away in German’¦ they couldn’t understand half what he was saying’¦ McIntyre crept round the back there and pinched the blinkin’ saber that was hanging up’¦ the saber is the thing that you know a policeman by. It wouldn’t cut a piece of cheese but it was there! They thought ‘˜by God! This is the most terrific thing. We’ve got a whole night’s free drink on this one!’
2) ‘We were having dinner at the house (of Serge Bielous who still comes down to the club) and we went for a little walk’¦ we were passing the Yamate police station and there was a kamban (wooden sign)’¦ and we swiped it’¦ God! In those days the police station’¦ you didn’t even sort of look at the place without’¦ anyway we go it back to Serge’s house. We didn’t know what to do with it. We stuck it under the bed and had a few more drinks and that was that. I woke up very early in the morning and suddenly realized. Gosh there’s a rugger game on. I’d better go up there quickly. And the others got up’¦ it was very early’¦ under the bed was this damn kamban thing’¦ we didn’t know what to do with it’¦ Serge got a hold of a saw and we sawed the thing into sort of manageable bits and wrapped it in paper and carried it up all the way to the YCAC. We didn’t know what to do with it here’¦ we were stuffing this thing into the boiler (next to the men’s bath) and the guardman who was looking after the whole place was living way over near the war memorial’¦he got up early and saw smoke coming out of the blinkin’ chimney stack’¦ he came charging round and he finds us trying to stuff this police station thing (in the boiler)’¦ it was a terrible thing’¦ so I had to give him 5 yen’¦ in those days 5 yen was worth quite a bit’¦ to keep his mouth shut’¦ (Unfortunately) we had no proof to prove that we did the most outrageous thing so I didn’t get a free drink in the end anyway’.
Bill told me the latter story had an interesting sequel’¦
”¦ During the war I served some time in the Indian Ocean in a submarine of all blinkin’ things. We hit’¦ a transport I think it was’¦ we picked two or three ratings’¦ I think they were’¦ I happened to be the officer on the deck at the time and I was the only fellow who knew even a smelling of Japanese’¦ so I said ‘˜Well! Bring the fellows in after they clean up a little bit”¦ and the third one that came in’¦ he says ‘˜Hah! Mr. Salter!!”¦ and I said ‘˜What?”¦ in the middle of the Indian bloody Ocean, mind you’¦ and I said ‘˜Godammit! Where did I see you before?”¦ and he says ‘˜YCAC! YCAC! Don’t you remember?”¦ I thought ‘˜My God! There it is! There is that fellow who saw us stuffing this Yamate police station whatknot into the’¦’
I’d like to raise my glass to Bill and Cecil and those ‘˜ruggerites’ in the twenties and thirties. While Japan has gone through the most tremendous changes since Bill first set foot in YCAC, it is fascinating to see that regarding rugby on and off the field at the YCAC, in many respects things haven’t changed much.
(William Salter was born August 15th 1904 and educated at Queens College, Taunton and at Bristol University where he read Economics).