BRIDGWATER & ALBION MOURNS SAD LOSS OF DIRTRACKERS TALISMAN AND LONG-SERVING STALWART GENTLEMAN JACK SMITH
JOHN IVOR (JACK) SMITH passed away at Musgrove Hospital on Sunday 11 December aged 86. He had been unwell for some time but still managed to get to the club to watch our teams in action this season. He was taken into Musgrove Hospital on Wednesday 7 December as his condition deteriorated. Several former Dirtrackers players supported his stay in hospital in conjunction with Jack’s wife Maureen – most notably Clive Paisey and Jon Frost who were in attendance as he passed away.
Jack was born on 17 July 1930 in Minehead to South Walian parents. However when he was very young his family moved to Stockland Bristol – just outside of Bridgwater. From there Jack carried out his education and his initial apprenticeship with a local building firm. He entered National Service in his late teens and it was there that he first came across the game of Rugby Football. He enjoyed that so much that on being demobbed, he joined Bridgwater & Albion in 1950 and played as a prop or second row mainly in our United XV along with the likes of Jack Taylor, Ted “Spud” Nash and Dick Raymond. Jack also played on several occasions in the 1st XV and as he recalled, he was often pressed into 1st XV action when the fixtures were in South Wales with some of the other incumbents being somewhat reluctant to travel through the Severn Tunnel or via the Aust Ferry. He regaled meeting the Welsh front row at Bridgend and other games at Maesteg, Cross Keys, Abertilery, Blaenavon and other Welsh outposts. Jack was a very competent player and a solid member of the Albion teams. With the strength of the club burgeoning in the early 1960’s, then it was decided that a third XV – the Athletic be formed and here Jack was in his element taking over from the very first season, firstly as captain of the side and later following his retirement in the mid-1960’s as team manager – a role which he carried on continuously until the end of the 2014/15 season – even then the team members seemed to ignore his retirement intentions and he was still pressed into action in the 2015/16 season. Sadly by then, Jack had become ill and was reluctant to seek substantial medical opinion. He decided to opt out completely from managing for this current season yet still was a prominent feature on the “press box” seats adjacent to the changing rooms.
Jack had continued his attachment to several local building firms and was engaged on the painting and decorating side of Bridgwater Town Council – later Sedgemoor District Council for many years. On his retirement there, he acted as self-employed jobber for a few years.
Jack served the club in many capacities on its committees but it was principally his attachment to the Athletic (later to become known as the Dirtrackers) that he will be well-remembered. In 2000 the club presented him with an engraved salver to recognise his 50 years contribution to the club – that was accompanied by a light-hearted “This is Your Life” which saw us all reminisce in some fine style with an initially reluctant Jack.
Through his involvement with Bridgwater & Albion Jack met Maureen Titmus and after a long courtship they were married in 1964 and celebrated their golden anniversary two years ago. They lived at 211 Taunton Road throughout their marriage – a property now marked by the flagpole in the front from which the Union Flag flies proudly on appropriate ceremonial occasions. Both Jack and Maureen were involved with the Bridgwater Operatic Society – Jack providing his stage hand skills with Maureen actually appearing in the cast. Jack became a life member of this organisation. In later years Jack and Maureen had been regular attenders at the Probus Club.
In 2000 to recognise his long involvement with the club Jack was proudly made a life member of Bridgwater & Albion.
Jack’s loyalty to the 3rd XV (Athletic/Dirtrackers) was legendary – both within and without the club as many of the teams whom our teams visited readily recognised him with the team and on the touchline. Jack became the selector, manager, kit man and everything else for the team – how on earth he put up with trying to rearrange teams on a Friday night as players withdrew or were otherwise collared by the 2nd and 1st XV’s – but we always managed to put a side out. Certainly in the olden days and soon after the 3rd XV had been formed, players at all levels were used to making their way through that side. If you came out of the Colts XV, then you proved yourself in the Athletic first before going up the line; even if you were a 1st XV player and had been injured and missed more than two matches, you came back through the Athletic XV and so players of all levels mixed readily on the field which was great experience for all concerned and particularly so for those perhaps of lesser skills and ability who would have been inspired by their more talented brethren. If it had not been for Jack’s ability to cajole and coerce players into turning out, then the Athletic XV would have folded many years ago. That it has been maintained is an absolute tribute to his skills – sadly there are signs even this season that organisation is lapsing a little as more senior players have retired and Jack is no longer in place.
One thing is certain in that everyone who has appeared in the Dirtrackers will fondly always remember Jack. After all, for some players he has acted as their father, mother or brother – his kindly disposition helping all sorts of players who might otherwise have been in trouble. Several of his charges attribute his care and conduct and being involved in the Athletic XV as being effectively saving their lives in terms of social conduct. As a result everyone in the club knows Jack and are always concerned for his welfare.
Many players will recall that when their United or 1st XV games were called off, they would clamour to try and cadge a game with the Athletic – Jack was sometimes selective but would try and fit people in wherever possible – and remember these were the days before replacements were allowed. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to represent the club unexpectedly. In later seasons when replacements become the norm, then Jack tried to fit everyone in – on one occasion when the referee asked him how many players he had available for a game against North Petherton, he said – 29 and all 29 played at some time during the game.
The escapades and exploits of Jack and his merry men are too numerous to mention here but there is still considerable reminiscence of some outstanding results when we went to play with only a wing and a prayer for victory yet achieved it; had some very interesting trips back from various rugby football outposts i.e. via hostelries – all in the sense of enjoyment. Only on the rare occasion has this writer seen Jack the worse for wear when a kindly lamppost at Torquay came to his rescue – he was wrapped around it holding on for dear life until the team rescued him and took him home.
Earlier as mentioned Jack effectively retired from playing in the mid-1960’s but this writer knows of an occasion when he stepped out of retirement and assisted the Dirtrackers at Swanage & Wareham one day – for many years Maureen was unaware of this but there was clearly no problem as he came through absolutely unscathed and was well looked after by other members of the team.
A few seasons ago, Jack became Somerset County RFU “Value the Volunteer” – an award for stalwarts exactly like Jack. The reward was a “full works” trip to Twickenham for an England International incorporating pre-match lunch; the game; and the after-match dinner. Jack relished the occasion and particularly as the then RFU President WDG Morgan had spent some time in dental practice in the Bridgwater area and knew the club well – England also won.
Hundreds of players in this club will fondly always remember Jack for the assistance he has given them in their careers. His dedication, loyalty, care and assistance were second to none. His like in this direction will never be seen again.
Bridgwater & Albion RFC salutes his achievements and offers sincere condolences to Maureen and her family with thanks for 66 years of dedication and loyalty.
Category: Club News