Blast From The Past – Ben “Wee Man” Cattliff

PIC: Ben “Wee Man” Catliff on the break

This week’s Blast from the Past, is a sort of double header. We handover control of the questions to future Chiswick RFC Hall of Famer, “King” Keith Luckman who will be asking the questions. His muse this week is Ben “Wee Man” Cattliff. Not so much a Blast from the Past for this current Silverbacks (our Vets team) player and Minis Coach, but he did hang up his Senior boots (albeit small) a couple of seasons ago and we wanted some insight into his last 13 years at the club.

Name: Ben Cattliff

Seasons with Chiswick RFC:  13 and counting (2007 to Present, but stopped Seniors in 2018)

Clubs: Chiswick RFC only

Current role at Chiswick RFC: VP, Silverbacks player, Minis Coach and Supporter

You were a footballer right? I remember you playing in those Blackburn Rovers shorts in your first game for Chiswick RFC in the Bideford Pre-Season tour! When was that and have you still got them?

Haha! I’m sure those shorts were solely used for training. That was back in 2007 when I joined. A great little tri-tournament with the hosts Bideford RFC who were Tom Adams’ home club and Bourneville RFC from Birmingham. I had only intended to come down to do some fitness that summer, but following a convincing chat from Als Pickering AKA War Machine AKA Force Majeure (it was hard to keep up with whatever nickname he had given himself sometimes), I was suddenly down with the 1st XV squad that weekend. I remember seeing Steffan “Tubbsy” Davies who captained us that day crashing the ball up in the warm-up – in a pretty aggressive manner. Having just converted from football, I thought “what the hell was I thinking getting involved in this?!?!” But it was a great weekend on the beers and I picked up an absolute shiner helping you out in our 22. That was a quickly taught lesson to keep my head down in a ruck. 13 years on, I’m still connected with the club with a few extra pairs of Rugby shorts added to my extensive Rovers collection.

PIC: Bideford Tour 2007 w/ Gav Nicholls, Ben Cheston and Chris Hallewell, with a hidden Chris Betts and Jez Spencer behind.

Other than your sculpted Leg cannons, or being mistaken for England and Wasps scrum half Dan Robson – what’s your greatest achievement at Chiswick RFC?

It’s only happened twice – but he’s a lucky guy!

The last few Blasts from the Pasts have mentioned “That Final,” where the 2nd XV following some battling encounters with Imperial College Old Boys over the previous seasons came up trumps to win the top league in the Middlesex Merit table in a very high scoring game. That day was big, but was only part of the story. When I joined in 2007 the 2nd XV under the captaincy of Rob Tillen had only just re-entered the league and I think we were in the 5th Merit Table. We climbed that ladder very quickly with some double promotions and that was very important for the club. Winning that top league meant we had a strong and competitive 2nd XV, which gave the 1st XV the depth they could depend on. They were on a flyer too and a number of players including myself had played for the 1s that year. That depth has since filtered down to the 3rd XV and 4th XV too. So being part of the club’s growth has been great to see and I am proud to be a part of that, along with the titles.

But that’s just from a playing perspective. I’m also the U6 Minis coach and seeing how that has grown is amazing too. The early days, before I was fully involved was just a single squad of all ages and that has grown into a well-oiled machine today, with multiple teams for some age groups. How much the parents have bought into and support the club has really helped us grow within the community. We really need to continue to own our amazing part of West London.

The Clubman of the year and VP awards have obviously been very nice too!

It’s often been said (by me), that if your rugby playing skills matched your socialising skills, you would have got many more first teams caps. Your love of fancy dress, spreadsheets and your Napoleonic bossiness made you the perfect Social Sec, a position you filled for many years. Of all the events and tours you organised, what are some of the best ones for you? Feel free to elaborate with some “non-incriminating” stories?

Wow! Well, firstly if those skills did match I would like to think I would have been signed up to one of those lucrative Saracens deals. You know, the ones with the Property Development “bonuses.” Nah, I’m Chiswick till I die really. Firstly, I must say how important any role at Chiswick is. I’ve seen too many people come and go, that just played. They club is only as good as you put in. It’s great to see people like SAC, Coppers and now Snook step up into the Social roles as it’s important, but also Gabs, Steero and Rich all on the committee. We cannot just rely on the Kelv, Gav, Wim, Stewy, Bimbo and Shane’s of the club to get stuff done. We need more from everyone, so if you can – please get involved!

I was proud of all the events we put on. I worked hard with the committee to create a Social Calendar to generate a healthy income for the club via the bar. When I suggested strange ideas such as Musical Bingo, they backed me and it was a huge hit. However, the Club Awards Dinner held at the club are very special. I recall in my early seasons, we just arranged a BBQ and got in a huddle after a few beers to hand out the awards. Now it’s this big, formal thing that the club subsidises so members can attend for a respectable fee. We’ve even extended it to the Juniors and now Vets sections. The Marquees that last couple of Awards has made it look amazing, so I’ve been really proud of them.

On a funner side, tour was always my favourite time of year but I don’t think my body could hack it anymore. That said, I’ve never missed one. We organised some great tours such as Albufeira 2011, Mallorca 2012, Lloret de Mar 2013, Prague 2014 and Split 2016, following successful trips that I attended to Rimini in 2008 and Salou in 2009. It’s been 4 years since our last tour to Croatia and fair play to SAC for trying to get this going again, but cruelly a global pandemic ended the revival. There are too many stories to tell, but there was so much laughter over a weekend and amazing bonds you would build with your fellow tourists. I always remember seeing two tourists that have now sadly passed, Goose and James Donovan spotting each other a month later at the Awards and embracing. It was brilliant and they’d only met that month prior!

A lot of effort goes into putting on these and events and tours mind. Help out the future organisers and really get behind them! Chasing people who said Yes, was the bane of my life!

 PIC: Chiswick RFC on tour to Albufeira in 2011

You have been part of some very successful 2nd XVs during your 13 years with CRFC. Have you got an all time team of greats that you have played with during that time?

There’s been the usual names repeated previously, which are rightly and deservedly so. I enjoyed some great game-time with them, but for me it’s about who you played most with and who you knew you could depend on. As I’ve said above, the 2nd XV is very important for club depth, so some of these mentions are either past or future 1St XV regulars that grew into their position. Here’s my XV with some honourable mentions:

1 – Shane Donaldson – last week’s blast from the past and a club hero. If you don’t know Shane, you should be ashamed. He’s put his heart and soul into the club on and off the field for at least the last 20 years, but also a talented Prop. I was fortunate to coincide with his twilight years, where he usually still played for the 1st XV. I hope to see him have a waddle out for the Silverbacks soon. Honourable mention to Alex “Gusta” Matulick who went onto secure a regular 1st XV spot.

2 – Elliott Pickering – the big brother of the Pickering clan. This Juan Smith/original Claire Balding lookalike was a tidy hooker, or No. 8. Loved a beer and great to see him back around the club, helping the Minis Section. I could have also mentioned James Dibble, Jon Bendall and maybe Gav Nichols.

3 – Marko Chraplywyj – Still grabbing 1st XV caps up to his final season was unbelievable, but I played a number of games with Marko over the years. It was always a joy watching his 45 degree angle running stance whenever he made a break. However I could drop him if I had to hear that “this is our Paddock. Not on our Paddock” pre-match huddle chat for the millionth time. I would have loved to have seen Greg Duce or Ed Langdon stick around at the club for longer, as they would have been great players for the club.

4 – James “Gramps” Oliver – typically a no.8, but I played with Gramps in his final seasons. Even at that stage he was 3rd highest Caps for Chiswick (since being overtaken by Marko). Some are guilty for hanging on too long, but he was so tough and strong that made him an integral part right up until he hung up his boots.

5 – Rich Eggleston – light and lanky. He had a great lineout record, but also an aggressive streak about him to disrupt the opposition when too often we were known to be too nice. Honourable lock mentions should be for Mike Caroussis (Fatsis) who was the start of a new generation of monster locks/back rower hybrids followed by SAC, Ed Poon and Mikael Ahola. All of them regulars for 1st XV, but great to have a game with in 2nd XV.

6 – Chris Morris – just a tidy player that was on the fringes of the 1st XV for so long (but got a number of caps). He would do a lot of the dirty work and make the odd break, but always use his scrum cap as an excuse for not passing – despite everything being in slow motion.

7 – Marcus Rowley – there was so many to nominate here. But like my 15, he just glided past people with ease. Unfortunately his Chiswick career was curtailed by a desire to play 10, which was not his strong point (I still have nightmares about a double pirouette followed by intercepted missed pass against H&F), although he was a solid centre especially in “that final.” Riki Darroch and Graham “G” Robbings should also get a shout. If we are talking Vets, then Jon Hartman is definitely there but this is from my senior days. 

8 – Rory Fletcher – he’d be my captain. Silently strong and aggressive, with a cool head to manage the game. He overcame a number of knee injuries before establishing himself as a regular 1st teamer over the years. Another mention should be James Spencer. I recruited Jimbo, as knew he’d played a high level at Birmingham Uni before a nasty back accident, but had to go for the Ginger skipper.  

9 – Adam Ross – a bullet of a pass and a sniper. Saw him score 4 or 5 tries in one game, including one paced against the base of the post when clean through (so smug). Like another 9, Dave Thornton these two players just visibly enjoyed playing and were so calm. Will Ullstein was my first scrum-half and a tidy mention too.

10 – Dave Hill – Had to be. I’ve played alongside Dave for many years, with him joining in my second season. Dave has a great boot out the hand and is deceptively explosive. He’s the Mick Quinn (fastest footballer over a yard) of Rugby. God, we rub each other up the wrong way but Dave (when he’s calm and listens to others) led us to so many victories and trusted players around him. I had several enjoyable games with a young Gabs “GLR” Lowe before he established himself as 1st XV fullback.

11 – Lee Miller – absolute wheels when he could catch it. Another speedster who could have got the call was Matt Small.

12 – Tom Harper – I’ve had to juggle my centres, as there’s been so much talent. There was generous Robbie McLean pinging it around in his Rugby League manner, Chris Hallewell who was a tough, direct player, my good pal Dr. Dan Godfrey before he established himself in 1st XV, or ex-NRL Paramatta Eel star Mark Barnes who at the age of 50 was still cutting people in half with huge hits. However the more recent Tom “Cyclops” Harper is the best tackler I’ve ever seen. So dependable in defence, but also a selfless player by either hitting it up hard or creating a gap for the team to break through. We went onto win another Middlesex Merit top league with him at the heart of the backs and he’s now a regular in 1st XV.  

13 – Ben Sutherland – I had initially pencilled Benny in as my starting 12, but couldn’t forget Harps and moved him to outside where he did play a lot of games for us. He won’t be happy about that though, which was similar to what happened back then too. I hope he won’t mind me saying, but he was not the most Orthodox player, but a dependable tackler. He was grumpy and unflamboyantly creative, but would have the opposition chasing him with those twinkle toe breaks causing mayhem resulting in creating tries, or scoring tries when his little arms allowed. Again, if Vets were considered then Roman “the Bear” Zakrevsky, despite him never passing would get a shout.

14 – “Boney” Pete Townsend – his technique was disgraceful. Often running into contact holding the ball in a single hand. Well, you thought it would be contact, but somehow Boney’s windmill arm action would come into play and he was past the defender. As if it was hypnotic to defences. Bizarre, yet brilliant.

15 – Joe Grindle – because he took joy in just putting me through for a try. Like Marcus earlier, Joe’s step would glide him round defenders at phenomenal speed. He gained many caps for the 1st XV, but my last outing with Joe got me a hat-trick so I couldn’t not mention him. Not something Mike Gregson was able to help me with, but he’d usually score 4 himself. An equally talented and balanced skillset.

Let’s end with the staple last question of these Blasts. What do you wish to see from Chiswick RFC in the future? And on a personal note, are you planning to continue playing for the Silverbacks and supporting the teams from the side-line on a Saturday when you can?

Obviously I wish all from Chiswick RFC and their families health at this time. That’s my immediate wish for the future. I hope we can return to the club to have a drink and pay our respects to James Donovan and Dave “Goose” Goodenough more appropriately who we have sadly lost in recent weeks.

More long-term, I’d love to see the club improvements to be completed (I’m just waiting to win the Euro Millions to finish off the “Ben Cattliff Riverside Stadium”). We need to get the 1st XV back to where they deserve in London 1, so a full season under the new coaches will push that as it already has an impressive base. Some further depth in the 2’s, 3’s and 4’s will help that. I’m also waiting for the Minis to have their first Senior’s representation at the club. Some of these kids are turning 18 now, so I’m hoping once back from University, we start to get a steady feed.

For me personally, I’m still playing. Like many others, the Silverbacks have given us a new lease of Rugby life. A bit more fitness will see a return of Tiny Dancer, as my knee is getting stronger. Perhaps the odd seniors game too if the body permits and I’ll definitely want to get down for a few of Tim’s President’s Lunch’s with you mate, if you’re keen?  

PIC: Chiswick Silverbacks title winning team at the end of this season.

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