Micky Steele-Bodger celebrates 70th anniversary of annual Cambridge University fixture
Select squad match is a Grange Road favourite
Micky Steele-Bodger and rugby go hand in hand – you cannot have one without the other.
The 92-year-old has been an England and British Lions selector, president of the Rugby Football Union, chairman of the International Rugby Board and is the current president of the Barbarian Football Club.
But the Gonville & Caius graduate is most widely known in the greater Cambridge area for inaugurating the annual Steele-Bodger XV match against Cambridge University.
It is the fixture that shuts down the city’s business for an afternoon, and this Wednesday (November 22) will be the 70th anniversary match.
“Windsor Lewis asked me in 1946/7 as a current international player and recent Blue if I could raise a XV to really test the varsity side before playing Oxford,” said Steele-Bodger.
“It was felt that the Oxford team gained a significant advantage in their preparation from their match against Major Stanley’s XV.
“I agreed on condition that the match was followed by a dinner where my team could share time and their experience with the varsity team.
“I had played in 1946 for Major Stanley’s XV and been very disappointed that the match ended with no such gathering.”
Steele-Bodger has only missed two matches – in 2001 when the Barbarians, for whom is president, were playing an autumn international fixture on the same day and in 2011 when he was in hospital recovering from a heart attack – and there have been a wealth of world stars play in the game.
“The early teams were remarkable for the number of international players appearing. In the first match the half-backs were Haydn Tanner and Bleddyn Williams of Cardiff and Wales and the British Lions,” he said.
“Cliff Morgan and Rex Willis played regularly in the 1950s and of course Andy Ripley was a magnificent player and captain in the 1980s.
“There have been many other fabulous players and most enjoyable times.”
It is remarkable to think of the longevity of the fixture, which still packs in the crowds at Grange Road.
“I never imagined either the match or me would last this long,” said Steele-Bodger.
“While the prestige of varsity rugby is much diminished, the match itself remains a very important event in my annual calendar and it seems in the calendar of many rugby enthusiasts in Cambridge and the Eastern Counties and, above all, of the varsity and club players.”
And it all started in order to assist Cambridge in beating Oxford at Twickenham.
“In my relatively short playing career, CURUFC was the club I played most matches for and there has been this special annual connection ever since, with great fun and great friendships,” Steele-Bodger added.