End of an Era
I wrote a recollection after I left Saudi Arabia in 1980, and went on to Japan where I ended up playing second row for the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YCAC), a far cry from the wing position I played in Dhahran. Interestingly enough, Mike Galbraith, who wrote in Part 2, is the historian for YCAC. I have adapted my original ruminations for the purposes of this serialisation.
Richard Thom 1976 – 1980
Chairman 1979/80 and Treasurer 1976/77 1977/78 1978/79
Editor of Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club (DRUFC): An Unofficial History 1973 to 1989
It could be said that when I first came to Saudi, DRUFC was founded on a bed of rock, and on leaving, floundering in a sea of sand. No reflection naturally on the state of the art, the players, or captaincy but on the state of the pitch! But this had changed by the time the Club ceased to exist with Aramco providing grass fields among the Dhahran Hills development where ‘Touch Rugby’ could be played, while those who still wanted to play regular rugby joined Khobar Eagles.
As we can see from the earlier stories, in the early days it was often difficult to field a full XV let alone a 2nd XV. Often, those early sides consisted of eight on one side and nine on the other with half-time swaps. DRUFC not only had to contend with the inflexibilities of full-backs as hookers, hamstrung wingers as the three-quarter line, and the Pitch secretary remembering to bring his balls, but also with rising bedrock (a dry equivalent of rising damp), riderless camels, hurtling dump trucks, Olympic hopeful shot-putters and an ever-encircling airport fence.
It had always been difficult to arrange visas for visiting teams as names had to be submitted in time by the visitors, and permission had to be obtained through the Aramco liaison office; however as can be seen from the 1978/79 Fixtures card below, DRUFC scheduled 7 Homes games that season with teams from the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Iran; and a similar number of Away games.
Getting away could be equally difficult as seats on planes were popular, and travel agents required names well in advance. It may have improved by the time the Club closed, but flights around the Gulf were booked en masse, often months in advance, with names that bore little comparison to who eventually flew. Thank goodness there were no plane accidents as the passengers would not have matched the manifest. Qatar and Kuwait could be reached by road, as could Bahrain when the causeway opened in 1986, but, until then, flights to and from Bahrain and onwards to UAE were often subject to unscheduled flights by high-ranking officials. Successful road trips depended on the quality of the car, more often than not resulting in breakdowns, and borrowed nylon stockings giving way to tow-ins before abandoned wrecks yielded a new fan belt.
It can be seen from the Results Table below that 1978/79 proved no exception to the difficulties of fixtures; of the 14 games scheduled, only 10 were played. The Shiraz fixture had to be cancelled because of the Islamic Revolution that occurred during that period which led to the toppling of the monarchy in February 1979, and the establishment of an Islamic Republic, and two other games must have been cancelled.
But how did we do? Unfortunately, records could not be found for fixtures prior to the 1976/77 season when only a 1st XV team was being fielded, but by the 1977/78 season a 2nd XV was regularly being fielded. In the 1978/79 season, DRUFC joined the Gulf League but withdrew in 1985 due to continuing visa and travel problems.
Key: P: Played W: Won L: Lost D: Drawn GLP: Gulf League Position
Nevertheless, DRUFC grew even more ambitious, undertaking 4 Tours overseas and a weekend trip to Cairo.
Key: R: Result S: Score rnf: Record not found
There are countless stories and personalities, many of the former too personal and the latter too spent - the race track surrounding the Royal Bangkok Sports Club rugby field giving the illusion of Twickenham; the Bahrain Airport policeman who arrested a not-to-be-named captain for threatening (physically) a poor defenceless Gulf Air Transfer Desk Clerk (only Travel Secretaries can sympathize), or when another very angry policeman decided to knock down our mountain of empty beer cans, prettily erected on the terminal floor. There was a time when the only matches DRUFC seemed to win were the Boat Races at the AEA Fair, and more injuries often occurred to rugby players off the field than on - one trapping his leg between the rim of the swimming pool and the guard rail, another who survived the rigours of the game only to knock his head diving into the sea and suffering a fairly serious haemorrhage; but that's not to say there was no ungentlemanly conduct on the field.
However, as this serialisation and the success of (Not) the May Balls held in the United Kingdom have demonstrated, DRUFC was an excellent conduit to meet, travel, play and make wonderful lifelong friends.
About The Author
Arriving in Saudi Arabia in 1976 was like coming home, as Richard had been brought up in Kuwait as an “oilbrat” during the 1950s and 60s where his dad was Chief Health Officer for the Kuwait Oil Co. As a Chartered Accountant, Richard worked for Aramco in both Internal Audit and Contract Cost Compliance, but despite his father’s prowess as a golfer and his mother as a tennis player (Persian Gulf Oil Companies Lawn Tennis Association Ladies Champion in 1956), his social life gravitated to the Dhahran Rugby Club and amateur dramatics. He used his organising skills to become a representative on the Aramco Employees Association, Treasurer for DRUFC between 1976/77 and 1978/79, and then Chairman in 1979/80 before leaving in 1980. He continued with a varied finance career in shipping (Japan) automobiles (Guam) and dance education (UK).
Finally retiring in 2015, Richard and his husband live in London and he has used his time not only to continue travelling, but also to write Dance into Business for dance students wanting to start a business.
About this Article
The Unofficial History was produced to mark what would have been the approximate 50th Anniversary of the Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club (DRUFC) 1972- 2022, depending on what year you believe the club to have been established.
The Editor: Richard Thom first started playing rugby as a young boy in Scotland playing for the 1st XV at prep school, and then the Colts and 1st XV at Strathallan. He rediscovered rugby in Saudi Arabia, and not only played for the 1st and 2nd XVs on the wing but helped to keep the Club on track as Treasurer and Chairman. Moving to Japan after Saudi, Richard continued to play for the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YCAC) as second row for the 2nd XV, a far cry from the wing in Saudi.
Coming back to the UK in the mid-80s, it was the camaraderie among those in the club who played, supported or just joined in that helped to bond us all together to meet regularly and to mark the occasion with a "Not the May Ball," the third for which this booklet was produced.
- John Bailey 1975 - 1980
- Mike Galbraith 1971
- John Kates 1973 - 1975
- Bill Flynn 1973 - 1975
- Martin Watson 1974 – 1977
- Stan Peters 1974 – 1978
- Mike Sullivan 1978 - 1984
- Graham Vizor 1977 – 2007
- Carolyn Coles 1977 - 1985
- Lesley Williams 1979 - 1986