Star Supporter-Paul Beken
The Star Supporter Interview / Cyfelwad gyda Cefnogwr Pencampwrol
This month we caught up with someone who has been a loyal supporter of London Welsh for over 40 years.
Paul edited the London Welsh match day programme for over 20 years and co wrote the history of London Welsh ‘Dragon in Exile.’
Paul was made an honorary life member of London Welsh in 2006 in recognition of his support and contribution on behalf of the club.
How did an Englishman married to a Swiss lady become a passionate supporter of London Welsh?
It was the late 60’s, early 70’s and I was, at this time, an avid Chelsea football supporter and I was getting tired of the fighting in the terraces and the foul language, this was no place for a father and son to watch sport, and I saw an advertisement in the local paper for London Welsh and thought ‘I know London Welsh.’ So my son and I (and later my wife and daughter) substituted Stamford Bridge and Chelsea for Old Deer Park and London Welsh, and as they say, the rest is history!
What attracted you so much to the club?
It was just so different; the family atmosphere, the friendliness of everyone I met, the fact that although the club has a wonderful and proud Welsh heritage which I loved, the national boundaries were socially immaterial.
I was also taken by the way that the club catered for children and people of all ages. Also the ambience of the ground, I do think Old Deer Park is so precious and must be one of the most attractive grounds to play rugby anywhere - and I have been to quite a few!
You immediately started travelling to away games?
Yes, we went as a family and we all enjoyed the trips immensely. I recall, in the early days, going to Aberavon with us winning by 50 points playing some outstanding rugby and also visiting Rodney Parade with the ground packed to the rafters and gates locked before the game; we won a close encounter 14 – 15!
I rarely missed a game for many years! The team played such attractive rugby and we were so fortunate to have so many gifted players at the club.
Moreover, we had such a unique fixture list at this time, which was the envy of other clubs – we played the top Welsh, English and London clubs.
I am not sure how many games I have actually watched but it must be in excess of 1300 home and away!
How about the lean years when we dropped down through the leagues, this must have been a different supporting experience to the halcyon years of the 1970’s?
Well, there was always a suspicion, and fear, that the great years would not last forever. In 1987 leagues were introduced and we fared particular badly culminating in the bizarre scenario of London Welsh finishing second in one league but being relegated to the league below due to a RFU league restructuring!
But going down the leagues did give us a new supporter’s experience; we had a rousing welcome almost everywhere we went going to all parts of the country – North Walsham in the east and Lydney in the west.
These were also great times none more so than visiting Lydney. I think for one key, top of the table game there were over 700 travelling supporters for the game which we drew 17-17! However, I recall we gained promotion that season through Henley beating Lydney even though they were losing 33-5 at one point and our winning against Metropolitan Police! This was the start of our league revival!
Tell me about the research you did for Clive Griffiths when he was London Welsh coach
Yes, these were the days well before extensive TV coverage and video analysis! I subscribed to each of the town papers of teams we were playing, clipped the reports, analysed them and submitted a detailed dossier to Clive the Tuesday preceding the game.
This helped Clive understand the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition and how the opposing team scored the majority of their tries. When Clive moved to Swansea he was keen for me to continue to help with the research, but I politely declined!
Tell me how your interest in contributing to the London Welsh match day programme began?
In my business career I was a director of multinational company in marketing and publishing, I also ran book clubs - and I love words!
I also enjoy writing and history and in some ways it was a natural extension to my commercial career. When I began contributing the programmes editor was Edgar Jones, I made a few small contributions and when Edgar passed on I took over the mantle of editor.
Did you have a particular framework in mind for the content design to the rugby programme?
Not really but there were some fundamentals I always applied.
Firstly, to welcome the away supporters and document the history of the away club, highlighting notable achievements
I was always keen to weave in the opposition’s relationship with London Welsh and to make the programme welcoming, entertaining, factually interesting and also communicate the values of rugby in particular e.g. friendship, teamwork, tradition to name but a few.
Ultimately, my aim was to inform our supporters in such a way that they were acquainted with the opposition team and club before the players took the pitch, as well as our own quite amazing history
Tell me also about your extensive work in archiving the history of the club right back to its origins in 1885
Well, there were no archives at all when I started the project; I compiled an archives team and we went to Colindale Library to look at old sports articles. London Welsh had played at 17 different grounds before Old Deer Park. It took us a while but we eventually complied at statistically sound history of all the club’s games.
And the book, ’Dragon in Exile’?
The book was really a labour of love, which I compiled with great assistance and valued input from Stephen Jones, The Sunday Times rugby correspondent. It took a total of 7 years to write and was voted the sporting book of the year some 30 years ago and was completed just before the London Welsh centenary dinner in 1986 with Charles and Diana
There is an annual supplement to the book – ‘The Year of the Dragon’ which still comes out 30 years after its first publication.
What other interests do you have?
Believe it or not ballet is a real passion! And by the way, ballet dancers are often fitter than rugby players!
Also cricket, all sports really, travel, current affairs, following baseball in USA, I have a brother who lives in Spain and we go there often. I also support our local rugby club when I can, Sutton & Epsom, it's a just a 5 minute drive away.
Probably an unfair question, but from all the games you have watched over the years, do you have a favourite rugby player?
Oh, I have seen so many great players – Andy Currier for example who hadn’t played rugby union until Clive Griffiths recruited him to us. In one season he scored 23 tries with 21 assists!
Our British Lions were all great players in their own right and wonderful characters.
John Dawes was also someone very special, who many thought was a player often appreciated more in England despite his Welsh Caps and success with the British Lions in 1971 against New Zealand.
Today, we also have some quality players and Matt Corker who is such a great servant to the club and someone who maintains our fine tradition of club captains.
This is such a difficult question, but yes, on reflection, I do have one, someone who was magic on the field and so modest off it. I use to love watching him do the impossible
Gerald Davies Scores for London Welsh
One last question, why do you believe documenting the history of the club is so important?
I believe if you are careless with your history and traditions, you will be forgotten!
Paul, thank you.
Paul was in conversation with Haydn Parry. If you would like to recommend someone for our Star Supporter interview, just email Haydn at firstname.lastname@example.org