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David Duckham..not quite a Michelangelo but still a master of his craft

One of the benefits of teaching is that over the years you meet so many people with completely different skill sets; mathematicians, linguists, scientists, IT specialists and so on. Many are highly competent in their area of expertise and had they not had a real desire to teach and to make a difference to the lives of those they taught, they might well have made far more money from a career outside  education. This is particularly true of someone with whom I worked in the ’80s and ’90s. A lovely man, an ardent fan of rugby and a design teacher who, in his spare time, dabbled as an amateur sculptor, making things out of everything from wood to brass.

Mike was a very gentle man and was loved by everyone who met him. He came into teaching late, having worked in industry for several years and although the best part of 20 years older than me, we ended up starting our teaching careers at the same school at the same time.

He was a Moseley supporter, but he always had a soft spot for the Coventry teams of the late 60s and 70s and much of the time spent away from the pupils, we spent reminiscing about Boxing Day fixtures between the two sides or the relative merits of Doble and Rossborough. Sadly, a month before he was due to retire, he suffered a massive heart attack whilst out walking his dog and was dead before any help could be summoned.

This might seem a strange post to include in an blog about Coventry, but stay with me. By chance, he also knew my mum and loved the fact that she was so knowledgeable about her rugby. She, in turn, respected Mike both as a teacher (although medical, she was also involved in schools in a medical capacity and as a school governor) and as someone who had a talent as an artist and sculptor. Once she realised that Mike had turned his hand to sculpting sporting figures, she ‘commissioned’ him to carve in wood a representation of her favourite Coventry player, none other than David Duckham.

Now, Mike was no Michelangelo (although it would be another David…) or Auguste Rodin, but he had a talent. Mum was adamant she wanted the final sculpture to represent Duckham in full flow, with that swerve of the hips as he left the opposition floundering in his wake.

For those of you too young to have seen the great man, or too old too remember with any clarity, here is that famous break he made for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in 1973 (

. Wikipedia describe it thus:

In the first half he made a run that has become part of rugby lore, that brought gasps and cheers from a Welsh crowd more accustomed to regarding him with hostility. When he broke through the All Black defence, he appeared to confuse the commentator, Cliff Morgan, who did not know whether Duckham had sidestepped or dummied. He even sent the cameraman the wrong way; his change of direction was such that the camera went to the right and Duckham disappeared out of shot to the left. After the match he was given the nickname ‘Dai’ by the Welsh fans because he played like one of their own.

David Duckham by Mike Roberts.

David Duckham by Mike Roberts.

So anyway, off Mike went and several weeks later he handed mum the said sculpture, carved in beech. Now I’m no art critic, and facially it might not resemble Duckham to any great extent. But those hips…they’re definitely Duckham’s. He certainly managed to capture something of his grace and power. It’s been a talking point over the years, often an ice-breaker for anyone new to the house and always a taking point. As was Duckham…

He was such an exciting player to watch, a genius with ball in hand. Every sport throws up one or two such players every generation, players whose artistry leaves you in awe. For me, sportsmen like David Gower in cricket, Alex Higgins in snooker, George Best in football, Daley Thompson in athletics, all around that time epitomised this aura of brilliance to which I allude.. In rugby union, it was Duckham.

David Duckham by Mike Roberts (from behind)

David Duckham by Mike Roberts (from behind)

As a Coventry fan I can still remember the excitement, the buzz of anticipation whenever he received the ball. You expected him to do something different, something magical. And, he often delivered. I suppose one could draw a comparison with Jason Robinson and the impact he had on crowds when he was in full flight. For Coventry, no one in the modern era has had such an impact…Kurt Johnson, Leroy Mackenzie were both exciting players to watch in their heyday, Eves was charismatic on the pitch, Zinzan was well past his best but still had that aura about him, Rundle and Hurrell are both crowd pleasers. Everyone has their own personal favourites, Cowman is mine, with Rossborough a close second but neither could make the hairs on the back of your neck tingle quite like Duckham could.

However, although he played some 188 times for Coventry, he actually only scored a total of 88 points (if Wikipedia is correct) which seems inordinately low – a total of just 22 tries given that tries were worth 4 points then. Hopefully, someone might put me straight on that. The dangers of Wikipedia, eh? But playing as he did in the glory years of Coventry RFC, there were plenty of other try scorers alongside him – Preece and Evans in the centre, Rossborough at full back, Cowman and Gittings at half back and the likes of Tim Dalton on the other wing, not to mention the rampaging forwards.

If I were a rich man…’ya ba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dum. All day long I’d biddy biddy bum’ (they don’t like lyrics like that anymore! Good ol’ Topol)…and I mean very rich, I’d donate a large sum of money to the club so that they, too, could commission a statue of one of the Coventry greats to be placed on the walk up to the ground from the carpark. It would be iconic and supporters coming into the BPA would immediately get a feel for the club’s history.

Would it be Duckham though? Before writing this, I would have said yes, but now I’m not convinced. His best days were for England and the Lions, perhaps. Have there been better servants to Coventry? Jim Broderick, George Cole, Peter Rossborough, Phil Judd, Bill Gittings, Steve Thomas, Graham Robbins or even Dave Addleton (fewer have been as loyal, certainly)…all should be up for consideration.

But I’m not a wealthy man. So I won’t. But it’s still a good idea.

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