Good afternoon everyone.
Last Friday Kate asked me to pop round to Damian’s Mum and Dad’s house so that we could chat through what we might say about Damian. For over two hours we giggled and laughed about his life. So, I think we’ve found our theme for the next few minutes, don’t you?
And so I’ll kick off with a little ditty from his mum and dad……When Damian was five they moved from Ladbroke Grove, to Ealing in search of a school for the lad. They found one, and he was very happy there for a few years, that is until they realised that St. Augustine’s was infact a school for Girls! No damage done, perhaps, but he did always hold a certain fondness for the Stade Francais Playing strip ( Pink, if you didn’t know!)
And so, he moved here to St Benedicts’s, his school until the age of 18. The scouts and camping weekends became firm favourites and quickly those around him came to know and love his, shall we say, ‘mischievous’ approach to life – the PRANKSTER was already on the first rung of the ladder! Hugely enthusiastic for his outdoor activities he held no truck with those who didn’t want to play, so, one weekend when on a camping trip and a few of his fellow campers decided they wanted to go home, he took them out on a night exercise, found the nearest phone box in the middle of nowhere, called the police to alert them to the fact that there were some abandoned children in a phone box and then he scarpered. The police responded quickly, and sure enough there they found them, wedged in , sheltering from the cold . Nothing was going to interrupt the enjoyment of Damian’s camping weekend. The police did actually run the kids home. Can you imagine the ramifications of call like that today?
Damian’s father told me that he once tried to blow up his bedroom! Why am I not surprised! This all came from his enthusiasm for Chemistry, a subject he was guided in by a teacher who meant much to him at Bene’s, Richard Baker.
From Scouts to the The Combined Cadet Force, more camping, more exploits – most of which I’m afraid I just can’t tell you about, but see the Club President afterwards! Long bicycling weekends with Father Stan, lots of school rugby, and soon this young man’s love of the outdoors was ingrained into him. An officer in The CCF, he had serious thoughts of a career in the Army, so much so that at University he joined the Officer Training Corps – I bet you didn’t know that!
His Scout Leader and friend, Dave Inwood – a man known to many of you here today – was to encourage him to join Ealing Rugby , and in 1976 so began his 34 years with our club…..his club. Many of you here today will have played with him as a Colt. I wonder if you played with him in his first game for Ealing against the Yorkshire side of Griffield ?
He was named Colt of the year in the 77/78 season.
He became a regular 1st XV player the following year and was recognised as ‘the player of the season in 80/81’. To pick out games of note….well we just don’t have the time, but, two I must mention. In a cup game against St. Mary’s, he ran the length of the field to score a try and win the game in the dying seconds. The prize was a quarter final against the mighty Saracens. And then, another Cup Final in 1984. John Critchfield, known to all Ealing players, recalls that Damian came back into the side at short notice against HENDON….. a team at the time of let’s just say “uncompromising individuals of questionable parentage”. Ealing won and in John’s words “Damian was quite brilliant that day”.
He went on to Captain the Extra 1st’s for many years and along the way took the scalps of The Scottish 3’s and the Met Police’s 2’s…both very high profile clubs in those days.
I asked Critch to sum Damian up as a player…”inspirational. He just had that knack of getting the best out of the players around him. He was a bit special.”
I guess now we move into that part of this tribute for which all of us must thank Damian and recognise his efforts for some outstanding achievements at our club…. and we’ll start with something that ultimately led to a world record for Ealing….a record incidentally we still hold. So, I must mention Charles Miller and the hours spent with Damian delivering leaflets……. why? Their idea for a Mini’s Section to Ealing Rugby Club. Today we see the fruit of that labour with one of, if not the largest Mini’s and Youth Sections of any club in England. That initial effort from Charles and Damian and supported by many others along the way has born further fruit as the club finalises it’s plans in the coming weeks for a re-formed Colt structure. Speaking with Charles, he tells me of him and Damian taking the Friday off before their first ever minis tournament, spending hours marking out the pitches only for it to bucket down over night and wash all the lines away. They had to start all over again on the Saturday morning. They laughed about it, but not at the time! Oh and by the way….that world record was for the largest overseas trip of any sporting club in the world. The Guinness World Record Certificate hangs in the club house next to the bar – have a look at it later and remember with whom it all started.
Now, there are many present in this Abbey today who owe their ‘extended’ rugby careers in the game to Damian. He and Bill Miller set to to re-introduce Vets rugby at Ealing. Numbers were hard to come by in those first days and so the call went out to players from Centaurs. They joined the effort and are still with us today. Friendlies became league rugby, and so it remains 9 years later. Now we all know that the Vets enjoy the occasional tour! none more memorable than the biggest ever to Mallorca for the subtle twist that it was a rugby tour with no rugby played! The ‘admin team’ who in fairness to Damian he was only one of, upon landing at the airport, held a team meeting in the nearest bar. Clearly there was much on the agenda, because they simply forgot to call their opposition to confirm the games! No matter, the meeting was re-convened!
And surprise, surprise, over the last few days the Vets have been on another tour, this time Zagreb, and in between pints….i’m sorry games, Bill Miller spoke with me and asked that I speak with Kate to see if she would be comfortable with an end of season game to take place between The Evergreens and The Exiles to honour Damian. She gave that blessing, and so, I am delighted to announce that tomorrow evening a game will take place under floodlights at Vallis Way between the Evergreens and the Exiles.
I want to make this roll-call of the offices Damian held in the club – he was Club Secretary, Chairman of Minis, Chairman of Youth, Club Chairman -Twice – he still is our Chairman, he was a Vice President and 1 of only 5 life members, the highest honour the club can bestow. I doubt others will ever have such responsibility and gain such recognition.
Now, squeezed into his life was his work and his friends at Satelcom and lately Logicalis. I asked Duncan Kelly a good friend for many years for a story or two about our PRANKSTER. This is one I can tell you! – you know those horrible orange Wotsit snack foods? Damian pulverized a bag to a fine powder and then placed it Duncan’s air conditioning duct. Driving home Duncan activated the aircon, and was hit by a cloud that turned him and the inside of the car completely orange. Damian then sent a text to Duncan saying simply…. “you’ve been Tangoed” – quite brilliant.
For all his friends and colleagues at work, and Tom Kelly, his Ceo – from his family for the wonderful support you gave him during many years of illness – thank you.
Now here are a few things you may not know about Damian:
He genuinely enjoyed DIY – very strange! though apparently he often tore his hair out when on a job with his brother Nicholas….don’t know why!
He was a plumber.
He was a electrician.
He was a chef – but exotic food only!
He loved quizzes.
He championed the benefits of Strongbow Cider as a health food…yes you heard correctly! indeed he was successful in converting Brendan Kelly and Hugh Hutchison to see Strongbow as one of their ‘five a day’ vitamin supplements! it’s a programme they’re still on today btw!
From University, Damian held a BSc in Industrial Chemistry.
And then there was the time all rugby fathers dream of – to play in the same side as their sons, and HE did so with Justin and James. To the best of our knowledge, to play with 2 sons in the same side had never happened before at Ealing and I doubt that it ever will again.
Inceasingly over recent years he needed to spend time at the Royal Free in Hampstead in the safe and wonderful hands of Dr Patch and Dr O’Berne of the liver transplant unit – thank you Doctors for the care you gave…..and Di, his nurse who was always there when he went in to surgery and again when he came out – thank you. And to Richard, at his bedside so often and for so long, getting him back up on his feet again. The image of you Richard chasing him around Hampstead Heath with a wheelchair and a drip stand is deliciously funny – thank you. But he had nurses at home too, Kate of course, and his daughter Emma, to whom he was a devoted father.
It’s fair to say, following a liver transplant, some might decide to take things easy, Not our Damian! He took up tennis with Mario, he learnt to scuba dive with Julian, he continued to ski with his brothers Mark and Philip, and he discovered a love of fast motorcycles and trips to Le Mans amongst others, with Ricki, Frank, Phil and Declan……… and fast rides around the English countryside with me. There were places he loved to be – Switzerland with his brothers and his many friends, Somerset with Kevin & Alison, Spain with Gerald & Vicki…and a boat on the Thames with Ricki – Thank you, each of you.
Damian did not wish his life defined by ill health. He didn’t see it as HOW LONG he lived, but most certainly by HOW he lived.
He told a friend, that the trick was never to give up – from the time you give up, that’s it.
HE never gave up – What a fighter!