Sun 07 Jul 2019 19:31

Our Pet Crocodile – “Nick”

If you look behind the bar you will see a stuffed crocodile proudly sitting on a shelf. You may wonder why this ex reptile – called Nick – is sitting in a Rugby Club.

It is loosely associated the annual game of soccer played between us and the Rowing Club, but it is true to say that the rules re this have become a little blurred.

Bob French summed it all up in the Evening Telegraph a few years ago – his article is reproduced below

“Since 1965 the football has taken a back-seat in this long-standing annual get-together. Football is a decoy for something much more serious - a game demanding a high level of intelligence, a great deal of skill, intricate planning and snappy decision-making.

It's called `nick the crocodile' and the rules are quite simple - there aren't any rules.

Rugby Club president Eddie Hein remembers the early years of this bizarre affair.

``It was in 1965 - the year I was captain - when it all started. We'd played our annual game of football in the morning as usual and then we all adjourned to the Rowing Club bar.

``That was when we first noticed they had this stuffed crocodile mounted above the bar. We decided it would look much better above our bar back at the Old Showground and hatched on a plan to steal it,'' said Hein, a retired dentist.

The plan was pretty basic, but it worked.

``If we could outdrink them and stay standing we could just walk off with it,'' recalled Hein.

It took until 5am before the boat boys sank. By then the only two rugby players still on their feet were Hein and partner-in-crime Pete Levoi.

``It was like pinching candy from a baby,'' said Hein. ``We got some funny looks from a few milkmen but eventually got it back to the Old Showground in one piece.''

And there it rested proudly for 12 months until the oarsmen spotted it when they turned up the following Boxing Day for the football.

Of course they attempted to steal it back and after a dastardly deed involving an exploding cask of Watney's Red Barrel and an unexpected power-cut, they were successful.

And so it's gone on, year after year, beer after beer.

In the early years of pilfering, the smart manoeuvres were made inside while the football went ahead outside. But both camps grew wise to that old trick and manned the pumps throughout the day.

Yet remarkably, only on the odd occasion has the crocodile stayed put.

Phil Elmer, recalls one of them.

It was soon after the Rugby Club moved premises from the Old Showground to Second Drove - just along the river from the Rowing Club.

With the Rowing Club car park heavily patrolled, the Rugby Club planned an escape route by the back door and along the Nene.

``We did ever so well to nick one of their fours from the boathouse and set off home undetected with the crocodile on board. Unfortunately we nicked a boat that was awaiting repair and the damned think sank. I've got a feeling this was a brainwave of Curly Hodson's.

``Anyway while he and the rest of his crew swam for their lives, the crocodile floated back upstream to the delight of the Rowing Club. It was mission unaccomplished.''

Elmer remembers a less elaborate but far more effective ploy.

``One year I just shoved it up the wife's dress and out she walked,'' he said.

Has it ever got out of hand?

``It's all good fun but accidents do happen,'' admitted Rowing Club press officer Steve Tuck.

``I remember the Rugby Club had just got this lovely new wooden stand which stood by the door and all the players put their kit bags on it.

``A kerfuffle broke out as somebody tried to make off with the crocodile and poor old Flo Talbott fell on the stand. He was uninjured but the stand was smashed to smithereens.

``All in all it's a good crack, although I'm not sure how much longer the poor old crocodile can stand it. He's looking a bit worn out these days and is held together by masking tape.''

Battle this year commences on Sunday at 10.30am at the Rowing Club . . . or so the Rowing Club think! Rumour has it the Borough boys could be touching down a day early.

``And we'll be ready for them if they do,'' warned Tuck.

The stuffed crocodile was donated to the Rowing Club by jet-setting member Roger Sim in 1965 and once formed an attractive window decoration. Roger now lives in America.”

So there you have it – our prized possession. On no account give it to anyone please!