Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Remembering Oliver

I've been working on a cunning plan for the past few months (I have others) and am delighted to now be able to tell you about it.

25 years ago this very month, I was one of 21 especially fortunate teenagers chosen to tour Japan with the Coleraine Inst 1st XV rugby squad.  We were the first Irish school, North or South, to play in the Far East.  Whilst there, I celebrated my 17th birthday and the British Embassy in Tokyo paid for my cake which was wheeled in on a trolley.  Rule Britannia.  

I had the idea some time ago to attempt to get the squad back together to mark the anniversary and, since the turn of the year, I've renewed contact with all but two of our number. One I've failed to reach is our former prop forward, Graeme Houston. And if you happen to know where he is - genuinely - please ask him to email me on barrywhitestuff@gmail.com 

The other missing name is Oliver Turkington. 'Turkey' (pictured above left on my Kodak Instamatic with Ian 'Frankie' Coulter during a taxi ride in Hiroshima) was 18 years old when we took off from London Heathrow and, on our return, was widely acknowledged as the stand-out player on our four-game trip. 

But to the great distress of everyone who knew and loved him, Oliver was diagnosed with cancer in 2000 and, despite a characteristically brave battle, he passed away in 2007 at the age of just 35.  

With the agreement of his brother Bruce, our dinner will therefore he held be in his memory with the proceeds being split equally between Cancer Research UK and rugby development at Coleraine Inst where we all learnt the game together.  

It will take place at the school itself (now 154 years old) on the evening of Saturday 13 September and is open to anyone and everyone who wants to buy a ticket and come along.  

Because Oliver was a scruffy bugger, black ties and ball gowns have been ruled out.  The official dress code will instead be 'lounge suit, top button open.' 

And the principal speaker will be none other than the greatest rugby man of them all, former British and Irish Lions skipper Willie John McBride MBE (below).  

“My son Paul was a boarder at Coleraine Inst and was the tour captain in Japan so, when asked, I could hardly say no!” said Willie John in comments I hope you'll read in your newspapers in the coming days.   

“More seriously, Oliver Turkington was a close friend of Paul’s and I got to know him very well personally over many years.  He was a fine young man and he fought cancer with incredible bravery and remarkable good humour. 

“Oliver’s death was a desperately sad event for everyone, and I think it is a wonderful credit to him that his old teammates are reuniting to celebrate his life, share tales and raise some money for good causes in so doing.  I’m sure it will be a tremendous evening.” 

And Willie John is never wrong.

Lots of other reasons to be present are currently being worked on to hopefully make it a night like no other.  And, needless to say, I'll tell you about them as soon as I'm confident they're going to happen.  

Ticket details for the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner will be announced here and elsewhere next month.  

You'll be very welcome should you be willing and able to support what we're trying to do.  I may even buy you a drink.