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Father and Son: John and Laurie Beck

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Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 09:00, Tags: Father & Son

Laurie Beck in his Gloucester days Laurie Beck in his Gloucester days

If you’d have asked long-time Gloucester rugby fan John Beck who he’d like to have round for dinner back in the late 1990s there’s every chance he’d have said Terry Fanolua and Richard Tombs.
Fanolua, the great Samoan, and Tombs, who was capped five times by Australia, formed what is widely regarded as one of Gloucester’s best ever centre partnerships at the back end of the last century.

They were strong, fearless, could run with the ball and tackle; in fact, pretty much everything you’d want from your midfield pairing.

John Beck, like so many, was a huge fan of theirs but what made that time extra special for John is that Fanolua and Tombs did indeed go round for dinner at his home in Gotherington.

“We cooked them a chicken pasta dish, they were two nice blokes,” recalls John, now 79, who still lives in the same cottage visited by the celebrated duo all those years ago.

They were friends with John’s son Laurie, the one-time scrum-half who played around 100 games for Gloucester from 1990 through to 2000.

Fanolua and Tombs  arrived on these shores in the aftermath of the game going professional in the mid-1990s and Laurie has great memories of their time together.

“Yes, I was very lucky,” he said. “They were great players. Playing with them and Philippe Saint-Andre, it was surreal.

“And it was the same with the teams we played. Saracens used to play in the middle of a park and all of a sudden they’ve got Philippe Sella, Tim Horan, Michael Lynagh and Francois Pienaar, it was weird.”

But while Laurie certainly rubbed shoulders with the stars in the 1990s, his dad was also a very good sportsman in his own right, playing water polo back in the 1960s in the days when Cheltenham ruled the waves.

Born and bred in the town, John got into a sport long synonymous with Cheltenham from a young age.

“Like most water polo players, I started as a decent swimmer,” remembered John. “I was a member of Cheltenham Swimming and Water Polo Club and I started playing water polo because team sport is a lot better than individual sport.

“We lived in Knapp Road and I used to go down to Alstone Baths on my own when I was six. You wouldn’t be allowed to do it now!”

John’s dad Harry played rugby for Cheltenham – he was a second row or back row - and that love of rugby rubbed off on John who went on to play in the red and black of Cheltenham North.

“The seasons were much more clearly defined in those days, it was water polo in the summer and then straight into the rugby in September,” said John.

John was a winger and sometimes stand-off at the North and played alongside the likes of Ronnie Freebury, Doug Auchterlonie, Pete Tapsell, Pete Wheatley and his brother-in-law John Wood but while he liked his rugby, water polo was always his number one sport.

“When I left the juniors and got into Cheltenham water polo’s first team at the age of 18 everyone I played with was an international,” John said.

“There were seven in a team and in those days you’d have one reserve and he was an international too!”

John played with some of the great names in Cheltenham’s water polo history – Jack Jones, Phil Jones, the aforementioned Auchterlonie, Pete McGonagle, Dave Wright and Oscar Moss to name just a few – and collected national titles for fun along the way.

He was an England under-21 international and trained with the England and Great Britain squads. He never won a senior cap but was more than happy doing his bit for Cheltenham week in, week out.

“I was a midfielder, I used to get up and down and hopefully score a few goals,” he said quite modestly.

He did, of course, with the former Elmfield School pupil playing for the first team for some 10 years.

He admits that water polo is an “exhausting sport” but he continued to play for Cheltenham after his first-team days were over and then went on to coach the juniors, helping them to win national honours.

He also played cricket for Gotherington for seven or eight years – alongside his son Laurie – a sport he played very much for fun.

“I was a medium pacer but my batting was pretty rubbish,” he said, “I think my highest score was 22.

“I played with the likes of Brian Gardiner and Jonathan Freeman and in those days we had a really strong top six.”

John, who is also dad to Sasha, insists that Laurie – a spin bowler – was a better cricketer than him and says: “He was pretty good at a lot of things, he was sporty from a young age.

“He played water polo for Cheltenham juniors and was quite good. He played for the first team but he was always better at rugby.”

And the one-time Cheltenham rugby player was certainly very good at the oval ball game.

His passing was always his greatest strength and it earned him an England under-21 cap against Holland, playing alongside future World Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio.

The now 50-year-old Laurie joined Gloucester from Cheltenham having grown up in his hometown club’s minis and juniors.

“I played all through,” he said. “I started off in the front row, prop or hooker, I was a little chubster!

“I moved to scrum-half when I was 11 and started to stretch out a bit although I didn’t really get any taller.”

It was obvious he had talent, however, although John says it wasn’t until he was 17 or 18 that he realised how good his son was.

John was Laurie’s biggest supporter, of course, and used to go all over the country to watch him play - “I think the only place I didn’t go to was Newcastle,” he said – and it was certainly a great time for the Beck family.

“Laurie loved it,” said John. “The Gloucester players were still quite local then and he was playing against the likes of Matt Dawson, Dewi Morris, Kyran Bracken and Andy Gomarsall.

“I got more satisfaction watching Laurie play than I ever did when I was playing sport myself.”

And while Laurie was obviously pleased that his dad travelled the length and breadth of the country to support him, it didn’t come without the occasional problem.

“I used to spend hours finding tickets for him,” laughed Laurie. “I never felt comfortable until I saw him in the ground.”

Unsurprisingly, Laurie credits his dad for his love of all things sport.

“I literally grew up at Pittville Pool,” Laurie said. “Everyday we were there. In those days we used to get quite good crowds for the water polo and players like Phil Spicer and Martyn Thomas were absolute legends. It was my first sport.”

And although rugby was to take over in the years to come, Laurie was forever grateful that he had the opportunity to play water polo in his early years.

“Water polo definitely helped me with my hands,” he said. “I am ambidextrous but when we played rugby in the rain it never bothered me because I always played with a wet ball in water polo.”

And while that helped his handling, he worked extremely hard too.

“I was obsessed with rugby when I was growing up,” said the former Bournside School pupil. “I always had a rugby ball in my hands.

“I’d lie in bed and just throw a ball up in the air and catch it time and time again.”

And that hard work certainly paid off for Laurie, who these days lives in Bishop’s Cleeve.

Laurie was competing with the likes of Marcus Hannaford, Lloyd Gardiner, Scott Benton and Bruce Fenley for the number nine shirt at Gloucester in a decade when some of the biggest names in the game were his team-mates.

“When I joined Mike Teague, Malcolm Preedy, John Gadd and Richard Mogg were all at the club,” said Laurie. “They were fantastic players.

“I was only 19 and I remember being in awe of Teaguey when I started, he was an absolute legend.

“Moggy was unreal, he never fell over, he had incredible balance.

“I was so lucky because I played with all the players I idolised and then when the game went professional I played with all the internationals.”

They included Trevor Woodman, Phil Vickery, New Zealander Ian Jones, who Laurie says was “real class,” Phil Greening, Fanolua, Tombs and Saint-Andre.

“Greening was one of the most talented forwards ever,” said Laurie. “Keith Wood and him played like backs, they changed the way that hookers played.”

Laurie still enjoys the sport that gave him so much. After leaving Gloucester he had a few months with Penzance Pirates before returning to this part of the world where he enjoyed coaching stints at both Spartans and Matson.

And rugby is still running deep in the Beck family because Laurie’s son Jack, 25, plays for Longlevens at full-back or on the wing having played age group rugby for the South West up to 18.

However, in recent times Laurie has developed a passion for another sport.

“A group of former Gloucester rugby players all go cycling at the weekends,” said Laurie. “Neil Matthews, Marcus Hannaford, Mike Teague, Greg Keys, Ian Smith, Derrick Morgan, Malcolm Preedy, John Gadd, Phil Pritchard.  

“I haven’t been recently because I broke my arm last year but they cycle up to 40 miles, they’re mad keen for it. During lockdown, once we were allowed out, we were out constantly.”

Like his son, John has also taken up a new hobby.

“I play the melodian,” he said. “It looks a bit like an accordian but it’s not an accordian. I took it up about 10 years ago after my wife Rosalind died.

“There’s five of us in a band, we’re called The Evergreens, we’re all of a certain age.

“We jam at old folks’ homes, WI events, church groups, anybody who wants us. We’ve done a couple of parties.

“We focus on the 50s to the 80s, it’s more Americana or folkish. We all sing a bit.”

Typically modest, John insists he’s not the best singer in the group. That may or may not be true but in sporting terms at least the Beck family have been hitting the top notes for a very long time now.





Other Images

Jack Beck scoring a try for Longlevens at Twickenham in the RFU Junior Vase final in 2014
Jack Beck, John Beck and Laurie Beck
John Beck, front row, middle, when playing water polo for Gloucestershire juniors
John Beck, front row, left, in his days with Cheltenham juniors. Holding the ball is Dave Wright who went on to captain England
John Beck, front row, left, for Cheltenham juniors. His future brother-in-law John Wood is pictured back row, left
John Beck is pictured in the Cheltenham juniors team, back row, second from right, alongside coach Frank Jones, who was the brother of Jack and Phil

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