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All-rounder Simon Collyer-Bristow has given so much to rugby

All Areas > Sport > Rugby Union

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Monday, 2nd May 2022, 10:30

Simon Collyer-Bristow enjoys refereeing Simon Collyer-Bristow enjoys refereeing

Sport needs people like Simon Collyer-Bristow; people who love their sport, work hard for their sport and do so without complaint while getting things done.

It is rugby’s good fortune that Collyer-Bristow’s chosen sport is rugby union, a sport that he has enjoyed, supported and been involved with for much of his 63 years.

He’s played the game, of course, but he’s also coached, still referees and is a past chairman of Cirencester Rugby Club.

He’s still involved with the Rugby Football Union – he’s on their laws sub-committee – and closer to home he’s chairman of both the Gloucestershire RFU and the Stroud and District Combination.

That’s a pretty impressive roll of honour in anyone’s book and if Collyer-Bristow has his way there are still many more chapters to write in his rugby story.

He was born in Gloucester and brought up just outside Tetbury, but it was during his time at Cheltenham College that his rugby really started to flourish, impressing as a hooker and in the back row.

He was good enough to make it into the school’s 1st XV – always an important benchmark – and it is a source of some pride that his three sons all played for the school’s flagship team many years later.

His oldest boy Freddie was in the Sale Academy and was good enough to play professionally in Italy for L’Aquila while Archie and Gus, who has just started playing out in Gibraltar, both went on to play for the University of Edinburgh.

Collyer-Bristow, meanwhile, played for Rosslyn Park Colts, Surrey Under-19s and Surrey Under-21s before his young playing career was cruelly cut short when he broke his back in a car accident at the age of 20.

That was a very tough time, of course, and Collyer-Bristow admitted that he “missed playing hugely” even though he retained a love for all things rugby.

“I still watched it a lot,” he said. “I was a Gloucester season ticket-holder, I was a debenture holder at Twickenham, I was a massive supporter but I wasn’t a participant.”

That all changed some 25-odd years ago and as is so often the case, the change came about through one of his children.

“It was when Freddie was about five, we were living just outside Cirencester,” said Collyer-Bristow, who used to commute to work in the City.

“I thought it would be good for him to play some mini rugby so I turned up at Cirencester.”

And that, as they say, is how it all started.

“I went from standing on the touchline to becoming a coach,” Collyer-Bristow continued, “and then I became chairman for the minis and juniors.”

He held that position for some three years around the turn of the century before becoming chairman of the whole club in 2001.

By then he had already started refereeing, something which he obviously had to fit in around his coaching.

“I started coaching the under-7s and went all the way through with them to the under-15s,” he said.

“I never coached my two oldest boys – they were either side of my age group – but then I went back to the under-9s to coach Gus, my youngest son, up to under-17s.”

That was some commitment, of course, as was taking on the chairmanship of Cirencester Rugby Club, a role that Collyer-Bristow, as you’d expect, threw himself into.

“I was invited to take on the position,” he said. “I’d done a lot of work with the minis and juniors but I decided the only way to meet the Saturday side of the club was to start playing again.”

He hadn’t played for more than 20 years, so how did it go?

“I had a lot of pent-up energy,” he admitted. “I played for Cirencester 3rds who were quite a good outfit.

“I was a back row before finally ending up as a hooker where I started, it was the best time of my rugby life.

“They were a really good bunch of vets. We played rugby for fun so we could have a drink afterwards.

“We went to nearly all our away games by minibus – I was often the designated driver – and we were quite successful too, we won the Stroud Combination Cup a lot of times.

“They were really good times, the whole club was on the up, all my boys were playing rugby, it was a bit of a rugby dream.”

Collyer-Bristow’s playing days were cut short for a second time by injury, this time in 2015 when he broke a shoulder in a vets’ game, an injury that necessitated a replacement shoulder.

He’d relinquished the post of chairman of the club in 2007 but remains involved today – he has been chairman of the disciplinary committee since 2003 and was fixture secretary up until the end of last season. 

However, he’s more likely to have a whistle in his hand when he’s at the club these days.

“I referee every Sunday,” he said, “the 14s, 15s and 16s. That’s the way I feel I can give most back. Other people can manage the club.

“I referee on Saturdays and in midweek as well, up to Level 8, I’ve done more than 90 games this season and will probably crack the 100-mark for the first time ever.

“I enjoy it a lot, it’s my way of keeping actively involved in the game.”

And it’s a job he takes very seriously.

“Better refs make better games,” he said. “The ethos and core values of the game can be conveyed really well to the players by referees, much better than by coaches.

“We can ‘manipulate’ games to influence the type of rugby being played.”

And what type of rugby does Collyer-Bristow, who has been a member of Gloucester Referees Society since 2005, like to see?

“Fair and sporting, hard and competitive,” he said. “It’s meant to be fun.”

Indeed it is and Collyer-Bristow is certainly committed to promoting the game, and its core values, to as wide an audience as possible.

He joined the Gloucestershire RFU in 2003 and served as one of two RFU council reps for 11 years from 2010.

This season he has taken on even greater responsibility as chairman of Gloucestershire RFU, a role that certainly has its challenges as rugby, like other sports, battles to maintain its mass appeal.

“Rugby is in a difficult place after Covid,” said Collyer-Bristow. “There is no doubt that player availability has made a big difference in the game.

“I think there are as many adults playing as there used to be, they are just playing a lot less often.

“Back in the day, players would start playing at the beginning of September and play every Saturday through to the end of April.

“Those days are gone. Now, if you’re fortunate, players will play three times a month, more likely two.

“In the old days you had a first team squad of 25 but now you need a squad of 50.”

Changing work patterns and family demands are two of the reasons often put forward for the increased unavailability but Collyer-Bristow insists: “The biggest thing that has hit clubs in Gloucestershire is that rugby does come with injuries.

“Employers don’t turn the same blind eye to injuries that they used to and if you’re self-employed you simply can’t afford to get injured.

“One of the things I’ve been pushing is enhanced player insurance. It’s very much tailored for self-employed people so if you do get injured you don’t lose out earnings wise. Quite a lot of clubs are now doing it.”

Collyer-Bristow sees other areas of encouragement too.

“Next season the leagues will be smaller and they will be more geographical to reduce the amount of travelling,” he said.

“Clubs are working with players, they are a lot more touchy-feely today, in the old days clubs used to just tell players what was happening.

“They’ve got to make training more fun, less contact on a Tuesday and Thursday or maybe reduce training to one day a week.”

Collyer-Bristow, a father-of five – he also has two daughters, Ellie and Clemmie – would only say “a lot” when asked how many hours he devotes to rugby.

And those hours have increased in the past few weeks, certainly from a Stroud Combination point of view, because it is the time of year when the end-of-season cup competitions take centre stage.

Collyer-Bristow first got involved with the Combination in 2002 as a Cirencester club rep and has been the Combination’s chairman since 2010 – he’s also the secretary and organises the cup competitions.

“We’ve got some really good clubs in the Combination,” said Collyer-Bristow, “clubs like Minchinhampton and Fairford.

“We work together. We’re rivals but we like each other, we want there to be a strong rivalry because that is good for all of us.”

And the end-of-season cup competitions are a big part of that, of course.

“Yes, they are,” he said. “They are still a big deal. Hopefully we won’t have any walkovers.”

Collyer-Bristow remains remarkably enthusiastic for someone who has done so much for long.

Fortunately, he was able to retire in his mid-50s but even with all his rugby commitments – “Rugby has taken up an awful lot of my life,” he said – he still finds time to serve his village too.

“I’m chairman of Poulton Parish Council,” he said. “I’m involved in the local church and I’m involved in some other bits and pieces as well.”

He likes playing golf too.

“I play a bit at Minchinhampton,” he said. “I used to play off 11 but since my shoulder injury it’s nearer 20.”

Typically, his golf overlaps into the world of rugby. “I’m captain of the RFU’s golf team,” he said.

Fortunately his wife Alison, a former Cheltenham Ladies’ College pupil, comes from a sporting background.

“She was a sprinter,” said Collyer-Bristow. “Her father, John Fairgrieve, was an Olympic sprinter at the 1948 Games and kept JV Smith out of the team.

“He also played rugby for Scotland and JV Smith, who I knew pretty well, played for England.”

John Fairgrieve, who worked as a surgeon in Cheltenham, greatly enjoyed watching his grandsons play rugby and Alison, too, has always been a big fan.

“She’s very supportive of her children’s sporting careers,” said Collyer-Bristow, before adding with a laugh, “whilst she endures her husband’s sporting interests.”

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