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A tribute to Barbarians great Micky Steele-Bodger

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The Barbarian FC is mourning the loss of one of the greatest figures in its 129-year history, Micky Steele-Bodger CBE, who has died at the age of 93.

Micky was an England international who became one of the global game’s foremost administrators and was admired throughout the world by generations of players whose careers he helped influence.

His playing career was cut short at the age of 24 by a serious knee injury by which time he had already won nine caps in the back row for England as well as representing Cambridge University, Edinburgh University, Harlequins and the Barbarians.

He was already part of the Barbarians committee, joining in 1946 to start a 73-year association with the famous invitation club. He became its President in 1988, a role he held for 31 years.

He also went on to become a selector for England and the British and Irish Lions, served as President of the Rugby Football Union in 1973-74 and then as Chairman of the International Rugby Board. He was appointed a CBE in the 1990 New Years Honours List for services to the sport, which continued until this year.

MICKY

Micky Steele-Bodger watching the Barbarians train in 2018

An equally longstanding tradition is the annual appearance of a Steele-Bodger XV that plays Cambridge University. To date 71 matches have taken place since he selected his inaugural side in 1948.

Micky crammed so much into his long life, including marriage to Muff and raising a large extended family, a distinguished career as a veterinary surgeon at the family practice in Tamworth and a long association with the East India Club, of which he was also the President.

"Everyone involved with the Barbarians will miss Micky greatly and the huge number of tributes being paid throughout the rugby world are a testament to his dedication to the game and the way it should be played," said the Barbarians' Honorary Secretary Chris Maidment.

“Micky gave so much to the game at every level and his dedication and energy was astonishing. He was involved in the running of this club for 73 years, fielded a Steele-Bodger XV at Cambridge for 71, and played leading roles in the running of the England team, the Rugby Football Union and the International Rugby Board.

“What came across most strongly was his belief that this was a game for players to enjoy, entertain and for them to form lasting friendships. In turn, those players respected him greatly for how much he gave to rugby and for his immense warmth and good humour.

“They will join with all of us involved in the Barbarians in passing on our deepest condolences to his wife Muff, his children Guy, Duncan and Clair and their families and friends."

The detail of Micky's many achievements hides the character and nature of the man, though. He was regarded with great warmth by generations of Barbarians players, who understood his commitment to shaping a unique sporting environment.

Micky had deeply held views of the nature of the club: that it should welcome well-rounded and enthusiastic characters to play with a spirit of adventure and excitement. They still hold sway today.

The teams often performed beyond expectations as a result and he loved nothing more than seeing them upset the odds to claim big scalps, as well as providing a platform for unfashionable names to shine and force the hands of international selectors. He started it all in one way, scoring the first try for the Barbarians when they beat Australia in 1948 to begin their regular contests with international sides.

Seventy two years on he was present and beaming with pride at Twickenham when England were beaten 63-45 a year ago and he visited the changing room one last time to congratulate the players following their 38-35 win against Argentina last December.

As a player he had been equally determined and unyielding, as the late, great sports journalist Frank Keating recalled in a Guardian column.

He wrote: “The actor Richard Burton once played against Micky for the RAF: ‘He gave me a terrible time and a more onomatopoeic name than Steele-Bodger would be hard to find — he was, I promise you, steel; and he did, I give you my word, never stop bodgering. Say his name through clenched teeth and you will begin to see what I mean.’” 

That is a measure of the man; relentless and seemingly unstoppable. The Barbarians and the whole of the sporting world are mourning the loss of a lion-hearted rugby champion.