The 1970s - Back on Track Again

The 1970s were the decade that did as much towards shaping the Ponsonby Rugby Club we know today as any other. Changes that were happening towards the end of the 1960s gathered pace; others kicked in and the club remained in tune with its fan base and the suburb at a time when it would have been easy to lose touch.

On the field, happiness was winning the Gallaher Shield after a 22-year gap, by far the longest in club history. There had been many near misses and just as many fine players whose career had not included that pinnacle moment, but when the dam finally broke success was, once again, expected. Until Ponsonby made it commonplace in the 1970s and beyond, winning both the Alan McEvoy Trophy and Gallaher Shield outright in the same season was rare, having only been accomplished by University in 1957, Waitemata in 1962 and College Rifles in 1964. Ponsonby was to do the double in 1976, 1979, 1981, 1983, 1986 and 1990, as well as winning the Alan McEvoy Trophy in 1977, 1982 and 1989, and the Gallaher Shield in 1978, 1985 and 1988. To save anyone the trouble of working it out, it meant Ponsonby didn't win at least one of the big trophies only three times in the next 15 years (1980, 1984 and 1987). If that was payback for 22 barren years, it was charged with a compound interest.

The 1970s were the great years of the tours, with the Seniors travelling to Canada and the USA in 1970, South Africa in 1975, the UK in 1974 and 1978 and Japan again in 1981. There were also many other significant fixtures: Champion of Champions tournaments, a number of matches against Petone, and the star-studded Centenary match were the most prominent among them.

Sponsorship came to the club, with several big names wanting to become involved. Track suit and jeans manufacturers were prominent, and on-field success meant both parties felt they were getting value for money, and the players had a bit of fun being movie stars for a day.

After the booming success of the Pasifika arrival in the late 1960s, the 70s were a time of consolidation within the setup for hundreds of new fans and players. Polynesian player names became ever more common in team sheets, and Ponsonby became home to ever more members who had relocated south in the last decade or so. There were times when the relationship may have been a bit stretched by circumstances beyone the control of either party - many of the infamous Dawn Raids took place in the neighbourhood - but generally the bond between club and member remained tight.

In the 1970s the club programme expanded from 18 matches to 20 in the middle of the decade before being wound back, but top players were being asked to do more each year as money became a driving force in staging matches. Players with rep commitments found their loyalties being tugged in two directions; while they wanted to give their all to the club, it was simply not possible at times. Eventually the inevitable happened: the Auckland rep team simply found their calendars overloaded and voted as a team to sit out a round of club matches, which provoked fury among fans who didn't really understand the sort of demands that were being placed on the game's most important people. Even for amateurs, rugby was dangerously close to becoming a job - albeit one without any financial rewards.

A quick cast through the list of centurions reveals Ponsonby had many of its greatest stalwarts on hand for much of the decade; with increased opportunities came increased match totals, but the number of players who played a decade or more - often quite a lot more - was impressive. Just as importantly, many continued to give the club great service after their own playing days ended, whether coaching, working on the committee or simply being an integral part of the scene.

Kelston, an area much nearer to Suburbs than Ponsonby, fell into the club's lap when the local club was simply overwhelmed with junior teams in the ealry 1970s. Unable to be accommodated at Avondale, the Kelston schoolboys were quickly taken under the blue-and-black wing, and there they have remained ever since. The number of great club stalwarts who have come down Great North Road is impressive, their work has been extraordinary and the playing strength invaluable. Not for the first time, Ponsonby proved an adept snapper-up of otherwise unconsidered trifles.

As ever, it was the people who shaped the club and the people of the 1970s were a rare lot. You can tell that from the success then, and its ongoing nature.