Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club

The mid-'70s

Recollections by:

Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club
Martin Watson 1974 – 1977
Captain 1975/76
Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club
Stan Peters 1974 – 1978
Captain 1976/77 1977/78

It is only when you travel a lot that you realise how small the world is, and when Martin moved to live and work on the Dhahran air base for British Aircraft Corporation (BAC, later to become BAE) in the English Language Wing, he did not at first think there was any likelihood of a sporting and social side to life in Saudi. That was until he caught sight of Bill Flynn (Part 4) driving to the base from Al-Khobar town. They had known each other in Uganda.

Martin recalls that “Bill, indeed, was an essential element of the rugby ‘season’ in his important role: as pitch provider. I remember him telling us one day that he had been called into the office of his manager, who was standing, looking out of the window with a slightly bemused look on his face: 'Correct me if I’m wrong, Bill,' says the manager, 'but isn’t that one of our trucks tipping sand onto the desert?' As those who played there will remember, having a playable surface needed regular attention. Just how important this was had become painfully obvious when Bill left, Lang Wimpey’s work at the airport ceased, and the land was left to the merciless winds (shamals). It soon became an advantage for players in the know, whenever possible, to pass the ball on to another player at the end of the pitch where the soft sand made running hard work, and to leave the tackling to someone else at the end where the wind had blown away the sand to lay the rock bare.”

Stan remembers playing 12 a-side, whoever turned up. However, by the mid-’70s the Club grew such that it improved on the number of home and away matches it was able to play.

Martin recalls a number: “The first was a home game against a team from Bahrain. Most of the opposition was connected with Gulf Air in some way or another. We waited for their Fokker Friendship to come into Dhahran Airport to start the match at around 3:00 pm. But it didn’t appear when expected, or for some time thereafter. In fact, we were on the point of giving up when it zoomed low over the horizon and docked in haste. By the time everyone had got through the airport formalities, changed, and found the pitch, there was about half an hour before dusk. So, we played 15 minutes each way and then said a hurried goodbye to the visitors still in rugby kit. They had to get the plane, which had been appropriated by one of the players who had influence with the management, back for a scheduled flight.

Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club

"The second encounter was an away match in Kuwait. This involved driving up the TAP-line and staying with expatriates in Kuwait City. I can’t remember the result of the match, but the entertainment was very enjoyable. In the restaurant, the waiter was asked to ditch the jugs of water which had been set out on the tables so that they could be replenished with bottles of Kuwaiti-style wine, which was of a very acceptable standard.

"The third was an away game to Doha, again by road. Dida (my wife) and I had just acquired a VW camper, which was ideal for such a journey. The Doha boys were extremely hospitable and, before we left to drive back, they threw a case of canned beer into the back of the camper for the return journey. It was only as we approached the Qatar-Saudi border that we remembered that there was a case of beer in the back. So sadly we located the case, and left it by the side of the road. The border official didn’t seem particularly interested in anything we might have brought back and waved us through after a cursory look at our rugby kit. We ended up safely back in Khobar after a good trip."

The Club eventually moved away from Bill Flynn’s pitch which had been constructed in 1974 between two runways at the end of the Dhahran International Airport to a new pitch in 1978, located on the original road to Half Moon Bay, when Aramco provided the finance and land on its recognition of the Club as a self-directed Aramco Employee Association (AEA).

Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club
Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club
Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club
Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club

Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club

Stan also recalls a number of games: “Our first proper away game was against Bahrain. We took anyone who could travel. As most players then were not Aramcons they had travel problems, such as working on Thursday or having to give a deposit to recruit another person if they did not return. We got well beaten. We played regularly against Bahrain who were very good to Dhahran and of course everyone liked going to Bahrain. The one thing I noticed was that at the Airport the officials smiled whereas at Dhahran airport they were always solemn."

Like Martin, most players travelled to Doha in their cars as it was a nice trip down south through the Eastern Province. Stan travelled on his first trip to Doha in John Kates's (Part 2) car "….spinning off the road into the desert with a blowout. Many people stopped to help but no one had a rope long enough to reach from the road to John’s car and no one would go on the soft sand. Then an old Bedouin stopped in a pick-up truck, he had two sheets of steel shuttering. We jacked the car up, put the shuttering under the wheels and drove forward. This was done many times, but gradually we got to the road. We won the game 42-0, playing half the game with 14 men as Dexter went to hospital. I stayed with John Alexander who was attached to the British Embassy, and he showed me around Doha.”

A second trip to Doha was in Graham Edgson’s car “…..very memorable because we towed Greg Brennan’s car, which had a broken fanbelt, on the return journey back to Dhahran. We won the game 10-6. John Hamilton scored all the points, 2 tries (4 points each) and a conversion. My third time to Doha was in my Volvo. No mishaps. We drew 10-10, a bit lucky to get the draw."

At that time teams coming into Saudi had to be sponsored and the Club went through Aramco to assist in getting entry visas. “Kuwait Rugby came to visit us by road, I managed to obtain 42 visas through Aramco but unfortunately only 13 arrived. We had good celebrations the night before and won 14-0.”

It worked both ways. “A big trip was planned to go to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in one weekend. This was a first for Dhahran. The hardest part of organising the trip was persuading the travel agents to book 37 tickets on the Fokker Friendship planes which connected Saudi to Bahrain as the planes only had 40 seats. The travel agent was worried I might cancel, and the plane would fly empty. Eventually, I persuaded him to take the bookings.

"A couple of days before we were due to leave, Abu Dhabi contacted us to say the match was called off because Camel races had been routed through their rugby pitch. The plan was changed to fly direct from Bahrain to Dubai, rather than Abu Dhabi. John Bailey (Part 1) contacted Bahrain rugby club and asked if they could put us up on the Wednesday night, as we still had to fly to Bahrain on the same day. Onward tickets had to be changed which resulted in 7 people flying first class.

Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club

"When we got to Dubai, our visas were invalid as our entry date was the Friday and we had arrived on the Thursday. Everyone needed a visa as eleven months earlier a ministry official had been shot on the runway. Dubai Rugby Club came to the airport and helped sort out the visas. Meanwhile, 37 of us sat on chairs surrounded by armed guards. Eventually, it was all sorted and we stayed Thursday night in a hotel. We played the game on the Friday and lost 9-15. The turning point was a fight between Dave Glasson, one of our wing forwards, and their fly half. Both were sent off. This resulted in their new fly half (moved from being a wing forward) being more effective in passing the ball about than the one who was sent off who kicked the ball all the time.”

But it wasn’t just the flights that could cause problems. “In 1977 the committee decided to hold the annual May Ball on Aramco’s Pool patio. It was planned to cater for 500 although only 400 could be entertained. The day before the event I was told that Carl Junger, Chairman of the Aramco Board had commandeered the tables and chairs for a golf function, but they should be back by 7:30 pm. Luckily, they were. It was here that I also learnt the power of connections in high places. I wanted some metal trays to marinate the meat for our cooks, I was told NO. I approached Marilyn Fogelquist, who was the mother of Tom, who played, and Lindsay, who supported the team, but more importantly the husband of Hal Fogelquist the senior Vice-President for Industrial Relations. Six trays magically appeared!”

Part 4 Part 6

Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club

About The Author

Arriving in Saudi Arabia in 1976 was like coming home, as Richard had been brought up in Kuwait as an “oilbrat” during the 1950s and 60s where his dad was Chief Health Officer for the Kuwait Oil Co. As a Chartered Accountant, Richard worked for Aramco in both Internal Audit and Contract Cost Compliance, but despite his father’s prowess as a golfer and his mother as a tennis player (Persian Gulf Oil Companies Lawn Tennis Association Ladies Champion in 1956), his social life gravitated to the Dhahran Rugby Club and amateur dramatics. He used his organising skills to become a representative on the Aramco Employees Association, Treasurer for DRUFC between 1976/77 and 1978/79, and then Chairman in 1979/80 before leaving in 1980. He continued with a varied finance career in shipping (Japan) automobiles (Guam) and dance education (UK).

Finally retiring in 2015, Richard and his husband live in London and he has used his time not only to continue travelling, but also to write Dance into Business for dance students wanting to start a business.

About this Article

The Unofficial History was produced to mark what would have been the approximate 50th Anniversary of the Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club (DRUFC) 1972- 2022, depending on what year you believe the club to have been established.

The Editor: Richard Thom first started playing rugby as a young boy in Scotland playing for the 1st XV at prep school, and then the Colts and 1st XV at Strathallan. He rediscovered rugby in Saudi Arabia, and not only played for the 1st and 2nd XVs on the wing but helped to keep the Club on track as Treasurer and Chairman. Moving to Japan after Saudi, Richard continued to play for the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YCAC) as second row for the 2nd XV, a far cry from the wing in Saudi.

Coming back to the UK in the mid-80s, it was the camaraderie among those in the club who played, supported or just joined in that helped to bond us all together to meet regularly and to mark the occasion with a "Not the May Ball," the third for which this booklet was produced.

Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club

The Contributors:

  • John Bailey 1975 - 1980
  • Mike Galbraith 1971
  • John Kates 1973 - 1975
  • Bill Flynn 1973 - 1975
  • Martin Watson 1974 – 1977
  • Stan Peters 1974 – 1978
  • Mike Sullivan 1978 - 1984
  • Graham Vizor 1977 – 2007

The Supporters:

  • Carolyn Coles 1977 - 1985
  • Lesley Williams 1979 - 1986