The '80s

Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club
Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club

The extract and photos below are taken from My Sporting Life published in 2021 by Mike Sullivan.

He dedicated it to the memory of his granddaughter, Maisie Sullivan, 2006 – 2014.

All proceeds from the book were donated to Acorn’s Children’s Hospice in Worcester.

A recollection by:

Mike Sullivan 1978 – 1984
Captain 1980/81, 1983/84 and 1984/85

I was 31 when we went to live and work in Saudi Arabia and had resigned myself that my rugby playing days were over, how wrong could I be? After a few months living in Dhahran in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, I became acquainted through work with a rugby team that played out of Aramco. The largest oil company in the world, it was American owned and enjoyed a lot of the freedoms not necessarily available outside the compound.

I decided to go along for a training session one evening and despite temperatures of 35°C we trained on a sand pitch and a new era of rugby playing began for me.

In the Arabian Gulf, there were several rugby-playing nations including Kuwait, Bahrain, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Muscat, and Sharjah. Games were played on a home-and-away basis. Consequently, every away game necessitated a flight. Three of the states forbade the sale and consumption of alcohol so you can imagine most players looked forward to away matches far more than the home games. To get to our various destinations, we would take a Fokker Friendship 25+ seater on a 5+ minute flight to Bahrain which we used as the hub for onward connection, mainly because the airport bar was open 24 hours per day.

On one occasion, we were going to play Kuwait, bearing in mind there were very few restrictions in those days, as security was very relaxed.

Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club

After the game, the Kuwaiti lads provided lots of beverages and after lots of singing and merriment, we were driven to the airport. As Captain, it was my responsibility to make sure everyone checked in their boarding cards and headed to the boarding gate. While everyone was finding their places, I did a quick head count and noticed that we were missing a player. I went to one of the stewards and asked if it was possible for me to leave the plane and conduct a search for our missing player. The answer was, “okay but be as quick as you can.” Two other players joined me back in the terminal building wondering where this player could be. In those days, as I said, security was not as strict as it is today. We noticed we were one of only two airplanes in the airport. The other plane was an Air India jumbo jet getting ready to leave for Mumbai. We asked the stewards if it was possible for us to look for a missing player and they agreed to let us on board. We walked throughout the plane searching for our player and we eventually found him sitting in the middle of five seats surrounded by workers going home to India on their annual vacation. He was fast asleep and seemed very comfortable. My two associates and I had a brief discussion and concluded that he seemed so peaceful we would leave him.

So, we thanked the stewards and went back to the plane explaining what had happened to the rest of the team who found it quite hilarious. Our sleeping friend, Mike Burnett, finally awoke in Mumbai and managed to get a flight back to Dhahran after two days.

On another occasion, we were scheduled to play Dubai on Saturday and as there was no direct flight from Dhahran we had to go via Bahrain. By pure chance, this meant a 6-hour layover in Bahrain. On arrival, it was decided (by a split decision) that we should leave the airport and decamp to the Holiday Inn Hotel where they served a buffet lunch every Friday. The presentation of the lunch was superb, with the buffet centre piece consisting of a 6-foot polystyrene fish.

Dhahran Rugby Union Football Club

It was decided that diversions were necessary, so an argument around the drinks bill provided the opportunity. A tablecloth was acquired to cover the fish, which in turn was bundled into a waiting taxi and driven to the airport. Protection against damage was paramount as the fish was checked into the hold. On arrival, a few eyebrows were raised when the fish appeared on the carousel!

Warm weather, a good job and lots of fun were the order of the day.

Part 6 Part 8

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