Cliff Morgan: an inspiration for a generation of rugby fans

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I cannot truly write an obituary on Cliff Morgan. I never saw him play. His influence on the BBC as a director and producer of programmes was before my time. His commentary on live matches is legendary but something I never experienced live. And never once did I see him on Question of Sport.

My grandmother, however, is from the same valley in which Cliff was born and grew up. She is almost identical in age to Morgan. As everyone knows, rugby is more than simply a sport in the south of Wales. Even as an octogenarian my gran is still one of the sharpest people I know in regards to the rugby when the Six Nations is on. We have in depth conversations about the battle at the breakdown, how Sam Warburton is a superb leader, George North is a phenomenon, and Leigh Halfpenny is a handsome devil. And of course about the wonderful noise the male voice choirs make in the lead up to the games.

My grandmother was a professional singer in her day, and won the National Eistedfodd. She sang for the Queen in a private audience. She knows what she is talking about when it comes to those choirs behind the posts at the Millenium Stadium.

And as with every other Welsh girl of her vintage, she rightfully made sure that her grandchildren watched and loved rugby. Despite having a proudly English father, if I watch a Wales game in her company we all have to stand up for ‘The Land of Our Fathers’. If I’m not there with her, I like to give her a call in the middle of the National Anthem just to irritate her. She never picks up anymore as she knows what I’m doing. ‘Don’t be so disrespectful, Christopher. Cae dy geg!’

As a five year old I was bought two VHS tapes by her. One was 101 Great Goals. The other 101 Great Tries. Both were worn out through watching and re-watching.

Cliff Morgan’s voice has been a constant feature of my life through the latter tape, as he provided voiceover, cut-away pieces, brief explanations, and commentary (alongside the great Bill McLaren). My brother and I marvelled at Mike Gibson for Ireland, David Duckham for England, Andy Irvine for Scotland, and JJ, JPR, Barry John, Phil Bennett, Gareth Edwards, Ray Gravell, Merv the Swerve, Gerald Davies et al of Wales. Sadly I don’t remember there being any footage of Morgan himself.

In the days before youtube these tapes were two of our most prized possessions. We watched them so many times that there was a ban enforced by my mother once my little sister was old enough to want to watch the Lady and the Tramp or Cinderella. Strictly we had to have the tapes on before any one else was up.

The commentary Cliff Morgan will be best remembered for is (of course) that try for the BaaBaas (see below). But if by any luck you are able to find that old VHS in a charity shop snap it up. Whatever they are asking for it won’t be its true value. Cliff Morgan’s voice brought the game alive as the excitement in his voice transferred through the grainy images and into the ears of us young rugby fans sitting cross-legged in front of the box.

For this, I say thank you. I never knew you, but the one of the key reasons I became excited in the first place for this great game was hearing how it could rouse your spirit.

RIP Cliff Morgan.

By Chris Francis (@mckrisp)

One thought on “Cliff Morgan: an inspiration for a generation of rugby fans

  1. I was fortunate to meet Cliff once and he was exactly how he appeared a true gentleman in every way .

    It is worth getting hold of his autobiography I think Cliff’s mam was cut from the same cloth as the above mentioned gran sending the rugby league scouts on their way when they came calling (after politely giving them breakfast )because the family always went to chapel on a Sunday .

    That clip of the Barbarian try will always lie on and it is a fitting memorial to a man who truly deserves his place in the Rugby Hall of Fame.

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