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A winning friendship


Alumni Colin Maber and Steve Cartwright in the old sports pavilion at Highfields

For many of us the friendships formed during our time at University are the strongest; whether from three years of living under the same roof, cribbing essay answers, in societies and particularly, playing sport.

As the University marks the centenary season of the Rugby Union Club two alumni whose friendship spans over 40 years explain how their time in the team has translated to life off the pitch.

“I can’t put my finger on exactly the length of time since we last saw each other, but you would guess from this conversation it might have only been a fortnight.” So says Colin Maber (Architecture, 1977) as we sit down with him and his friend of over 40 years Steve Cartwright (Medicine, 1978).

It had actually been more than 15 years, but it’s clear their friendship is one which transcends any concept of time. Both men place immeasurable value on the intangible bonds produced during their time on the pitch, forged in the heat of competitive rugby.

“I started playing in the first year and played through to 1980, both at the University and Nottingham Rugby Club,” says Colin. “I started in 1975 and played through to 1980 too, but also then continued playing with Nottingham Moderns, West Bridgford and even a season in New Zealand!” adds Steve.

"I don’t think it would be the same bond had we met otherwise in halls or through our studies. If somebody's getting a right kicking then you're not going to stand back - that's a short friendship. It's a lot to do with sport and a great deal to do with rugby.” Colin continues.

“The other thing that happened after a year or two, meeting people like Colin, we began to find things in common, our lifestyles had similar threads. We became a group of friends who began to stick together. Although we can go through long periods without seeing each other, we still have that commonality and know people mutually,” says Steve.

Both men namecheck several other team mates who still form a part of their friendship circle. “Steve Johnson who was my best man, we see him when he comes over from America, probably every year to 18 months. If he landed in that chair now the one thing we'd never have to say ‘do you remember the time when?’ We're immediately off again, laughing and joking,” says Colin.

Winners, losers and all teams in between

Whether a graduate from 2019 or 1969, in a winning team or one which propped up the table, every graduate will still recall their on-pitch highlights at the drop of a kicking tee.

The ‘class of’ 1980 certainly benefitted from a particularly strong crop of players: “We both played with Nick Preston, who went on to play for England and we had plenty of other decent players; a British Lion, two Welsh internationals - five or six proper internationals. I remember we absolutely smashed Mansfield, which was one of the strongest local sides- they couldn’t believe what was going on!”

”The influence of Vaughan Parry Williams, coach for many years, to hundreds, if not thousands of students does also not pass unnoticed by both men. “The culture changed fundamentally when Vaughan joined the University, he had a big impact. At the time we were the first team he’d coached, so it felt like we were his life’s work!”

Steve adds: “I’d go as far as to say he was that fatherly influence that you need. He was great at the inspirational stuff, but he had a way with everybody, whether one-to-one or with the whole team. It made a hell of a difference.”

Tackling mental health

And even though it feels very much like a 21st century phenomenon, the idea of playing sport to provide a release from mental health issues is something which both attest to. “I needed to continue the link to my home life to keep me balanced. Instead of worrying about work I’d be on the rugby pitch, which was incredibly important for me mental health-wise.” 

Colin adds: “I was studying architecture and certainly at the time it was well known for being bloody hard work. There were times when I was here that I seriously had to consider whether I was going to continue to ‘waste time’ playing sport. But because it was there every Wednesday I just went. And I’d come away with an entirely different perspective on my studies. Without that release I think I’d have become incredibly twitchy about everything!”

Growing up on the pitch

Just as importantly is the way in which playing competitive rugby (and sport) helps build the character which carries you through later life into adulthood. “What I know rugby gave me was confidence. The confidence I had a place in the world, I could get by and that if the going gets tough I’ve got some buddies who can help me out.”

Steve: “There were times where if things weren't going well on the rugby pitch that you could be knocked down. It taught me I could overcome those difficulties on my own. It really helped when I had to make the difficult decision to move back to the West Midlands from Nottingham. 

“It makes you realise what it takes to become a successful person, and it's made me a gritty person to survive in the medical profession. It taught me the humility to say ‘I got that wrong, I did my best for you but it wasn't good enough’.

“Although I was never a captain I was often called upon to be when someone was injured. And the leadership skills learnt in the pack - I’ve used the same techniques working for the NHS. You don't learn those on a course. You don't learn that without being around people like Colin, who are determined they are going to be successful human beings. Everyone in that team was going to make a success of their lives.” 

Celebrating 100 years of rugby

This year is the centenary of our Rugby Club - and we're celebrating with pride all those who have worn the green and gold across the decades.

Be part of the celebrations  Share your memories of rugby at Nottingham or join us in April 2020 for a special Centenary Dinner with rugby great and fellow Nottingham graduate, Brian Moore. 

You can also support our Centenary Appeal and help give current and future students the chance to follow in your footsteps and benefit from all that rugby has to offer.





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