If you spend any time hanging around your local rugby club you will soon hear people talk about how a club is like a family. An extension of your own home it can quickly become an all-encompassing part of your life. It’s not surprising really when you consider that the club you join at the age of 6 can also be the club you are still playing for at the age of 60. What tends not to be mentioned though, not unless you dig into the history of your club, is that this link can cross generations. For Redingensians one family can be said to stand out because of this generational link with father, son and daughter all playing for the club. What makes the Baker family even more special though is that all three play the same position; tight head prop.
The Baker family link to Redingensians started when the father of the family, Brendan came to the club at the age of 40. Brendan had previously been playing over at local rivals Reading, as well as having made appearances for Shire Hall and the Five Horse Shoes over in Henley. Injury having temporarily curtailed his playing career, Brendan was forced to take a protracted break from the game.
After a chance meeting with Timmy and Mickey Bell, there’s that family thing again, Brendan was persuaded to come and play at Redingensians. For the club, this marks the start of a love affair with the Baker family. With Brendan at the club, it was only natural that he brought his young son James to join the youth section. Luckily for Redingensians, James had recently stopped doing gymnastics and was looking for a new sport. As James played his way through the age grades he found some early success with the club as they gained promotion. However, despite his obvious talent as a player the county and academy system were to elude him as he was considered too small to make the step up. The professional games loss though is Redingensians gain as James made himself at home and became a one club man.
As the Rams climbed up towards National League 2 South anchored at tight head by James; there was still one thing missing from the Redingensians family. That gap was filled with the creation of the Sirens, as women’s rugby came to the club for the first time. When the Sirens took their first tentative steps the question was raised, who would play tight head prop for the team. Little did anybody outside of the Baker family know that the answer lay in a girl, who had been watching rugby with a camcorder since childhood. Standing on the sidelines and filming the games that Brendan and James had played in, Claire had never considered rugby as an option for her. Despite Brendan’s best efforts even before the Sirens, Claire had always resisted the chance to play rugby. Luckily for the Sirens though, their emergence came at the right moment in Claire’s life and it was a natural place for her to take her first steps into rugby.
So, what do the Baker’s feel about being three people, one club and one position?
Why did you choose to play tighthead?
Brendan: I could never play loose head as it hurt too much when my shoulder gets pulled inside. At the age of 35 I was sent to the physio to find out why. It turned out I had a broken collar bone from childhood which had healed with one bone on top of the other. I feel tight head is the right position for me because of what other people would say after seeing me play.
When I played for Reading against Staines it was only my second or third time at tight head prop and afterwards people told me that if I stuck at it I could be quite good.
James: I always wanted to be a forward of some sort and I was more keen to play hooker. I was considered too small to be a tight head but I was strong, probably from the gymnastics. Every team needs a good tight head as they are like gold dust so I had a position for life.
Claire: From the beginning my dad told me that I had to play number three but I know that if I hadn’t he wouldn't have minded. It became a little bit of a joke between us but Dad then said that he thought I would be good at it. My brother then said I had to play that position as I am a BAKER and it was my legacy; so I decided to give it a go and it seems to have stuck with me LOL!
What is your best rugby memory?
Brendan: There was winning the league when the club moved from level 7 to level 6. Prior to that I had played some first team games for Reading at a higher level than 6 or 7 but the competition at Reading was very hard. So, I had settled into playing more for the seconds than for the first team but I did have my moments. I am also proud that I managed to play first team rugby at Redingensians at the age of 40 – 45. People at the club who knew me said I should have come over earlier but in the old days you didn’t really change club. If I had been asked to play for the fifth team at Reading that is what I would have done. Even now, I go over to Reading and feel as much at home over there as I do at Redingensians. There was never any animosity with me leaving as at the time Reading was at a much higher level. There are so many memories but possibly my greatest achievement is teaching my son to play and hopefully my daughter as well.
James: Probably playing 7’s in Dubai, it was a great experience, in a country that is so different from my own. There were big crowds and despite it being in the desert, at that time of year there was rain, it was crazy.
Claire: I have a few memories, not all good, from when I was a lot younger of my Dad playing. There was one time where me and James were watching from the side. He got in to a fight so when I went to my grandmother’s, my Dad’s mum, I told her about my Dad and how he was fighting on the pitch. She spoke to him and he had to explain to his mother how it was not him. I remember when James used to be a lot smaller than the opposition loose heads. The other teams always seemed to bring a different prop on against him as he may have been small but always got the better of the other player.
What is your strangest rugby experience?
Brendan: When we played at Reading University, there was a huge smack in the scrum and the opposition loose head prop flew off the side with his eye bleeding and ear cut. Everybody looked at me and I put my hands up and I said it wasn't me. After the game, I spoke to the loose head prop and it turned out their hooker had kicked him in the face. How this happened I’ll never know but I saw his face and I saw the marks.
James: The strangest experience I’ve had in rugby was to have a game cancelled half way through. It's just so unexpected you never imagine it can happen but injuries are part of the game. There was one in this game and that is the reason why it was cancelled. It was getting late in the day and dark so they had no choice. It is rare but if you play enough stuff like that happens.
Claire: I have not been playing that long but I find playing in the front row and being pushed from behind is a very unnatural feeling.
What hopes do you have for your and the club’s future?
Brendan: My rugby career is almost over, I am 60 at my next birthday. Last year I played one half of rugby in Wales at the age of 58. It will be nice for the club to go all the way to the Championship but this league and the league above are very tough so I hope we can stay here for as long as we can and improve.
James: I hope to get the club in to National League 1 and if I'm not old by then the Championship.
Claire: I hope the first team goes all the way and the Sirens continue to build on their knowledge and grow in the game.
What do you think about your son and daughter following you not just into rugby but into the same position?
Brendan: I think it makes total sense. I mean at the end of the day they never went to public school and had a rugby master, so I suppose the second best thing is for you to learn and you show your kids. We all help each other in every aspect of the game as if you play as long as we have there is not much you cannot get over.
How has the game changed over the years?
Brendan: The game has changed massively. At the end of the day when I first started playing if a scrum went down or the two props were at each other, the ref would say “sort it out or I will keep penalising you, it will be your turn first and his next and I’ll keep doing that until you sort it out”. The other thing is you used to be able to play the man, you used to be able to ruck the man out of the back with your feet. We used to do drills where you would drive over the tackle bag and you would have to put at least one foot on the tackle bag as you walked over. That meant the ref could not send you off as he would have to send everybody off. We used to win the ball as an 8 as opposed to the modern thing of working in pods.
What makes the Baker’s such great tight head props?
Brendan: The fact of the matter is I came to the game late and I didn't start propping until I was 26 or 27 but I had a very good teacher, probably one of the finest props in the area. Ian Turrell and Paul Guttering helped me a great deal as well.
How would you feel if one of your children had chosen a different position to play?
Brendan: Fine one of my children plays football, centre back for Wokingham town and we still go and support him and have a drink after the game just as with the rugby.
Have you ever thought about playing another position? If so, which?
James: I would like to have played as a back as it's a whole other side of the game that I’ve never experienced but I'm too slow for that now.
Claire: I didn't really give too much thought to it. To be honest I was quite nervous as I was not sure if I could play tight head. I feel like my dad and brother could play the game and that I should just know what to do. Even though I had watched the game for such a long time I never really knew the rules, it was just men playing rugby. Now I know it is very hard to play and the pressure in the scrum is not easy, and then to get to the breakdown and run, tackle it makes it a lot harder. I never really did much sport like the men in the family so I am just giving it my best shot, listening to what my dad and brother say, and when they watch it is really great too,
You’ve been described as one of the best, if not the best, scrummager in National League 2 South. How do you feel when you hear such plaudits?
James: I feel very proud that years of hard work have given me some notoriety and respect.
What is it like watching your sibling play?
James: It's great to see her play and I feel proud of her for that. It's hard for her to play a different position when her dad and brother play at tight head but she is showing promise and I think she can become a good tight head.
Claire: I now see and realise how hard it is to play, I do like seeing him play as he is a very good player and I am proud to be his sister. I would not want to be tackled by James or scrummage against him, but I am his sister so he might let me win. I do try and watch what he is doing and get some tips.
You’ve grown up around your father and brother playing tighthead for the club. How does the women’s game differ?
Claire: Well the way the men play seems, at the moment, to be a lot faster especially when coming into contact. The other thing is, when I watch my brother and dad play in a game everyone seems to know what they are doing. Everyone knows the calls and the drills. At the Sirens we are still learning those things. Otherwise, there is not a lot of difference as it is the same game.
What does it feel like to be carrying on a family tradition?
James: It has helped me become the prop that I am today. It comes from having my father teach me the dark arts and it’s an interesting back story for the club to have.
Claire: the tradition or family legacy as my brother says LOL, yeah, it is growing on me. I do like being a Baker and playing the same position and I think in time, a lot of time, I may be better than James.
The Baker’s were talking to Geraint Lewis
See James in action this Saturday 30th Sept Rams 1st XV v Cinderford KO 2.30pm
Updated 18:39 - 11 Oct 2017 by Rams Info
See Claire in action on Sunday 8th Oct Sirens v Bracknell ladies KO 2.30pm