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Obituary: Derek Neate

Derek Neate, one of the greatest players in Bristol’s history, has died at the age of 84. In an exceptionally long playing career, he made 393 first team appearances, which was at one time the club record, scoring 73 tries and a single drop goal.

He captained Bristol in four seasons, played regularly for Gloucestershire and appeared in England trials. Many good judges considered that he was unfortunate not to play for his country.

Derek Wilson Neate was born on July 2nd, 1935 and was educated at Portway School and Bristol Technical School. His first love was football, but he was inspired to switch to rugby by former Welsh international Les Williams, who was a teacher at Portway. In junior rugby he played as a scrum half and centre, but he moved to the pack when he started his senior career at Avonmouth Old Boys. From then on, he appeared either at No.8 or in the second row.

Derek was first selected to play for Bristol United in 1952, and later recalled that he actually had to ask what Bristol United was as he had not heard of the team! On Friday January 2nd, 1953 he received a telegram informing him that he was to make his first team debut the following day against Harlequins at the Memorial Ground as a late replacement for Bert Macdonald. He was still only 17 at the time. After spending the subsequent two seasons moving between the first team and the United, Derek became a first team regular in the 1955-56 season, unusually winning both his first team cap and his club blazer at the season’s end. He was called up for National Service in the following season but was often able to play for Bristol owing to sympathetic RAF postings at Locking and Pucklechurch. During his time in uniform he played for both the RAF and Combined Services.

In 1961-62, Derek was appointed Bristol captain in succession to the charismatic John Blake. The following season was Bristol’s 75th Anniversary, and Derek was again captain. At the end of this landmark campaign Bristol’s Annual Report paid tribute to his work for the club both on the field and at numerous social functions. He returned to the captaincy in 1965-66, a conspicuously successful season in which Bristol won the Sunday Telegraph English Merit Table. When he led Bristol out against Clifton at the Memorial Ground on November 27th, 1965, he beat his old friend Bert Macdonald’s record of 344 first team games. He had one final season as captain in 1966-67, and gradually over the ensuing years he played less and less for the first team. Derek made his final first team appearance against Weston-super-Mare in November 1972, but even after that he turned out in the odd United game when required over the next couple of seasons. He then went on to serve on the club committee and to assist with coaching.

There was an interesting postscript to Derek’s playing career. On New Year’s Day 1977, when Alan Morley was injured during Bristol United’s game at Cwmbran, Derek, who was then the United coach, and team secretary Alan Ramsey tossed a coin to see who would go on as replacement, and Derek duly took Morley’s place on the field. Having made his United debut in 1952 he could claim the honour of making his final Bristol appearance 25 years after his first.

In terms of representative rugby, Derek played 48 times for Gloucestershire, appearing in the side which lost the County Championship final to Warwickshire in 1959. He played twice for Western Counties, against South Africa at Gloucester in 1960 and against New Zealand at Bristol three years later. His first England trial was at the Memorial Ground in 1956, and he played in two more trials in the 1958-59 season. He was a travelling reserve for England on several occasions, and he also received a letter asking him whether he would be available if selected to tour with the Lions in 1959. In addition, rugby league club Salford asked him to turn professional, but fortunately for Bristol he preferred to remain an amateur. Derek was an excellent lineout forward, a powerful runner and a fine passer of the ball, and it was unfortunate that his way to the England side was frequently blocked by the enduring 1950s second row partnership of David Marques and John Currie.

Derek Neate loved talking about his playing days and had numerous amusing tales to tell of his time on the rugby field. He was Chairman of Bristol Rugby Former Players for many years and will be greatly missed by his many friends in the rugby community. All at Bristol Bears send their sincere sympathy to Derek’s family at this sad time. 


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