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Obituary: Eric Blackman

Bristol Bears regret to announce the death at the age of 89 of Eric Blackman.

A long-serving teacher at Bristol Cathedral School, he was Bristol’s scrum half in the mid-1950s and went on to serve the club as an outstanding administrator for many years. He also gave exceptional service to schools’ rugby and was a major figure in this sphere at both local and national level.

Eric John Blackman attended Abertillery Grammar School and actually appeared on Bristol’s Memorial Ground for Monmouthshire Public & Grammar Schools against Gloucestershire Public & Grammar Schools in 1949. He trained as a teacher at Bristol University. Having already played for Abertillery and Lloyd’s Bank, he attended Bristol’s trials at the start of the 1954-55 season on the advice of Tony Rees, another scrum half from Abertillery who had played for Bristol. Eric made his Bristol first team debut in a 14-9 victory against Clifton at Eastfield Road at the end of September, but former Scotland and Lions scrum half Angus Black was the club’s first choice scrum half for the opening half of the season.

 On January 8th 1955 Eric was travelling reserve and touch judge when Bristol suffered an embarrassing 38-3 defeat at Cardiff, and he retained vivid memories of skipper Bert Macdonald’s post-match talk in the changing room during which he insisted that changes would take place. Bristol’s players subsequently trained more conscientiously and began to play a more expansive game, and with Black’s retirement due to ill health soon after the Cardiff game, Eric quickly became an important figure in Bristol’s new-style brand of rugby.    

For the remainder of the 1954-55 season Eric was Bristol’s first choice scrum half, often partnering John Blake, who would subsequently build on Macdonald’s foundations when he implemented his own running style of rugby later in the decade. Eric made 22 first team appearances in total during his first Bristol season, scoring two tries, and he was awarded his Bristol United cap.  An excellent reader of the game, he continued as Bristol’s preferred scrum half in the 1955-56 season, playing 25 first team matches and scoring two more tries. His half back partner this season was often fellow Welshman Roy Dash, with Blake playing in the centre. Eric won his first team cap at the end of the 1955-56 season, and he also made his Gloucestershire debut against British Police at Cheltenham. He played four times for the county during the season, including twice in the County Championship, and he made three further Gloucestershire appearances in 1956-57.

Eric missed a chunk of rugby while he was doing a year of teaching in Canada. He was awarded his club blazer in 1957-58, but featured only occasionally for Bristol United during the next two seasons. In 1960-61 he remained match fit by training at the Memorial Ground and was making occasional guest appearances for Bridgwater & Albion when he was called up for one final Bristol first team match.  He played in a 3-3 draw at Saracens on a day when Bristol were decimated by county calls. In total he played 69 first team games, scoring seven tries.

Eric Blackman joined the Bristol committee in 1977-78, becoming vice-chairman in 1983-84 and chairman for the club’s Centenary season in 1987-88. He held this office until he retired from committee work at the end of the 1989-90 season, by which time Bristol had already recognised his service to the club by making him an honorary life member.

Eric taught at Southville Boys’ School before his teaching stint in Canada, and after this he was on the staff of Bristol Cathedral School from 1958 until his retirement in 1991. He devoted a huge amount of his life to schools’ rugby in Bristol and Gloucestershire. He was president of the Gloucestershire Schools’ Rugby Union, and at various times he served as the RFU’s schools’ representative, as a member of the RFU Board and as president of the English Schools’ Rugby Union. He also toured to various countries with England age-group teams – one such side was the unbeaten Under 18 squad which went to Australia in 1997. Jonny Wilkinson was a player on that tour, along with eight players who later appeared for Bristol.

Eric was treasurer of the Gloucestershire RFSU at the time of his death, and one of his last wishes was that one of the committee visit him in hospital to go over the books with him. He was a frequent attender at Bristol Former Players’ reunions and loved watching the current Bristol Bears team, stating that Pat Lam’s style of rugby was “the Bristol way.” Away from rugby he played cricket and golf. At his own request, Eric’s funeral will be a small family affair, but details of a subsequent memorial service will be released in due course. All at Bristol Bears send their sincere sympathy to Eric’s family at this sad time.      


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