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Mark Hoskins

Mark Hoskins writes

Posted Monday, August 24th 2020

Obituary: Mike Ellery

Bristol Bears regret to announce the death of Mike Ellery, one of the greatest players in the club’s history.

A winger, possessed with blinding acceleration and the ability to swerve at top speed, he scored 251 tries in his 347 first team matches, and his 44 tries in the 1961-62 season remain the club record in a single campaign.

Michael Garrard Ellery was educated at Colston’s School, where, curiously enough, he was not a prominent rugby player. His serious rugby began as an outside half with Cleve Juniors. After he moved to the wing he played senior rugby for Cleve, and was quickly invited for a trial at Bristol. He made his first team debut against Swansea in September 1954, and was awarded his first team cap at the end of the season. Two years later he received his club blazer. Mike thrived under charismatic Bristol captain John Blake in the late 1950s, at a time when the club was playing a revolutionary fifteen-man game which became known as ‘Bristol Fashion’ rugby. Blake gave him carte blanche to turn up anywhere on the field in search of the ball. This meant that he was as likely to score on the left wing as on the right, although right wing was his usual position.   

Mike Ellery was at the peak of his game in the 1961-62 season. Bristol’s previous record for tries in a season was 33, scored by winger Reg Quick in 1920-21. Mike broke this record in an away game against United Services Portsmouth on March 17th 1962, a match in which he scored a first half hat trick. His third try broke the record – and as Mike loved to relate, there was amusing aftermath. He was allowed to convert his landmark try, despite by his own admission being “hopeless” at kicking. As he recalled: “When I put the ball down I looked up to find a lot of their players running out at me. The ball didn’t leave the ground when I connected with it; it spun round on its end and finished up behind me!”

Reg Quick, who had only recently retired as Bristol’s chairman, had hoped that he could watch Mike break the record in a home game, but he had the foresight to entrust a congratulatory letter to first team secretary Tom Mahoney, and Mike received it straight after the match. “No-one in the side more deserves to take my record than you,” Quick wrote.  Mike took his new record to 44 tries in the final weeks of the season. In all he played 38 matches for Bristol in 1961-62, and he failed to score in 15 of these. Thus, his tally of tries was achieved in just 23 matches. Only Alan Morley, with 43 tries in the 1983-84 season, has come close to breaking the record.

In representative rugby, Mike played 22 times for Gloucestershire, featuring in the 1959 County Championship final against Warwickshire. He was in the Western Counties team which lost to South Africa in 1960, and he appeared in an England trial at Birkenhead Park in 1958. He twice scored six tries in a game for Bristol, crossed for five on three occasions, scored four tries five times and also claimed eleven hat tricks. His final game was against Coventry at the end of the 1965-66 season, and fittingly he signed off with a try. Alan Morley is the only player to have scored more career tries for Bristol.    

Mike Ellery continued playing rugby at Cleve until he was 49. Away from rugby he was a formidable athlete, sprinting for Bristol Athletic Club and Gloucestershire. He remained incredibly fit in later life, running, cycling, playing bowls and tending his allotment. He was also a regular Bristol season ticket holder. Mike battled long-term ill-health bravely, and it was only comparatively recently that he was forced to give up his various activities. All at Bristol Bears send their sincere sympathy to Mike’s family and his many friends at this sad time.


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