Review: Bedford Blues’ tour of Charles Wells pubs turns up local legends

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Budge Rodgers
(l-r) Gareth Alred, Lauren Troiano of Charles Wells, Budge Rodgers and Gemma Mallett from the Embankment Hotel.

If you’re even the slightest Bedford Blue’s fan then the name Budge Rodgers will fill you with pride. So to have the chance to have dinner with him, and listen to uncensored tales of his life and career, was an opportunity not to be missed.

Budge moved to Bedford with his family when he was nine. His parents took over the running of Charles Wells’ pub the King William in Kempston.

An avid football fan and player, he didn’t pick up a rugby ball until he was 11. But, in his own humble words “took to it quite well”.

That’s certainly apparent. He went on to become Bedford’s most celebrated former player.

His first game with the Blues didn’t come until he was 17 during a special Boxing Day fixture.

But a year later, he made 33 appearances in his first full season.

His career with the Blues then spanned over 20 years with 485 appearances, five seasons as captain, including lifting the 1975 National Cup and wearing the jersey of England, the British & Irish Lions and the Barbarians in the 1960s & 70s.

In 1969 he also became the first rugby player to be awarded an OBE before holding several high profiled positions including both Chairman of England Selectors and President of the RFU.

All that is common knowledge, but what about the stories and memories from behind the scenes? With the expert guidance of Blues’ own Gareth Alred, Budge didn’t hold back.

Guests were treated to a two-course meal and a pint of locally brewed Eagle Ale.

He talked of the early days and how he would find out if he was selected for England by reading the Evening Standard.

He gave insights into the time before a formal league, paying to play and for the love of the game, a disorganised mess that wasn’t sorted out until national newspaper The Daily Telegraph started to compare match stats and scores.

He spoke of the British Lions Tour in South Africa where they played two matches a week for months, and got paid “ten bob a week but nowhere to spend it”.

Budge’s humour and love of rugby permeated throughout his conversation with Gareth and the gathered guests, he even revealed the early days of post-match parties on Goldington Road.

“Well we [the players] just decided to do something ourselves. I’d bring my record player along and Beatles records, that’s all we had back then,” said Budge.

“We’d then go and knock on people’s doors and invite them to join us at our party. Three of the players met their future wives at these parties.

“The parties soon became a bit of a thing in the town and people who hadn’t even been at the game would come off the street and join us.”

It was a different time on the pitch as well.

Budge talked about breaking his hand and asking for the bone to be “pushed back in and bandaged up so the player I’d punched wouldn’t know I was hurt.”

The gathered guests laughed and winced but Budge used this tale to talk about concerns with the modern game.

Players getting too big, worries over concussion and how this may, if not checked, ultimately change Rugby to the point where it’s no longer the game we all love.

The evening itself was expertly hosted by The Embankment and Charles Well with a delicious two course meal that most have come to expect from the riverside hotel.

The Eagle Brewery also welcomed guest with a pint of Eagle, brewed just a few miles down the road in Queens Park, and some gifts of beer and merchandise to take home.

Listening to Budge and having a chance to shake his hand and chat to him afterwards was something really special, and I’d urge you to attend any of the remaining nights.

These are:

  • 20th June – Ben Whetstone
    D’Parys, Bedford – £25pp includes a two-course meal
    Tickets
  • 11th July – Mark Howe night with Ian Peck and Gareth Davies
    The Foresters, Bedford – £15pp includes a buffet (£5 of the ticket price will go to Prostate Cancer UK)
    Tickets
  • Thursday 25th July – Andy Finnie
    Cross Keys, Pulloxhill- £15pp includes a buffet
    Tickets
  • Thursday 8th August – Paul Tupai
    The Bull, Olney – £25pp includes a two-course meal
    Booking info to follow

It’s worth highlighting the event at The Foresters as this is a slightly different night. Rather than meeting a Blues Legend in person, you’ll have a chance to pay tribute to Blues’ legend Mark Howe, who passed away after fight with Prostate Cancer a few years ago.

His son, Ben, now co-owns and runs the Foresters Pub so the venue couldn’t be more apt. £5 of the ticket price will also go to Prostate Cancer UK.