ENGLAND are currently playing in a rugby union World Cup, but their first ever captain in that competition can now be found volunteering in the gardens at Wentworth Woodhouse or following Barnsley FC home and away.
Mike Harrison skippered England in the inaugural 1987 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The winger had been told he would never play rugby again after a car crash as teenager before a long career at the now defunct Wakefield Rugby Club.
Harrison, now 67, told the Chronicle: “Every time the World Cup comes around, it brings back memories.
“I will always be the first England captain at a World Cup. It was a very humbling moment.
“Having had the car accident and been told I wouldn’t play any more, to captain my country is what dreams are made of.
“It’s not bad for a lad from Barnsley.
“The first time I captained my country is the first time I saw my father show much emotion.”
Harrison, who is originally from Carlton and now lives in Hood Green, started playing rugby at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School (QEGS) and was due to go to Loughborough University to play the sport.
But he aquaplaned while driving and crashed, smashing into the windscreen and suffering a serious eye injury which doctors said would end his sporting career at 18.
He said: “My dad marched me down to
NatWest bank in Barnsley and got me a job. Once my eye healed, I played for the work’s football team then I was invited to play for the regional rugby team when I was 22. It was in the week and I wanted a day off so I went.
“I really enjoyed it so went to Wakefield Rugby Club.”
Harrison was soon in the first team and then captained both Yorkshire and North of England over the coming years.
“I was told I would never play for England playing for Wakefield. I had a trial with England but didn’t get in.
“I was the last man picked for the 1985 tour to New Zealand, found my way into the test team and scored a try in each game.”
He earned the nickname ‘Burglar Bill’ for his regular breakaway tries and stayed in the side for the next two years.
He was eventually made captain for the final game of the 1987 Five Nations against Scotland then remained in position for that winter’s World Cup.
“Nobody knew if it would be a success or not. But it was obvious early on it would be. Those were the amateur days so it was exciting to travel over there and be part of it.
“I used a fortnight of my holiday allowance and got a fortnight’s special leave from work.
“If we had got past the quarter-final, I would have had to ring up and say ‘can I have another two weeks off?’
“We got 12 pounds a day telephone allowance and that was it.”
But Harrison says the tournament - which featured all-time greats such as David Campese, Serge Blanco and John Kirwan - was a turning point for the sport.
“All the training became more professional. We had diet sheets for the first time, we were shown how to use weights properly, we had experts coming in. It set the foundations for what the game would become.”
Harrison scored a hat-trick in the opening game against Japan, finished off a fine team try against Australia then touched down again against USA. But England lost to Wales in their quarter-final.
“I would rather have beaten Wales and not scored. But it was a great experience. It was a good time to play.
“I would like to play now but it’s different because it’s a very short-term career, you take a lot of knocks and you are under scrutiny all the time. We had more social time.
“I have still got friends around the world.”
Harrison lost the captaincy the next year after defeats in the first two Five Nations games then was picked for the next tour of Australia but missed out through injury.
His last involvement with England was as an unused substitute against Romania in 1988. He continued to play regularly until he was 51.
He is now fully retired and works as a volunteer at Wentworth Woodhouse while being a grandfather and season ticket holder at Barnsley FC.