You might recognise the player, but not the name. Better known in club circles as “Blink,” Mike English arrived in Whitianga on holiday some time in 1971 when Whitianga had maybe only 1,000 residents. When he was offered a job on a Sealord vessel, he jumped at the chance to stay, and became the diver on a vessel that was running box nets at the time.
By 1971 Mike had already retired from playing as a hooker or a prop himself, but there was no rugby club in his new home town. After a conversation with flatmate Huia Martin, who was an MBAS teacher, in 1972 the pair decided to convene a meeting at the school, with a view to getting a team together. Just 10 people attended the meeting, but from those humble beginnings the Mercury Bay Rugby Club was born.
Mike earned the nickname “Blink” trying hard to stay awake in the clubrooms after a few beersies one night. The name stuck. When he later he established a fish smokehouse in Whitianga, it was called “Blink’s Smokehouse.”,
In the beginning, the clubrooms consisted of a small room, just big enough to hold a team. It was perhaps 6m square, with a shower, at today’s Rhodes Park. At that stage everyone had to bring their own jerseys, and the he club wasn’t yet accepted into the competition.
A turning point came when the Council offered to sell the adjacent squash courts to the club for $14,000. One of the team members was a bank manager, and so with guarantors arranged, the club committed to the purchase. Using raffles, invitation games and a beer festival, the club managed to repay the loan in just 3 years. It was then that the club started to build the first of what would be three extensions to become the clubrooms they enjoy today.
It wasn’t all pretty. The beer festival exceeded expectations for profitability when the local Hotel forgot to charge the club for one of the mini tankers. The fire brigade came to hose down the premises ready for a church service that was held there on Sundays.
For the first few games, the club used to charter a 9-seater plane to fly two trips to Thames for the game. The players would climb out of the plane, jump the fence, and be on the field ready to play. Those days are all in the rear view mirror now, as the club takes possession of a new van to get players to the away games.
These days the club is almost professional in it’s approach to the game, and Mike is particularly proud that, after many second division wins, the club’s A side was last year’s Championship Winner, and this year the Bs made it all the way to the semi-finals. The club’s players are also heavily involved in coaching the MBAS First XV, who also made it into the finals this year.
Looking back, for Blink other career highlights include organising the 10-a-side games, which had occasionally included members of the All Blacks.
He’s also intensely proud of the Bay Army — a band of club and committee members who are committed to supporting player welfare. There’s a proper hierarchy to the army. Club members get one stripe, committee members two stripes, and life members are awarded three stripes, and the army contributes significantly to support the welfare needs of club players.
The other point that Blink is quick to make is that the club is a family affair. Chris Costello, in the right of the photo, was named by John Hart as a Junior All Black, and used to hold the goal kicking record for Thames Valley. His father was once Club Chairman, and his daughter plays for the NZ Under 19 Touch Rugby team.
Every year, the club awards a trophy donated by Blink, for the Best Club Spirit, which he famously sweetens with $50. This year the trophy was awarded to Ted McVerry, who is the Club’s Senior A team manager. In making the award to Ted, the club noted that he’s there every weekend, and aside from managing the A team, he’s also busy behind the scenes re-stocking and managing the club’s bar.
Pictured: Mike “Blink” English, Ted McVerry and Chris “Cozzie” Costello at the Mercury Bay Rugby Club prizegiving last Friday night.