An Interview With Gareth Chilcott

Posted on: 07 October 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The fiesty former Bath and England front row forward talks to 50connect about his life in and out of rugby.

Leaving school before the age of 15 without any qualifications, Gareth Chilcott spent a year wandering in and out of jobs without a sense of direction or purpose to his life.

Raised in the rough estates in south-west Bristol, Gareth knew only three important steps to life; supporting Bristol City Football Club, Bath Rugby Club and Somerset County Cricket Club.

Gareth grew up south of the river Avon in the working class area of Bedminster in Bristol and his football, rugby and cricket passions were the direct opposite of Bristolians on the north side, who followed Bristol Rovers, Bristol Rugby Club and Gloucestershire County Cricket Club.

Gareth Chilcott

Position: Prop

Teams: Old Redcliffians, Bath, England, British Lions

Appearances: Bath (373), England (14), British Lions (6)

Honours: 5 League Championships, 7 Cup's, England caps, British Lions 1989 tour

“It was a lovely part of Bristol to grow up in. We were all working class and we just got on with it. I always struggled academically and as most other kids from around that part of town did - I was in and out of trouble regularly,” Gareth says.

A keen football fan as a youngster, Gareth spent many Saturday afternoons on the terraces of Ashton Gate roaring on his local team but an old school teacher changed his ways after a chance meeting.

“When I left school before my 15th birthday I just did what I had to do; dossing around a lot until I bumped into an old teacher.”  

“He asked what I was doing on Saturday and I said ‘watching Bristol City’ and he asked if I fancied a game of rugby. So I went up and joined a little club called Old Redcliffians as a colt and realised you could have all kinds of fun without going overboard and getting into trouble,” says Gareth.

“I used to always go down to the football club and consequently, a hot young headed lad was always getting into trouble there, so rugby came along and took me away from all of that. It was a bit of a saviour for me.  It gave me the life skills I needed and I realised I could get all my aggression out on a Saturday afternoon without getting into trouble at the Bristol City ground,” he says.

Gareth Chilcott: Bristol v Bath, 1992After two years at “Old Reds”, Gareth was invited over to pre-season training at Bath - the real turning point for a serious rugby career at The Recreation Ground.

“Old Reds worked as a great feeder club for me. Bath were an outstanding rugby side in the late 70s and early 80s, they had great three-quarters but they were seen as a soft touch for south-west rugby. I think they realised in order to compete; they needed some rough, tough forwards,” he says.

“Although I was young and naïve I was very aggressive and I think that’s what they needed at the time and hopefully they recognised a bit of talent.”

As an 18-year-old, Gareth made his first-team debut at prop for Bath against Welsh giants Pontypool, a game he’ll always remember.

“They were all British Lions in the front row and to be in that environment was just surreal. Technically I was naïve, they absolutely destroyed me but I was aggressive and went down fighting and I think that’s what gave me my chance.”

“I was nervous when I played, I tried my best but it was an awesome experience and I think I went on from that. It was the bench-mark for me.”

Gareth talks free and openly about his career which included five league winners’ medals and seven cup winners’ medals from his time at Bath. But his career was dogged by ill-discipline, including five sending’s off and a year-long ban for stamping.

“Every side had a couple of players who were “enforcers”, who’d look to put their marker down on the opposition. In them days it was very physical, if you got in a fight it wasn’t just handbags at dawn, you could be there rolling around for five minutes with play still going on – that’s how it was,” Gareth says.

“You needed to be of a certain ilk to play in that front five and Bath learnt that. So when we went to the Leicester’s, the Harlequins and the Wasps sides, they were great rugby teams but they weren’t quite as hard as us and we made that tell. It wasn’t about you’re better than me, it was will you take being knocked about all night; will your heart go or will your legs go?”

“I got banned for a year for stamping on a player (Bristol’s number eight Bob Hesford) and today all the fuss is about a Premiership player (Northampton’s Neil Best) eye gouging and he gets banned for 16 weeks. In them days it was a different kettle of fish.”

During a pre-season tour of America, Bath’s legendary coach Jack Rowell had a long chat with Gareth about his England prospects, including a quiet word about calming down his on the field antics.

“He said ‘look, just get a good start, keep doing what you’re doing as a player and keep your head down for a bit and England may look favourably on you’. I seemed to stay out of trouble for a couple of months and I was picked to play for England’s South West team against Australia in 1984 in Exeter,” he says.

Gareth Chilcott with Wade Dooley, England v France 1989The Grand Slam side of Australia were held to a draw by Gareth’s South West side and it wasn’t long before the Bristol-born 28-year-old made his England bow at Twickenham against the same opposition.

“Two weeks later I got my first cap and it was a tremendously proud day for me. But again I fell foul of the law by hitting Australia’s scrum half Nick Farr Jones and I was out in the wilderness for another year. I came in late and tried to rough him up a bit but some people in the England camp didn’t see it that way and felt I wasn’t the type of player to represent England.”

“Sometimes you live by the sword and you’ve got to die by it.”

Thirteen more international caps eventually followed as well as the highest honour for a rugby player of any generation, selection in the British Lions squad, to tour Australia in 1989.

“It was a great milestone, as was playing for Bath in a golden generation. In a period of 18 years I reached a peak in rugby and it was a great time for me but unfortunately I wasn’t quite fit enough.”

“I pulled a calf muscle in an England match in Bucharest and spent most of the tour playing catch up in fitness. It was a 50-50 decision to see if I’d tour and I went. I suffered a recurrence against Australia A and it was a bit of battle to stay fit but I did manage to play in six of the games and it was a great tour and a magnificent experience.”

After losing the first test, the Lions went on to win the series and became the first and only touring Lions squad to come back from a first test defeat.

Gareth Chilcott todayToday, the 51-year-old heads up Gullivers Sports Travel’s corporate business and after opening various bars and clubs, he feels he owes a lot to the sport he made his name in.

“When I started out I was working the doors as a bouncer across Bristol. I’ve done some labouring, French polishing but through rugby I’ve run my own car business and now I’ve spent 18 years heading up Gullivers’ rugby front.”

“It keeps me off the corners as they say, and all of it has been built up through the fellowship of rugby. I’m in this position because of rugby, it’s really helped me and I think I owe the sport a drink.”

By Mark O'Haire

Do you remember Gareth Chilcott's playing days? Do you miss the amateur days of rugby? Did you see Bath's golden generation in action?

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