London Welsh pays tribute to our Co-President John Dawes
There will be many many words of shock and grief spoken over the next few weeks of the passing of John Dawes throughout not only Wales but the Rugby World in general, none more so than at London Welsh, a club John Dawes dedicated the largest part of his life to, as a player captain and leader. Supporting us throughout all of the highs and lows of our history over the past seven decades.
John was a true inspiration and beacon of all that is good and great about London Welsh, a Legend and Clubman who exemplified our Rugby Community, happy to chat to anyone that approached him at the club, happy to attend Mini and Youth events to inspire the youngsters, and always to be seen flying the flag for London Welsh wherever he went, including with the London Welsh Rugby Club Choir.
I have deliberately used the word legend when talking about John as even though this word can sometimes be overused when describing those who have excelled in life in general or in a particular field, in the case of John (Syd) Dawes the word legend is totally appropriate. His contributions to London Welsh, Wales, the British Lions and rugby in general have been so emphatically positive and seismic in their impact that even to this day his influence can still be felt. The reaction to Johns passing I have seen, both personally and over the media, have highlighted the stature and esteem in which our beloved joint President was held.
I will not elaborate too long by listing dates and times and of Johns countless achievements as not only is that already widely available but also because I believe the sum of John Dawes cannot be done justice by a list of cold statistics, but deserves a more personal tribute from the club that not only loved John, but one that he too loved so much and gave so much of himself to. So to that end I shall instead leave the greater part of this tribute to John to those that knew him best and were closest to him. His families personal tribute and also the memories shared by his close friend, fellow London Welshman, Wales International and British Lion, John Taylor as I believe they capture our collective recollections and grief perfectly.
A message from Johns Dawes Family.
As a family we are deeply saddened at the passing of a loving Partner, father, grandfather, great grandfather and brother.
John was an immensely proud London Welshman to the core, a club man through and through while reaching the pinnacle of the game.
The Family would also love to pay tribute to Llandough Hospital whose amazing staff took such brilliant care of John in his final chapter.
Memories of John Dawes by John Taylor
When I arrived at Old Deer Park in the Autumn of 1966 I had no idea I was joining a rugby revolution. By the time I hung up my boots at the end of the 70s the whole way the game was played had been transformed and that metamorphosis had been led and masterminded by the great, John Dawes.
He had arrived at London Welsh a couple of years earlier and very quickly took over the captaincy. In those days, of course, that meant taking over the coaching as well. The effect was seismic. Some rudimentary floodlights were installed, training twice a week became compulsory and John set about making the most of what he had to work with.
He quickly realised his squad was very bright and skilful but the big problem was winning possession. With nobody over 6ft 3ins in the forwards and an average weight of under 15 stones it was imperative that once London Welsh had the ball they kept it until they scored.
So, there was pragmatism as well as ambition in the style of play John cultivated – the ball was a precious commodity – but to make it work the players had to be fitter and more skilful than their opposite numbers. It all evolved from there.
As the club grew more successful Wales adopted the London Welsh style and the Lions followed suit so that by 1971 London Welsh was the most influential club in the land – supplying six members of Wales’ Grand Slam winning team and seven members of the British Lions party that toured New Zealand and won a Test series against the All Blacks for the only time ever with five playing in all the Tests!
John would be the last to claim it was all down to him but along with other visionaries such as Carwyn James they really did change the game. From 1955 to 1967 Wales never scored 20 points in an international match – over the next decade it became the norm rather than the exception.
What made John extraordinary as a player was the ability to use his vision to make the best of others. He was not the quickest – although you’d never get past him – but his positional play was perfect and he was the best passer of a ball I have ever seen. It was finger-tip stuff but so skilful and quick that he could put players into space they had not even anticipated was there. His pet anathema? Spin passing the ball when it only needed to travel 3 or 4 metres – you have to adjust the catch to spin-it and by that time it is half a second wasted. I can still see him shaking his head.
What made him great as a captain was also his vision. Calm and unruffled he was always decisive and one of the few who could change track mid-game if something was not working – a great man manager.
I owe him a massive debt. I genuinely believe I would never have been capped if I had played for any other club but with his playing philosophy and guidance I was able to maximise my plusses and minimise the problems caused by lack of size. We quickly became very close friends and shared many wonderful memories but it is the simple things that stay strongest in the memory.
When I was first capped I did not even drive so Saturday nights were spent at the Dawes’ house in Sunbury with a 6.00am start on Sunday morning to make training by 10.00am in Aberavon. John had the only reliable car – it was only a mini but sometimes as many as five squeezed in. The steak supper at the Lamb and Flag as we travelled – exhausted – back to London on the Sunday evening ready to be in school first thing Monday morning made it all worthwhile.
Then there were the squash games at ODP when courts were built into the ‘new’ clubhouse – he was the most difficult opponent you could imagine because he was a left-hander who had made himself ambidextrous so that he could write right-handed on a blackboard (you cannot push chalk). In a squash context that meant a sudden switch of hands just when you thought you had him pinned in a corner – Aaargh!
What couldn’t he do? – Sing!
What did he regret? Being called ‘Syd?’ – Maybe. I think he eventually enjoyed it for the term of affection it was – but having been ‘John’ for more than 20 years he suddenly found he was Syd because there were so many Johns at London Welsh and in the Welsh squad. Every time you said ‘John’ half a dozen would answer so ‘JPR’ ‘JJ’ and ‘JT’ were not just affectations they were necessary – trouble was we discovered he was actually SJ Dawes and the rest is history!
Annus Mirabilis! It has to be 1971. LW top club in the UK, Wales winning a grand Slam, British and Irish Lions winning a series against the All Blacks for the only time ever and you were the captain! It does not get much better than that.
We remained great friends throughout the whole 55 years and even managed a lunch in Cardiff last summer when lockdown last allowed. Since then we have had to make do with weekly Zoom calls.
He will be missed on every level – for what he achieved and his rugby legacy but, most of all as a wonderful friend. Thoughts are with Jill, who has been his rock, and the family. John Dawes is London Welsh so keep the legacy going!