University of Manchester XXI Club


Introduction | Club History Overview | The First 25 Years | Second 25 Years | Third 25 Years


Club History: The First 25 Years - written by Allister Cranna (Cross Country 1944)

The Club was formed in 1932; when I came up to the University the Club was already 5yrs old; and it was another 7yrs before I was elected a member. There were many sporting, "larger than life" characters. leaders in their own sport(s) and legends in their lifetime.

I well remember the first time I entered the A.U. which was a small room off a corridor in the Students' Union - then in Burlington Street. The room contained a massive dilapidated couch. two easy chairs. a table and pigeon holes for the various clubs. In the corridor was the notice board for each of the clubs to display the selected teams and any other information. At the far end of the room was a staircase to a tiny office "hung" from the ceiling like a swallow's nest. It was there that Arthur S Triffitt (the paid Secretary to the A.U.) worked. Arthur was extremely efficient and very obliging. He had a slight stammer and was somewhat shy - until he had been plied with a few drinks; it was then that he would burst into a loud melodious pub voice singing. "You always hurt the one; you love". at this stage we would interject. "Bobbing up and down like this". In 1946 Arthur was elected an ex officio member of the XXI Club - an election he fully deserved. When I was asked my name and replied. "Allister Cranna." I was then asked. "Any relation to Duncan Cranna?" "Only a brother." There was a roar. "Good God! Listen! this is Duncan Cranna' s brother".

There had not been a lot of co-hesion between the various clubs; on the other hand there was great bonhomie and banter in the A.U. room. It was this spirit among the top sportsmen that led to the formation of the XXI Club -a club limited to not more than 21 active undergraduates. In those days it was necessarily only the highest sporting achievement which earned election. Later on an element of good general sportsmanship was also taken into account.

The first few Dinners were held in the city centre; in due course. because of the post prandial revelry, there was no returning to that venue next year. It was becoming increasingly difficult to find a restaurant which would accept them. Nowadays the Dinners are more orderly.

Our first president was Harry M McKechnie. He was the "permanent" Honorary Treasurer of the A.U. He had been a fine Sportsman but by the time I met him he was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis later confined to a wheel chair. Even this did not stop him attending all A.U. meetings and frequent attendances at The Firs.

The second President was Duncan Cranna. Early on in his sporting career he had. not surprisingly. lost one or two front teeth in various scrums; he wore a plate holding teeth to fill the gap and to make him appear more respectable looking. This plate he would forget to remove till he was on the pitch. He would put it on a convenient wall; but then. at the end of the match. forget to retrieve it. Replacements became expensive so he devised a plan: Before the match he would put the plate in a pint of beer and. when the match was over. he drank the beer and. with the last drop. click the plate into place. Duncan was an entertaining after dinner speaker -in demand at varied sporting dinners in the region.

Another founder member was Henry Toft. When the 1st XV team was put up. the list read (alphabetically):
D D Cranna
D H Drummond ,
D P Hickey
G M Komrower
G H Moore
H Toft

It became very apparent that Henry Toft was the only member with only one forename. This was easily remedied by "Christening" him: "Henry Bloody Toft". Thereafter. in rugby circles at least. he was known as H B Toft - the name he used as the rugby correspondent on the Observer.

Bulldog Drummond was a hefty South African. graduated in dentistry and. with his fiancee. returned to Johannesburg. Dennis Hickey was the clown and practical joker. George Komrower was one of three rugby brothers. Their father was always invited to the MURFC Dinners and. during the war when the lads were in the Services. would come to represent them. I can't remember anything about G H Moore except that he was nicknamed Babe. Jack Smith was elected in the Club's second year. He was a dental surgeon and an ardent attender at all our meetings. Early on he died from rheumatic heart disease, but not before he had established the Jack Smith Cup. an award to be presented if and when it was thought that a member had shown particularly good evidence of all round merit. Laurie Liversedge first took a B.A. (later an M.A.) and then medicine. he played soccer in the winter and cricket in the summer. He had been President of the Student's Union. He became a noted Manchester neurologist and was a brilliant after dinner speaker. A typical story he told concerned a business tycoon who often flew abroad. He asked his chief accountant, "What are the odds of a bomb being on my plane?". "A hundred thousand to one". "What are the odds of there being two bombs on my plane?". " Astronomical" . So every time thereafter that he flew, he took with him, a bomb. Mike Winstanly was in my year. He, later, became famous when he won a surprise victory in a by-election for the Liberals in a Cheshire seat. He finished up in the Lords. He also was a first class after dinner speaker. Our Keeper of the Records, Bill Littlejohn, recalls a XXI Club Dinner at which the three speakers were Duncan, Laurie and Mike -what a feast. Mike's famous story referred to a bitterly cold, wet and windy Sunday afternoon when the local Salvation Army was playing and preaching in a small village square. At no time had there been any congregation. Eventually the Captain announced, "Right lads, one more verse of 'Oly! 'Oly! 'OIy!, then we'll all bugger off home".

When the XXI Club Dinners finished, the members, naturally, would repair to The Firs until the early hours. The Steward was Len Langford (Snr) - a retired professional soccer goalkeeper; his wife, Tilly, looked after the catering, aided by their daughter, Hetty. Len was made an ex officio member of the XXI Club - like Arthur Triffitt - fully deserved.

In my days it was expected that the new boys would circumnavigate the four inside walls of the bar area without a foot ever touching the floor - an impossible task -but that didn't stop us trying.

Here endeth an old man's blethering.

Allister Cranna
June 2007


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