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MIKE SLEMEN

Liverpool, England & British Lions

            Mike Slemen threading his way gracefully down the left wing was a sight that warmed the hearts of England and Lions supporters between 1976 and 1984.  The Liverpool wing was an automatic choice for the 1980 Lions tour to South Africa and wore the England number 11 shirt 31 times – a then record for an England flyer - between the retirement of David Duckham and the advent of Rory Underwood. He was an ever-present in the side that took the 1980 Grand Slam and later, in 1994, took charge of the coaching of the England backs as part of Geoff Cooke’s successful management team.

          Educated in Liverpool at St Edward’s College, his first loves were cricket and football. He spent three years in the school first XI as a quick bowler whilst in winter he played Sunday-League football in that soccer-mad city before forcing his way into his school’s first XV in his last year there.

          He was a scrum-half in those days, but soon outgrew the position, reaching 6 foot before he left to study pharmacy at Aston University . Even so, the skills that had made him a more-than-useful soccer player were to underpin his emergence as a versatile rugby player who was equally at home at fly-half or full-back.

          He spent a year studying at Aston before transferring to St Luke’s College down in Exeter . At St Luke’s he vied with future England #10 Neil Bennett for the fly-half berth, but despite a stunning performance during an Easter tour match at Llanelli he later settled on the wing, the position where he was to quickly become recognised as one of the most promising players in the country. He played for Devon in the County Championship during his student days and gained his first national recognition in his last year as a student, playing for England under-23s against the touring Tongans.

          After St Luke’s he successfully applied for a teaching post at Merchant Taylors’, Crosby , returning to his roots. He resumed his club rugby with the Liverpool club and quickly gained selection for Lancashire and the North. His first full England cap came in 1976 when he was called up to replace David Duckham against Ireland .

          Mike learned of his selection for that match while he was in the staff-room at school, where the rugby correspondent of the Press Association telephoned to inform him that he was in the side. “I couldn’t stop shaking all week,” Mike said.

          It was the start of a 24-match run in the England side that was only broken five years later when he was unavailable for England’s two-Test tour of Argentina. By then he had established himself as a household name in Bill Beaumont’s England side, tasting the joys of victory and the despair of defeat.

          His first major tour was with the England side coached by Mike Davis and led by Bill Beaumont that visited the Far East and Pacific Islands in the summer of 1979.  Mike Slemen had already turned down lucrative offers from Barrow and Widnes to play rugby league before going on tour and playing in six of the seven matches, including the four non-cap Tests.

          He hit the ground running, scoring two tries in the tour opener against Japan B in Tokyo ’s Olympic Stadium where the tourists won 36-7.  His second try in that match was the result of a clever piece of anticipation. The ball went loose from a long pass into the midfield, but reading the bounce perfectly he stepped in from the left wing, gathered it and sprinted through. In scoring, however, he injured his leg. (The in-goal areas in Japan were very narrow and sliding through to score he slipped of the turf and into a tartan running track adjacent to the dead-ball-line).

          He thus missed the pleasures of downtown Tokyo when the squad ventured onto the bullet train on their first Saturday in Japan , but he did recover quickly enough to play in the first international against Japan on the Sunday. The tourists struggled to win 21-19, only a last-minute Dusty Hare conversion saving England from the ignominy of a draw.  Clive Norling accompanied the Englishmen on this tour as referee, but it was another Welshman’s deep accent that cut through the crowd to say (inaccurately as it turned out), as the relieved visitors trooped off: “You might just about manage this lot, but it’ll be 1990 before you beat us.”

          Normal service was resumed in mid-week when England thrashed an undersized Kyushu selection 80-3, Mike scoring a handsome hat-trick of tries. That was the famous occasion on which Bill Beaumont, his side 32-3 up at half-time, told his charges: “Come on lads, don’t let it slip now.”

          For the second Japan test England redeemed some lost esteem with a comfortable 38-18 win, but the ball did not run Mike’s way, a story that was to be repeated in the 19-7 victory over Fiji when the party moved south for the second half of the tour.  The visit ended in Tonga with a 37-17 win after a decidedly shaky start. The English backs gave plenty of possession away and one correspondent was moved to write, “The only England backs who seemed capable of doing the basic things well were Hignell and Slemen.”

            Tonga led for part of the first half and were only five points adrift with ten minutes to go before Mike, who had opened the scoring, crossed for his second try of the game. That score heralded a late flurry of 15 points that cemented England ’s victory.

          Although the tourists returned with their 100% record intact, few felt that England had grown sufficiently in stature to pose a threat when the 1980 Five Nations season came round. Confidence, it was true, had been gained on tour, but English rugby had suffered a long period of disappointment since last securing the Championship title in 1963 and few predicted that a champagne season was about to follow.

          But 1979-80 was to go down as a golden year for English rugby and the strength of character that had enabled the team to win tight matches and even come from behind in the South Pacific proved a not insignificant factor as the domestic season unravelled. Mike was an integral part of the success.

          The All Blacks made a short visit to England and Scotland in the autumn of 1979 when, on a grey Saturday in November at Cross Green, Otley, they were outplayed to the tune of 21-9 by the Northern Division. It was a wonderful shot in the arm for English rugby. The technical efficiency of the North’s forwards undermined the much-vaunted New Zealand pack, and the purposeful play of the home backs enabled them to build an unassailable 17-3 lead. Mike didn’t manage to get on the score-sheet for this game, but his defence as an auxiliary full-back was superb and he played a crucial part in the game’s decisive try.

          The North were leading through a penalty to nil after half-an-hour before Steve Smith put in a low trajectory kick into New Zealand’s half. The All Black defenders were unable to cope with the bobbling ball and Mike Slemen was the first to gather it cleanly before sending Smith scampering over for a try that brought the house down. The North’s win was only the third (but easily the most substantial) by an English division against the touring All Blacks.

          The nucleus of the England 1980 Grand Slam fifteen was built around that victorious Northern Division outfit, with Bill Beaumont carrying on as captain.  Mike’s silken running and subtle changes of pace were assets to a side that coasted past Ireland with a 24-9 win on the opening Saturday of the Five Nations season. He put the world-class mark on everything he did that afternoon, taking his chance brilliantly to capitalise on a Steve Smith blind-side break to put England ahead with a try just before half-time.  Defence was his order in the more hard-fought victories over France in Paris and Wales at Twickenham, but he was on the score-sheet again in the Grand Slam decider at Murrayfield in March. Clive Woodward had an outstanding first half that afternoon and put Mike in for England ’s second try as the champions accelerated into a 16-0 lead. England ’s final margin was 30-18, a fitting way to round off their first Grand Slam since 1957.

          1980 was also a Lions year, the famous tourists setting out for South Africa under the captaincy of Bill Beaumont, the first Englishman to lead the tourists for 50 years. The champion country was well represented, ten of the Grand Slam side accompanying the Lions. Mike was a first-choice for the tour and was described by the doyen of South African critics, Reg Sweet of the Durban Daily News, as “unquestionably the most talented all-rounder of all.”

          The 1980 visit went down as the unlucky tour, the Lions having to call for eight replacements during their 18-match trip. Mike himself only played in five matches, returning home owing to a family illness after the narrow defeat in the first Test. But in his short time on tour he stamped his class on the team and scored one of rugby history’s most memorable tries.

          The Lions were trailing against the South African Invitation XV at altitude in Potchefstrom as the match entered its dying moments. In a desperate effort to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat the tourists launched an incredible attack that went left to right,back and fore …… the ball eventually passing through 40 pairs of hands before Bruce Hay gave the final transfer to Mike on the left wing, who scored the winning try.

          He told the Guardian’s Frank Keating afterwards: “We didn’t actually realise what we’d done until we trooped off and walked past the grandstand, the crowd cheering us to the echo. It was mesmerising. Okay, I finished it off, but it was the third time I’d had a dash in the whole amazing sequence.”

          English rugby, after its annus mirabilis in 1980, fell into decline, though Mike scored THE try of the 1981 Five Nations when he was twice involved in a flowing movement on each side of the pitch. The commentator Peter West reckoned “the try illustrated Slemen’s instinct for keeping himself in the game, and not standing waiting in the wings for something for happen.”  Mike, who felt that that was the most satisfying try he scored in his England career, was also involved in the memorable try scored by Huw Davies that afternoon.

          He lost his place in the England side in 1982-83 but bounced back the next season to become England ’s most-capped wing. He took part in a famous victory over the All Blacks at Twickenham where the late Maurice Colclough, his old Northern Division chum and another with Liverpool connections, scored England ’s decisive try. Then, after a defeat at Murrayfield in the opening match of the 1984 Five Nations, he lost his place to Rory Underwood.

          Mike always believed in putting something back into the game and his loyalty – to rugby union as well as to his employers at Merchant Taylors’, Crosby, where he has been a master for 30-plus years – has been exemplary. Despite offers, he never felt tempted to follow many of his contemporaries by penning an autobiography, staying with the Union code and devoting much of his leisure time to coaching. 

          He played his last first-class match in May 1986, leading Liverpool against Preston Grasshoppers. Fittingly, it was the last match played on his club’s grounds, for the next season the club merged with St Helen’s. Mike was to give many years to the coaching at LSH’s Moss Lane HQ before joining the England coaching set-up in the 1990s. During England ’s Golden Era in international rugby Mike’s quiet authority and intelligence commanded huge respect among the back division that he directed.

          The player once described as “a wing of resplendent athleticism and polished control” was equally effective at polishing the skills of arguably the most successful England three-quarter line of all time.

MIKE SLEMEN STATISTICS - CLICK HERE

FURTHER READING - CLICK HERE

 

 

THE MIKE SLEMEN COLLECTION

       

We are proud to be able to offer a selection of memorabilia collected by Mike over his years as a player and coach. 

A percentage of the sale price for each item will be donated to the rugby charity Wooden Spoon Society, of which Mike is the President of the Merseyside branch.

Each item in the collection is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity personally signed by Mike Slemen. 

CLICK HERE FOR COA SAMPLE 

Please scroll down to see the great selection on offer or click on the links below for individual sections.

ENGLAND, PLAYER & COACH  -  ENGLAND TOUR 1979  -  BRITISH LIONS 1980  - COUNTY & NORTHERN DIVISION  -  CLUB & CELEBRATION  -  UNSIGNED PROGRAMMES  -  TIES

 

 

ENGLAND, PLAYER & COACH - sold out

 

ENGLAND TOUR OF FIJI, JAPAN & TONGA 1979

 

88-npfc.jpg (20569 bytes) 87-npbc.jpg (36998 bytes)

Newspaper - Asahi Evening News with report of Japan v England 2nd Test 1979 on the back page, includes photo of Mike scoring a try.

Ref: PL28-np-gms - £3.25

 

BRITISH LIONS 1980 - sold out

 

COUNTY & NORTHERN DIVISION

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Official Team Photograph - Devon team that played Somerset on 21st October 1972, some discolouration to bottom of photo. 

Ref: PL28-ph-devon-gms - £2.25

47-lancashire-pic.jpg (96421 bytes)  Photograph - Lancshire - County Championship winners 1977, photo mounted onto printed card containing championship details, opponents and scores etc, size 60cm x 38cm (24" x 15"), some water damage to mount. 

Ref: ZN12-E01-10-phla-cc-gms - £4.00

 

 

 

 

CLUB & CELEBRATION - sold out 

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PROGRAMMES - All programmes in this section are accompanied by a COA signed by Mike

E-91.jpg (36712 bytes) Ireland v England

Grand Slam season for England

2 Mar 1991 Dublin 7 - 16 Excellent

Ref: PL28-priniren91-gms - £3.25

 

PRINTS

77-Slemen.jpg (76967 bytes) Mike Slemen 20" x 16" (50cm x 40cm) limited edition (limited to 25) signed print. This print has been personally signed by Mike Slemen. The print run is limited to 25 only with only 20 available for sale to collectors. 

Ref: pt-slemen - £5.00

 

 

TIES - sold out

 

 

END OF COLLECTION

 

 

 

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FURTHER READING - click on the image to enlarge the thumbnail. Articles courtesy of Rugby World

 

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Rugby World - Spotlight on Mike Slemen Rugby World - Article on England wings Peter Squires & Mike Slemen Rugby World - Article on England wings Peter Squires & Mike Slemen (2) Mike Slemen recalled to face Scotland in 1984 Mike Slemen recalled to face Scotland in 1984 (2)

 

MIKE SLEMEN STATISTICS

Born: 11 May 1951

Clubs: Liverpool , St Luke’s College

Debut: v Ireland , 6 March 1976

England career: 1976  I, F,  1977 S, I, F, W,  1978 F, W, S, I, NZ, 1979  S, I, F, W, NZ,  1980 I, F, W, S,  1981 W, S, I, F,  1982  A, S, I, F, W, 1983 NZ, 1984 S

Caps: 31 Points: 32 (Eight tries)

Lions career: Toured South Africa with the 1980 side. Five matches (including the first Test).

Family - Mike and Eileen are reaching their 33rd anniversary. They have two children, Sarah and David. Following in Dad's footsteps as a rugby player, David is currently a fly half in his third year as a professional with the Irish provincial side Connacht . Previously he spent two seasons at the Harlequins.

 

MIKE SLEMEN - PLAYING & COACHING C.V. - CLICK HERE

  

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