Obituary: Micky Steele-Bodger, veterinary surgeon, England rugby internationalist, selector and administrator

Micky Steele-Bodger in 2000 (Picture: Neil Hanna)
Micky Steele-Bodger in 2000 (Picture: Neil Hanna)
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Micky Steele-Bodger, veterinary surgeon, rugby internationalist and administrator. Born: 4 September 1925 in Tamworth, Staffordshire. Died: 9 May 2019, aged 93

Micky Steele-Bodger who has died aged 93 was a leading and much loved figure in the rugby world over many years, an outstanding ambassador for the sport as a player, administrator and the ultimate enthusiast.

A pocket battleship-sized flanker whose teams included Edinburgh University, he was capped nine times for England in post-war internationals before his career was cruelly cut short by injury aged 24, after which he moved into the administrative side of the game, becoming an England selector at 28.

Thereafter he held a series of prestigious positions including President of the Rugby Football Union in 1973, Chair of the International Rugby Board [now World Rugby] in 1981, Chair of the Home Rugby Unions Tours Committee responsible inter alia for Lions tours and President of the Barbarians since 1988, only their sixth in over 120 years.

He was closely associated with the exclusive invitation club whose values of open running rugby, camaraderie and sportsmanship he wholeheartedly endorsed. Similarly his name is forever linked with his renowned select team-‘Steele-Bodger’s XV’ – who play Cambridge University in the lead up to the annual Varsity match against Oxford and has done so since 1948. In 1990 he was awarded the CBE for services to the sport.

Outwith rugby he was a successful veterinary surgeon in the family practice in Tamworth, Staffordshire and later Chair of the East India Club in St James’s Square, London before being appointed its Life President.

As a player he first came to prominence at Cambridge University playing in wartime Varsity matches leading to selection three times for England in what were known as Victory Internationals in 1945/6. After the war he played twice in Varsity matches captaining the team in 1946 and winning two Blues.

Although only 5’8” and relatively lightweight for a forward he more than made up for it with his terrier-like approach and all action style of play.

Bill McLaren, who played against him once in direct opposition described him in his autobiography as “a nifty little operator’” while Harlequins Rugby club whom he also represented referred to him in their history as “ a wing forward of the light skirmishing type… who seemed to be everywhere at once.”

Continuing his veterinary studies at Edinburgh University he was a valued member of their teams in 1947 and ’48 which won the Scottish Universities’ Championship, considered one of their outstanding post war forwards.

A curious footnote to his Edinburgh career came during the 1948 Scotland-England game at Murrayfield. He found himself in direct opposition at scrum-half to university clubmate Gus Black, as Steele-Bodger covered for the injured English scrum-half. According to one report, “All blond curly hair and bow legs, he played as to the manner born.’

In seasons 1947 and ’48 he played in all England’s Five Nations’ matches and their match against the touring Australians. He was first selected for the Barbarians in 1946 as an uncapped flanker and in total represented them 13 times, captaining them twice.

In January 1948 he played in their first game against international opposition, Australia, at Cardiff Arms Park where good follow up work led to his scoring the first try, which none of the Home Nations had managed against the tourists.

This was the first occasion the Barbarians had had a practice session the day before a game. Their motto “Rugby Football is a game for gentlemen of all classes but never for a bad sportsman of any class” neatly encapsulated his approach for the club which was: “We play to win but not at all costs.”

He thoroughly enjoyed his time with them and was hugely appreciated by all involved. Scott Hastings remembered him fondly: “A real gent who welcomed all the players individually and had a genuine interest in them.

“He fostered a Corinthian spirit but still managed to embrace professionalism. A lovely man.”

When first asked in 1948 to field a select team to play Cambridge before the Varsity match he agreed to do so on two conditions–that he was the sole selector and there would be a formal dinner afterwards, and the match became a vital part of the ‘Light Blues’ preparation for Twickenham.

He also played for Harlequins and Moseley and was the last surviving Harlequin to have played for them during the War. While training at Moseley in 1949 he badly injured knee ligaments which brought an end to his playing career.

Michael Roland Steele-Bodger was born at Tamworth, younger son of Henry William and Kathrine nee Macdonald. His father was a well-known veterinary surgeon and elder brother Alasdair also became an eminent vet. Steele-Bodger attended Rugby School where he began playing rugby, mostly at scrum-half.

After leaving school he went to Caius College at Cambridge University before continuing his studies at Edinburgh. As a youngster he was an Aston Villa fan but began to lose interest in football when he thought players “were not giving everything all the time” while he began to find rugby “a compulsive game that dragged you in and you didn’t want to stop”.

He was passionate about the sport and as a convivial individual appreciated the friendships it gave him in all walks of life all over the world. He also acknowledged it had given him ‘a helluva’ lot of fun too’.

In 1955 he married Violet Mary St Clair nee Murray, known as ‘Muff’, and they had three children during a long and happy marriage, Guy, Duncan and Clair. He is survived by his wife, children, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren.