Lions Memories: Martin Bayfield


Lions Memories: Martin Bayfield

Martin Bayfield stood gripped to a television screen in the middle of Tavistock Street waiting to discover his fate.

The year was 1993 and Bayfield, then a police officer, paused for a brief second during a patrol in his native Bedford to check the Ceefax in the window of Tavistock Hi Fi.

Few shifts were as memorable as that one, as Bayfield discovered he would be touring with The British & Irish Lions to New Zealand.

For Bayfield, selection for the Lions was not something he ever expected, nor was it something he dreamt of as a child, heralding from a family with no history in rugby.

But standing at 6ft10in tall, it would have felt like a waste had Bayfield not eventually found his way into a line out.

His book, A Very Tall Story, accounts his early years as a patrol officer and transformation to second row workhorse before a dabble into the world of Harry Potter and later sports punditry.

It portrays a remarkable story of a larger-than-life character, who recalls enjoying rugby from the very first time he picked up a ball at Beechwood Park School near St Albans.

Bayfield spent his formative years at Bedford Blues, where under the guidance of New Zealand coach Ian Snook, he broke into the England B team in 1990.

“We drew 12-all against the Emerging Wallabies and I had a shocker of a game because I’d picked up a chest infection,” he said.

“Being asthmatic, it didn’t do me any good, but I was too stupid to say I couldn’t play so I wheezed my way through.

“I was dropped for the next match but it was rearranged due to a frozen pitch.

“Sean O’Leary was picked in my place, but he got injured and that good fortune allowed me to make my go on the tour to Australia and Fiji in 1991.”

Bayfield would make the jersey his own during the 1992 Five Nations, as England roared to the Grand Slam.

But when they lost their crown the following year, Bayfield feared his hopes of a Lions call-up were over.

“I never really thought that I was in the mix and after that loss, a lot of us thought we had blown our chances,” said Bayfield.

“I was inexperienced too and thought there were better players than me around.

“I knew the day they were announcing the squad I was on patrol in Bedford in full police uniform watching Ceefax scroll through on the TV in the window.

“I’d missed the first page of Ceefax, so didn’t see my name alphabetically and had to wait for it to scroll past local news, local weather and traffic.

“Finally it got back to page one and I saw my name on the list. I headed back to the police station and made an appointment to see my superintendent.

“I asked for 45 days special leave and he said, ‘well, regulations allow me to give you two.’ There was a brief pause and I looked at him thinking, ‘oh god I’m going to have to take a load of unpaid leave.’

“Then he just smiled and said, ‘of course you can, it would be an honour,’ and that was it and off I went on a Lions Tour.”

The final Lions expedition of the amateur era was certainly one to remember according to Bayfield.

While the Test series ended in defeat, with the All Blacks winning the decider, Bayfield reflects fondly on the eight weeks which he describes as the best of his rugby career.

“What makes me realise what an amazing tour it was, was that my sister came out to watch us with her husband and emigrated to New Zealand on the back of that tour,” he said.

“She says she has lost count of the number of times she has mentioned in conversation that her brother played for the Lions and people respond, ‘oh yes, the 93 Lions, that was a hell of a Tour.’

Upon conclusion of the tour Bayfield returned home and resumed his job as a police officer while also turning out for Northampton Saints at weekends.

He played in the 1995 Rugby World Cup and won the last of his 34 England caps during another glorious Five Nations campaign in 1996, but nothing topped the honour of being a Lions tourist.

For Bayfield, the Lions continues to be a truly unique sporting institution which unites people in a way few other teams can.

“Each Tour exists in splendid isolation because that Lions team will never, ever play together again,” he said.

“It’s so rare for any Test team to be the same for consecutive matches. Often there is an injury or a tactical change.

“Then you’ve got players who have been at each other’s throats for years who all of a sudden have to win a game together.

“The Red Rose of England connects me to the likes of Ollie Chessum all the way back to the very first England team.

“But as soon as you wear a Lions jersey that links you to the Welsh, the Irish and the Scots and that is an incredibly powerful connection that lasts a lifetime.”

Bayfield’s book, A Very Tall Story, is available for purchase now

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