Times have changed at rugby HQ

ACTION-PACKED CAREER: Gail Chave has retired after 34 years with the Canterbury Rugby Football Union.
ACTION-PACKED CAREER: Gail Chave has retired after 34 years with the Canterbury Rugby Football Union.

Anti-tour protesters, the switch to professional rugby and earthquakes. In her 34 years of service as an administrator with the Canterbury Rugby Football Union, Gail Chave has experienced plenty.

Chave, who retired last Friday, recalled the day she began at the CRFU's humble offices in Manchester St in early 1979.

Remembering staff names was not difficult - there were just three, including her mother, Mavis Middleton, now 90.

It was a time when chief executives or commercial and marketing departments did not exist.

Instead, a management committee, then headed by secretary Dawson Cunningham, organised the rugby draws each week and the staff did the office work.

Now the CRFU has about 40 people on its books.

The controversial Springboks' tour in 1981 meant Chave and her workmates witnessed the bizarre actions of protesters who walked into the building, splashed blood on the floor and left.

"They weren't threatening," Chave recalled.

"It was just a nuisance."

The biggest inconvenience, she said, was because the staff were told to leave the building just as they were preparing to send out the draws for that weekend's club sporting fixtures to The Press and The Star.

"The worst part was probably when the protesters used to ring and there would be no-one on the other end of the phone. There were also protests down Manchester St but they didn't really hassle us as much as what happened on the day of the games."

One of the most welcome decisions was when the administrators realised it was ridiculous to have men and women occupying different areas of the Canterbury Lounge during aftermatch functions at the back of Lancaster Park's No 1 Stand.

A few women made their feelings known in the 1980s and with the support of CRFU boss Russ Thomas, who later became New Zealand Rugby Union chairman, changes were made.

It is fitting that Chave has an aerial photograph of the "match of the century" - the game when Auckland successfully challenged Canterbury for the Ranfurly Shield at Lancaster Park in 1985 in front of about 52,000 fans - hanging on her wall.

The rush for tickets ensured that she earned her wages that week.

During those days before eftpos, you either paid by cash or cheque and the management committee members, no doubt aware of the risk of a robbery, counted the money as it rolled in and locked it in the safe.

Chave also has a photograph stuck to the fridge in her Christchurch home that epitomises how hyped the World Cup has become.

After the All Blacks' win over France in the inaugural World Cup in 1987, Thomas allowed Chave to take the Webb Ellis Cup and Bledisloe Cup home.

She proudly invited the neighbours to view the trophies and left them in her lounge overnight.

Nowadays you could not get near the Webb Ellis Cup without being monitored by a mob of security staff.

Chave is still a few months shy of turning 65 but refused to leave the CRFU in the winter.

"I thought I couldn't retire in the middle of the season. It's best to retire in the pre-season and give someone else the chance to settle in."

The Press