Bone of contention is up for grabs again
MAKE no bones about it - the trophy on offer to the winner of this Saturday's game between Streatham-Croydon and Esher is probably the scariest one in world sport.
The two clubs go head to head tomorrow for The Skull and Goalposts, the first time the ghoulish prize has been up for grabs in 20 years.
SKELETON SIDE: Steve Tillin holds The Skull and Goalposts trophy ahead of tomorrow's game at Streatham-Croydon Picture by Stephen Lynch
With semi-professional Esher now plying their trade in the RFU Championship and Streatham in the bottom tier of the Surrey rugby pyramid, it will not be the clash of first team sides that it once was.
Instead, the Thornton Heath club's first XV will take on Esher's fourth team - the Priors - with the Streatham seconds and thirds also playing games against Esher sides of corresponding ability, with the club that wins the most matches collecting the trophy.
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The original owner of The Skull - first played for in 1962 - has been lost to legend, but Streatham's Steve Tillin, who played in the fixture in 1991 and expects to compete again on Saturday, remembers what it was all about.
"Calling it a trophy does not come near to describing what it stood for," he said.
"It was a feeling, a tradition, indeed, a metaphor for the reason that we had all chosen to play this great game of rugby in the first place."
The link with Esher is not as peculiar as it might seem. A glance at Streatham's old fixture lists reveals the names of Saracens, London Welsh, London Irish, Rugby, Exeter and Northampton - all regular opponents and an indication of the level the club used to play.
Before the advent of the league system, domestic rugby consisted of friendly matches against other clubs. Status was determined by the quality of the opposition on a fixture card.
Major clubs rubbed shoulders with old boys' sides, hospital teams and banks. A good performance by lesser lights kept them on the fixture lists of their more illustrious rivals.
A feature of the season was the block fixture with several sides from each club playing each other on the same day. Streatham used to have six sides taking on Esher at home - some games on Purley Way playing fields - and six games away.
This weekend sees that idea return for the younger generation, although with only three games instead of 12.
Tillin added: "Streatham might be smaller than it once was, it may have skipped a level or two and the roof may leak, but it is still Streatham-Croydon and Esher are still Esher."