Ralph and Backgammon by Matthew Fisher
I have known Ralph since around 1990, just over 25 years.
We first met at the Midland Wheel, a casino in Edgbaston, playing backgammon at their then Friday night backgammon competition. We soon became (I like to think) close friends, with a passion for playing the game. A number of us (through another player, Roger Heart) got together and formed our own Chouette Club, meeting on Wednesdays and Sundays. We played in a café, part of a suite of offices, converted from a 19th Century factory in Bradford Street, near the centre of Birmingham. They were heady days of £5 a point double Chouettes. We always played on to the early hours of the morning. In fact, on one occasion we had to leave because of people arriving for work the next morning!
The Chouette Club was killed off by poker – which was another passion of Ralph’s, second only to backgammon – which progressively became the main game being played at the café.
At which point Ralph and myself – though Ralph was the driving force, I was there just helping it to happen – set up the Birmingham Backgammon Club around 1992. We didn’t want a club of hardened gamblers. In fact none of the other Chouette Club players joined us. We wanted a club for those who enjoyed playing backgammon purely for the fun of the game itself. Money was to be, and always be, secondary (which I strive to continue as one of the core values of the club). Also we wanted the club to be inclusive for anyone who wanted to play Backgammon and so we were always open (and still are) to teach and show beginners how to play.
The club started out at the Moseley Rugby Club and our first members were Fak and Steve Malins, who we had met at one of BIBA’s tournaments. Not long after starting we had to move as the Rugby Club was moving itself. We looked at a number of venues and for a while we met at a wine bar called The Cross in the centre of Moseley Village, until we settled in our present home and have been there ever since.
The club went from strength to strength under the passionate driving force of Ralph. He welcomed every new member with open arms, making sure that everyone felt included. Each week he organised different competitions and we ran an 11-point league each year. At the same time a club had been formed in Bristol. Ralph helped organise yearly inter-Club tournaments where we would send a team down to Bristol and vice versa they would send a team to us. The host club provided the catering.
Not long after Ralph retired, about fifteen years ago, he and Val (definitely his better half) decided to move to the Malverns. This meant that he had to pass the mantle of keeping our club going on to other hands. Dave Motley took on the task very successfully.
Even though Ralph lived too far away to regularly attend our weekly sessions, he has always kept a place in his heart for our club, in the way that we have for him. Whenever he could support us he has, and since Mike Wood, together with Rose, has been running our annual tournament Ralph has attended each year, and very much approved of what Mike has achieved (especially his apple pies).
I say it was too far, but in the last 12 months or so he been driven up almost every week, up to about 3 months ago, by his wonderful wife, Val, to attend the Club. I believe he knew he was dying (though he told no one at the Club). Which I think shows how much he loved our Club. That in his last few months he wanted to spend time with us playing his favourite game.
Ralph, I will miss you and thanks for so many wonderful hours in your company.