Rugby club pays tribute to former captain and president

'Club stalwart': The late Billy Cross. Pic courtesy of Banbridge RFC
'Club stalwart': The late Billy Cross. Pic courtesy of Banbridge RFC

Banbridge Rugby Club has paid tribute to former captain and president Billy Cross, who passed away on October 23.

Described as “a club stalwart”, Mr Cross served Banbridge RFC for many years, as a player and later as a selector, president and a trustee.

Billy started playing rugby while a pupil at Belfast Royal Academy and Banbridge Academy. He joined the town club in 1951 and before long was selected for the First XV, becoming a regular on the side for some 17 seasons.

He was part of the Bann side that contested the Towns’ Cup final against Portadown in 1957. The News Letter report on that game said that “Cross, at full-back, was over-worked but he never made a mistake”.

A tribute piece on the club’s Facebook page said: “Whether playing in the familiar 15 shirt, or lining out at out-half, as the selectors required, Billy’s kicking and handling skills were always evident. He took particular pleasure from playing his part when Bann, then a junior side, recorded friendly wins over Ballymena and Dungannon!”

Billy was elected club captain three times, filling that role in the 1958/59 season and from 1965-67.

When his playing days were over he did not take his leave of the club, but played a full part in its running, serving as President for a total of three seasons and acting as selector during Bann’s heady seasons as a top junior club in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He was also the club’s representative on the Ulster Branch Clubs’ Committee for nearly 20 years. And when the club was moving from its old base at the Downshire Arms Hotel to its new clubhouse in 1981 and trustees were needed, Billy willingly put his hand up.

“Those are the bald facts. But they don’t paint the full picture of a man who gave so much to the club, on and off the pitch,” the club’s tribute continued. “He was a founder member of the ‘Old Farts’ Club’, which met after games in the ‘back room’. And he regularly regaled his fellow members with tales from past games and stories of the characters he had met during his playing days.

“Billy was an enthusiastic supporter of all the Banbridge teams, from Firsts to Fifths, naturally taking a particular interest when one of his sons, Stephen or Jeffrey, was playing. He was never slow to offer his opinion on how any of the players was performing or indeed how well the match official was carrying out his role! But underneath all the pithy comments, and some of them could be barbed, was a great love for the game and for the Banbridge club.

“Rugby was so much a part of Billy’s life, and he was so much a part of his local club, and he will be sadly missed at Rifle Park.”

Mr Cross’ funeral service took place at Roselawn Crematorium on Wednesday, October 25.