Armed Forces, Rugby League and Sausage Dogs…

Ben Taylor - Ourvoice

Ben Taylor
Royal Navy and Armed Forces Rugby League

24th Jan 2020

Buck’s my Royal Navy nickname and that’s what the lads call me on the field. I always introduce myself to the referee as Buck Taylor to avoid any confusion. In the navy it’s a tradition that certain names have certain nicknames. Apparently, Buck Taylor was known as the original ‘king of the cowboys’ in the Wild West.

I play Rugby League for the Royal Navy and UK Armed Forces, and I’ve captained them both. I’ve been an engineer in the navy since 2008 and I fix helicopters for HMS Heron at Yeovilton in Somerset. When I’m not there I live in Stanley near Wakefield.

Being away from home – and Steph – is a real downside, but overall it’s a good life. It probably suits my personality. I grew up in a rugby family with two brothers, Sam and Joe, so I’m used to that sort of environment.

Ben Taylor - Ourvoice
 

I'd captained Stevo a few times for GB Armed Forces, it was a loss that really shook the Forces RL Community, but the RAF did him and his family proud. 

I did well at school, but I didn’t want to stay on. That sort of learning environment didn’t interest me. I looked into apprenticeships – plastering and so on – but then I thought about the armed forces. It was Sam going to military college that put the idea in my head. He was on course to join the RAF but knackered his knees and that was that.

Once I was in the Royal Navy, I climbed the ranks fairly quickly. I don’t mind leading and I’ve never struggled with the physical side of thing. And although I would never have gone to university, I’ve ended up with a degree in aeronautical engineering.

One of the first things they do in the navy is find out what sports you play. I remember we formed a line and this big Welsh bloke came down the line asking the questions. ‘Rugby League’ I told him. He looked me up and down, shrugged his shoulders and carried on walking. I proved him wrong though!

I’d grown up playing rugby. I went to Stanley Rangers when I was four. My best pal John’s dad, Mark McDermott (Toronto coach Brian McDermott’s brother) took us down. Sam and Joe both played there too.

Ben Taylor - Ourvoice

Our coach Steve Lockton is passionate about involving our families in our rugby because he understands the sacrifices they make

Stanley was my club all the way. I’m not one for flitting about. I was also on the Wakefield Trinity scholarship scheme. Adam Milner was in my year group. But when I got to about 16, they said they couldn’t offer me a full-time contract. My dad, John, reckoned they’d pick me up from Stanley eventually anyway if they wanted me, so I planned to carry on playing there. But then I ended up down south in the navy.

I’d always been one of the biggest players, at least until I was 16 and all the other kids caught up, so I’ve always played in the forwards. That’s where I play in the navy. I got near enough straight in.

Until last year, the team were doing really well. We won the interservices competition back-to-back, which was really special. It had never been done by the navy before. Last season, with a lot of injuries and deployments, we were really up against it with a strong Army side and a RAF team that really banded together following the tragic loss of their teammate, SAC Scott Stevenson, the week before. I'd captained Stevo a few times for GB Armed Forces, it was a loss that really shook the Forces RL Community, but the RAF did him and his family proud.

Ben Taylor - Ourvoice

I was out walking the dog when a line popped into my head and I thought: ‘there’s something in that!’

The team was so excited about getting together for the Challenge Cup this year. Our coach Steve Lockton is passionate about involving our families in our rugby because he understands the sacrifices they make. Bringing families down to our games and creating a club-like environment really helps the team. 

Steph and I have been together for 11 years. We met at school. She’s a psychiatric nurse with the NHS. My Mum, Fiona, is a nurse too. Dad worked on the railways. Growing up, my dad and Mark McDermott were the biggest influences on me. They took us to rugby, and they took us everywhere. Our junior coach Ian Sampson was another big influence. We go to the Challenge Cup final together every year. He’s only missed one in 50-odd years and that was for the birth of his daughter. And his brother Rocky has done 42 consecutive finals!

When I’m back home on leave, I like to spend time in the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District. Just me, Steph and Barbara. Barbara’s our sausage dog – a dachshund with a bit of terrier thrown in. She’s a rescue dog. Masham is our favourite place, although we like anywhere where there’s decent ale!

The first poem I wrote was about Barbara. Growing up I’d had an interest in Yorkshire dialect. There was a fella called Dennis Rhodes from Wakefield and I discovered his poems on the internet, listened to them and them. I found out years after he’d died that I’d played rugby with his grandson Craig at Stanley.

Ben Taylor - Ourvoice

When New Zealand came over to play England in 2016, I even had Sam Burgess and Ryan Hall messaging me.

I was out walking the dog when a line popped into my head and I thought: ‘there’s something in that!’. I wrote my first poem there and then and it only took me two minutes to write. I sent it as a voice message to Steph and my mates – they were all laughing when I met up with ‘em.

After that, I started writing a few more, just keeping things between myself and friends. When my mate Chris, a proud Yorkshireman, moved out to Australia I wrote a poem dedicated to his new-born son. It’s called ‘For Joshua: An Introduction to t' Yorkshire Dialect’. It’s on my Facebook page.

Things went a bit mad on the internet after that. Now I’m YorkshireProse on Facebook and @yorkshireprose on Twitter! Everything I write about is what I’m passionate about or interested in. Remembrance Day is something that’s always been important to me – even before I was in the forces. It’s in my blood. My first poem about Remembrance Day was called ‘Remember’ and it went so well that TV got interested and the British Legion approached me to get involved with the Poppy campaign as an ambassador to help them get the message out through my social media channels. When New Zealand came over to play England in 2016, I even had Sam Burgess and Ryan Hall messaging me.

In 2018, the legion initiated ‘Everyone Remembered’ – a campaign to encourage people to remember one of the millions who died in World War I. In the local graveyard, I found the grave of J T Newby of the Coldstream Guards, who’d died in the war at the age of 28 – the same age I was. I wrote a poem called ‘Stanley's Guardsman’ in his memory.

Winning that series as captain was very special and the tone of remembrance all way through the series was really important to me.

In the same year, the Australian Navy came here in November to play the Royal Navy for the Armistice Cup. It was a ‘festival of remembrance’ and we whitewashed them 3-0. Beating Australia is always brilliant, and pulling on a navy shirt at Belle Vue, Wakefield’s home ground, was something special. Winning that series as captain was very special and the tone of remembrance all way through the series was really important to me.

When England played New Zealand at Anfield in 2018, I sorted tickets for the lads from both teams and got to read out my remembrance poem on the pitch before the game.

Being selected for Great Britain Armed Forces and getting to wear the lion on my chest was another massive highlight for me. I was captain for the 2017 World Cup when we reached the semi-finals. Two years earlier, we’d played Australia in a one-off test at the Suncorp Stadium as a curtain raiser to the State of Origin match. We were leading all the way through until they scored the winning try in the last minute. It was heart-breaking.

I’m lucky enough to have toured Australia twice and New Zealand, but we’ve never been successful Down Under. The Australians are cheating buggers!

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