Tributes to a Maidenhead Rugby Club legend have poured in since his sudden death on the evening of Sunday 11th March 2018. Tony Brooks, who was the club’s director of rugby and coach of its Colts team, passed away at his home in Bray Road aged 57.
He had not been ill and his daughter, Charlotte Hamill, 27, said it was ‘totally unexpected’ to his family.“He was everything you could ask for,” she said. “He has been our number one supporter in every single way. He has taught us everything we need to get through this as well. He has done his job as a dad.”
She believed a ‘massive heart attack’ could have caused his death as he watched rugby on TV, hours after his Colts team won 45-0 against Chinnor.
Tony played for the Barbarians, a team which players from various countries are invited to join for special matches. He also turned out for England under-23s, under-19s and under-16s.
Born in Plymouth, Tony followed his rugby-loving father Peter, who was in the Royal Navy, around the world. He took after his dad, being interested in rugby from an early age. After attending Plymouth College he went to the University of Oxford, where he studied Fine Art – and Charlotte said he was a ‘really talented artist’.
Oxford University RFC's website:
We are very sad to announce that the former Oxford back-row forward Tony Brooks has passed away. The 57-year-old died at home while watching his beloved rugby on TV on Sunday night, his family have said. Tony won three Blues for Oxford in 1980, 81 and 82 whilst studying at Hertford College after coming up from Plymouth College. On leaving Oxford Tony went on to play for Bath and Rosslyn Park, he also represented England under-19s, under-23s and the Barbarians invitational side. Latterly he was heavily involved with Maidenhead RFC. Both of the pictures below are from the Oxford University match against the Wallabies in 1981 at Iffley Road.
The caption to the second picture: Simon Halliday and Stuart Barnes tackle an Australian back, whilst Tony Brooks as the excellent back row forward he was, approaches to pounce on any loose ball.
His rugby career saw him play for Bath, Rosslyn Park and then move to Maidenhead, where he went into a coaching role.
At Bath RFC Tony weighed in at 17.5st in his prime.Tony made his Blue, Black and White debut against Otley in April 1982 and the last of his 16 appearances against Glamorgan Wanderers two years later. Their tribute to him was on the 30th March 2018 during the Anglo-Welsh Cup Final versus Exeter:
Rosslyn Park RFC's newsletter:
We were devastated to be confronted with the terrible news of the sudden and untimely death of our former player and skipper, Tony Brooks, at the age of 57. Tony led the Club when we were one of the top sides in the land. At 6’2” and 15 stone he would not have been a big number 8 nowadays, but he was a Colossus at the back of the Park pack, and well ahead of his time in terms of mobility and ball-handling skills in open play. He read the game superbly. He was educated at Plymouth College and Oxford University – where he earned his ‘blue’ playing in the Hundredth Varsity Match, the year that 3 inches of snow covered the pitch – and he played for Plymouth Albion and Bath, plus county Rugby for Devon, before joining Rosslyn Park. It is no coincidence that the Plymouth College, Oxford, Plymouth Albion pedigree mirrors that of a previous Rosslyn Park stalwart in the person of Peter Berryman. It was Peter who spotted Brooksie when taking Park on the annual West Country tour, and used those similarities to persuade him to join Park. “I would describe him as the thinking man’s number 8”, recalled Peter, “he read the game brilliantly. If he had been just two inches taller he might well have been the best in the country. I had a chat with him after the match to persuade him that if he ever came to London then Rosslyn Park was the club to join”. The rest, as they say, is history. Peter added, “His death at such a young age is just an absolute tragedy”. Barbarian Tony Played his first match for Park on 1 September 1984, a 15-10 win over Vale of Lune, in which one of his powerful runs set up Park’s second try. After joining Park Tony played his County Rugby for Surrey, at a time when playing for the county was a key stepping stone to the England side. He represented England at Under-16, Under-19 (including 7s) and under-23 level and was a Barbarian; as a senior he was one of the best top-level number 8s not to be capped. His loyalty to Park may even have cost him more representative honours when he resisted siren voices with “connections” that tried to lure him elsewhere. Below a try versus Thurrock:
He took over the captaincy in 1987-88, the first season of League Rugby. Park were placed in League 2 and won promotion to the top division, beating Northampton 22-0 to claim the title. Life was a bit of a struggle in the top tier the following season, but wins over Moseley, Bristol, Waterloo, Liverpool St Helens and Orrell kept Park in the top tier. The 1989-90 season was Tony’s last as skipper. Park won their first two matches (against Nottingham and Moseley) to top the table.
On Tony’s retirement as skipper an extant Rosslyn Park newsletter reported, “One of the longest and loudest bursts of applause at the AGM greeted the adoption of a vote of thanks to the retiring Club Captain. Tony took over the captaincy at a difficult time for the Club and proved his mettle leading us out of the Second Division and his understanding of the challenge posed by the First Division environment was instrumental in the Club’s retaining its position at the level”. The following season, Park were relegated without winning a League match (which is no reflection whatsoever on his successor, Richard Moon, but emphasises the difficulties Park had faced).
It was no surprise that Tony had ended up being skipper, he was always a natural leader, spoke well and had a natural air of authority that was untainted by ego. Mind you, some of his more Churchillian team talks were not always listened to with 100% silent respect by the younger members of the squad. Flanker Matt Hill recalls, “I played with Brooksie at the “Park’ for many years, a good few of which he was the captain. A number 8, he was part of the back row that at the time generally consisted of Brooksie 8 and a combination of Tim Hyde, Peter Tayler and myself at 6 and 7. Far too good looking to be a forward with an unblemished face, it was hard to tell what Brooksie did but he had the hands and mind to add great balance to the unit. “As the captain his pre-game team talks exalting the troops to greater efforts could be blown apart by a choice of phrase: ‘young thrusters’ reminding us that our places were under threat springs to mind. Having built us up to fever pitch, the dressing room would dissolve into childish laughter. For those that were there the talk down at Llanelli involving, "We in this room are a team but we… pull it in… tighter, we the forwards are f…... family”. Hydie and I were grinning and Karl Shuler was in tears. He was a good fella”.
Another member of that superb back row, Tim Hyde, heard the news in Baha California, and got in touch to say, “Shocked and really upset to hear about Brooksie. Please pass on my respects and condolences for a lovely man. In terms of memories I suppose the main one is the long term scar he has left on my self-esteem by being so goddam beautiful - and always unmarked after a game - how? Admittedly, as Noddy [Andy Holder] says, not much competition from Matt, Pete and me but never understood how he did it. A perfect gent and a lovely human being”. Tony played in numerous important matches for Park, but when asked what his favourite moment was he replied, “Waking up and seeing the snow had fallen overnight causing the cancellation of Orrell away”. (He also said his worst Rugby moment was being beaten to the breakdown by prop John Reid). After retiring from Rosslyn Park he became Director of Rugby at his local club, Maidenhead, where he was still Head Coach of the Colts team. It was there that David Hitchcock bumped into him. “I went down to Maidenhead RFC with a Hatters team just after he'd retired. We arrived at Maidenhead to be greeted by the massive "Next Match" boards emblazoned with Today at 3.00PM Maidenhead vs Rosslyn Park. We were watched by a crowd rather larger than we were used to. Tony came down to watch. He stayed on afterwards for a beer and a long chat with the team. One of his 1st XV buddies at Plymouth College, Kim Rowe, used to play in the row for the Hatters ... oh, and the Hatters were victorious ..."
“For my 40th I was given a second hand copy of "The Centenary History of the RFU" and strangely inside it was a cutting from the Telegraph reporting the 100th Varsity game. Tony featured in that game and also managed a sub-head: "Storming Brooks". Also I was down at the East Grinstead Sunshine 7s last year and they use an historic photo in their programme each year of Tony collecting the winners Rosebowl from Lady Astor”:
He met his future wife Caroline, now 59, after she said to a friend that she would like to marry a rugby-playing artist. That friend happened to know Tony. As well as Charlotte, he leaves two other children – James, 25, a property consultant, and Annabel, 19, a University of Bath student.
The family has taken heart from the volume of messages they have seen, including colleagues and Rugby World Cup winner Will Greenwood, who is involved with Maidenhead RFC. “We have lost one of the loveliest human beings to have walked the planet,” the former England star tweeted.
Maidenhead captain Myke Parrott said the club was ‘devastated’ and ‘extremely upset’ to lose ‘a really, really good guy’ and would attempt to clinch a play-off spot in the league in his memory.
Head coach Russell Bolton said: “I had a really positive working relationship with him that became more than a working relationship. I was pleased to call him a friend for three years.”
Tony, who also played for Maidenhead and Bray Cricket Club, was well-known and respected in the professional rugby fraternity.
Tributes from former team-mates, fellow coaches and parents of youngsters he coached spoke of a "gentleman", "mentor" and "true legend" of the club.
Charlotte said of the tributes: “It has been absolutely incredible. We were proud of him anyway, but it has made us so, so proud of what he achieved in his life and how many people he touched.”
Berkshire County RFU would also like to send our heart-felt condolences to Tony's family and all of his friends and colleagues. And to thank him for all his support of county rugby in Berkshire especially with our U20s and using his knowledge and impartiality to select for South West U20s.
Funeral arrangements: Monday 16th April 2018, 3pm at Easthampstead Park Crematorium, South Road, Bracknell, Wokingham RG40 3DW and afterwards from 5.15pm at Maidenhead RFC, Braywick Road, Maidenhead SL6 1BN.
Updated 31st March 2018