Gullivers’ last Lions Tour was to Australia, where over 1,200 clients were there to witness the Lions secure an emphatic Series victory.
34 staff worked over 27 different tour options, taking in the sights of Perth, Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne along the way. Some of our clients even caught the match in Hong Kong on their way out to Australia, as well as some extending their stay in beautiful Fiji.
The infamous Gullivers Big Pubs and Rugby Forums were a hit, with plenty of sightseeing and excursion inclusions away from the rugby including Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, Cape Tribulation, whale watching in Moreton Bay and a visit to Melbourne’s infamous Yarra Valley, all helping to create memories of a lifetime.
A ground-breaking tour in so many ways. The first post-apartheid visit by the Lions following the cancellation of the 1986 tour and the first of the professional rugby era. Coached by McGeechan and Telfer - no rugby player or supporter can forget Telfer’s often quoted “this is your Everest” speech where Telfer outlines the “awesome responsibility” the forwards have and how “being picked is the easy bit.”
Pictured below is that same (youthful looking) forward pack, including Tim Rodber, Tom Smith and Neil Back boarding a Gullivers Coach heading for their Heathrow departure flight. Gullivers handled the Squad’s travel back in 1997 and carried a (then) record number of Lions fans.
1997 also saw the rise of Gullivers ‘big pubs’. These exclusive venues remain the best place to absorb the relaxed rugby club atmosphere, mixing with fellow travellers and ex players always culminating in a rugby singsong. Customers who have joined us for the Hong Kong Sevens or many of our Six Nations weekends will confirm the fantastic ‘old school’ rugby club feel our Lions pubs offer - exclusively to Gullivers clients, of course!
The brave Gullivers Barbarians take on their Australian counterparts in Brisbane. A memorable part of a Gullivers tour, you’re never too old to put your boots on and enjoy a run around against local opponents, with the emphasis firmly on friendly, favourable results are celebrated and otherwise forgotten but always celebrated in the bar.
For players and supporters it’s a great opportunity be part of a local rugby club.
The 1989 tour was also memorable for the Lions themselves who return home with a 2-1 series win.
The Lions first visited New Zealand in 1888 but it was some 100 years later in 1983 that Gullivers offered the first ever Official British & Irish Lions New Zealand Supporters Tour, and we have been interwoven into the fabric of travelling Lions fans ever since!
Pictured above is the 1983 Gullivers ‘Western Tour’ to New Zealand with Bill Beaumont CBE. The photo was taken in the park next to the Hyatt Hotel in Auckland.
A little over 260 intrepid supporters took the trip. ‘The Westerner Tour’ was with Bill Beaumont which travelled out via Los Angeles while the ‘Easterner Tour’ with the great Gareth Edwards travelled out via the Far East.
John ‘Fez’ Davison lead ‘The Blitz Tour’ which was a 10-day whistle stop trip - not for the fainthearted.
The Lions squad, coached by the legendary Jim Telfer, were subjected to a 4-0 whitewash, losing the first 3 tests to fairly narrow margins before a 38-6 drubbing at Eden Park, Auckland on the 16th July 1983. This still stands as the Lions largest ever test defeat!
Our first Lions tour was to South Africa in 1980 following Bill Beaumont’s side as they enjoyed a clean sweep of all 14 of the non-international matches, while losing the four test series to the Boks 3-1.
Above is a telex(!) received from a customer, Mr Bob Handyside - which still has pride of place in the Managing Director’s office here at Fiddington Manor! Our telex machine may have been replaced by email, but the values Bob mentions in terms of our efficiency and having the Gullivers executive team on the ground for every Lions tour (and all of our other major events) is very much still the case.
You never forget your first Lions tour.
For me, it was 2001 to Australia - a mere 14 years ago - a blink of an eye in Gullivers' terms! I can still vividly remember the moments of ecstasy at the Gabba in Brisbane, as Jason Robinson skated in for his try right in front of us - sat, as we were - a handful of rows up from the corner flag. I equally remember the agony of a series defeat at Stadium Australia, Sydney - three phenomenal weeks later - sitting dejected in my seat as John Eales addressed the Wallaby fans and thanked them for their support.
This was tinged with a bit of irony, given the Wallabies' victory was secured in front of a massive army of red shirted Lions followers packing out every match, drowning the players in a sensory blanket of support.
”You’re only wearing yellow ‘cos it’s free” we chanted, as we walked past the ARU promotions team in Melbourne busily handing out complimentary green and gold scarves to try and address the visual imbalance in the stands.
The Lions' last visit to New Zealand in 2005 was an equally unhappy tale in terms of the on-field results. From the fan’s perspective, I remember the tension in the bone-chillingly freezing Christchurch air as we, and the Lions, awaited the first Haka of the series. Some two minutes after the first whistle, we were on our feet, blood boiling (along with thousands all over the rugby planet) screaming blue murder following the inversion (and destruction) of our fearless Captain, Brian ‘Waltzing’ O’Driscoll.
This was the tour when we chartered our own floating clubhouse - the Pacific Sun P&O cruise ship - which followed the team from Christchurch up to Auckland stopping frequently to re-stock the bar, of course! The events and atmosphere were treasured memories for those on board and remain a strong part of the Gullivers history. Many of those staff are looking forward to returning in 2017.
12 years on and the Lions have begun making their preparations for a return to the home of the world champion All Blacks. At Gullivers, we are currently preparing for the series (pending our appointment for the 10th time as an Official Agent for the tour) but the speculation in Fiddington Manor is already underway. McCaw and Carter’s retirements will leave some big holes in the AB’s arsenal. Who of the new cap generation of the 2016 RBS 6 Nations will be putting their hand up for early consideration?
The first and third tests will be in Auckland. Those who witnessed the third and final test dismissal of Clive Woodward’s team will testify that Eden Park is a cauldron of excitement from minute 1-80. Auckland itself is wonderful city with great links to the surrounding country. One for the bucket list of every true rugby fan. Tickets to the 2nd test in Wellington’s “Cake tin” will be like gold-dust, given there are only 34,500 seats and rather fewer hotel beds than necessary!