About 60 years ago Chris Kitto’s rugby career ended, with a banged-up knee and his dreams of Ranfurly Shield or All Blacks glory dashed.
But it never stopped him, and now, after a career doing just about everything else possible the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union has created a medal in his name for services to the game.
In possibly the biggest surprise he’s ever had in the game - “absolutely”, he says – he became the first recipient on Friday at what he thought was the usual thank-you to the union’s volunteers, mainly those in the trenches on match-day at McLean Park, but also others such as referees.
Only a few were inon the secret but they did include his wife-of-54-years Margaret and eldest daughter Debbie, both of whom have also had roles as rugby volunteers .
Even at the age of 20 when playing rugby ended in Wellington, he’d already fashioned a bit of historic relevance with the game.
At the age of 5 , in 1949, his parents and neighbours in the Hutt Valley state housing boom joined forces to start the Naenae Old Boys’ RFC.
He was there on day one, as a player coached by dad Allan Kitto, and having hung-up the boots was still there, himself as a coach and manager, when the club merged with Taita in 1979 to create the Avalon Club.
As a Wellington RFU delegate, volunteering included such things as selling tickets in the queues to help minimise the Athletic Park ticket-office and turnstiles crush and, returning the secretary’s office to “empty the pockets” of notes and coins and help balance-up – a role now replaced by the no-cash era of online booking and ticket scanning.
But progress hasn’t done him out of a job, and, made redundant in the day-job – with the Lands and Surveys Department and then the DSIR – he came to Hawke’s Bay in 1992, soon snapped-up by Napier Tech Old Boys and doing it all again - meetings, grounds, flags and the bar chiller.
He was an experienced chiller-filler, including Athletic Park’s international doubler-header weekend in 1990, when about half a 44 gallon drum of bottles and cans of liquor were confiscated at the gates of the rugby game on the Saturday, and eight drums were confiscated from the rugby league crowd on the Sunday.
His role as a delegate to the HB union, and volunteering on match-day, led him to his own desk at the union, for “something to do”, still volunteering, also helping run all-things necessary to with club rugby, along with such people as legendary club rugby manager and match-day manager Gary Macdonald, and successor Sean Davies.
Where games were once all in the afternoon, the advent of night matches stretched the dayout, from home in time for a late tea to a near midnight in-the-door, to watch the game via the replay.
Stepping-up on Friday night, the limp an everlasting relic of knee-banging days, he said: “I’m not going to say much. It’s a bit of a shock”.
Thanking his wife and family, and the latest wave of volunteers, many of whom emerged when the public were asked to answer the call for two Rugby World Cup matches in Napier in 2011, he said: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the 31 years I’ve been here”.