There’ll be a few lumps in the throat around Rectory Field tomorrow afternoon when Blackheath emerge from the changing room for their final match of the 2014/15 campaign.
For a majority of the last decade, the Club faithful have been accustomed to the reassuring sight of Tom Bason leading out their side, clutching his black head-guard ready for the fray, and flanked on either side by two excited mascots from the junior section of the club.
But just before 3 pm tomorrow, the 6’ 6” second-row will lead his team on to the field of play for the last time, and the final whistle will signal the 32-year old’s retirement from competitive rugby.
‘I made the decision at the start of the season,’ said Tom. ‘I want to stop while I’m still playing well enough to hold a First XV place and not watch my form slip away.’
‘I joined Blackheath in 2004 as a young single 22-year old after completing my degree at Loughborough University and a year in Australia (playing for Parramatta in Sydney). Now, I have a young family (Tom’s wife Charlie is expecting their second child in September) and career. It’s time to put these responsibilities first.’
Quickly establishing himself as a First XV regular, Tom was appointed captain after just one year at the Club. In 2008 he moved aside in favour of experienced hooker Liam Wordley, but when his successor Matt Leek retired early through injury in December 2009, Tom stepped up again and has remained in situ ever since.
His leadership qualities have never been questioned. Indeed, it was his return to fitness in January 2014 that inspired Blackheath to turn around their season when, finding themselves second from bottom of the table, they began a run of eight wins and a draw, from ten games to ensure National League One safety.
‘I think it did me good to have a break. When I was first chosen at the age of 23, I was a bit daunted looking around the changing room at one or two of the more senior heads, but I grew up fast and second time around it’s come far more naturally to me and I’ve enjoyed it more.’
With height and power, allied to ball handling and passing skills honed from his days playing basketball at school in Northampton, Tom has been one of the most consistently high performing lock-forwards in the semi-professional game in recent years, a fact recognised by his six caps for England Counties (three as captain). His ability and agility at the line-out, in particular, is legendary and has provided Blackheath with a potent attacking weapon.
Now though, as he prepares to lead his side out on to Rectory Field (with son Jack as the mascot) in his 237th and final appearance in Club colours, Tom feels the time is right to hand the baton across to a younger generation.
‘It’s getting increasingly difficult to find new things to say and I’m sure some of the boys are tired of the sound of my voice,’ he smiled. ‘Blackheath have some good young players coming through to take them forward.’
‘I’ll miss the playing, especially the big games like Rosslyn Park and Richmond, and of course I’ll miss the company of the lads. I might turn out for the odd social game with Old Northamptonians (the club his father established and where Tom played as a youth) and I’d like to do my coaching badges, just in case Jack is mad enough to take up this game.’
‘But after countless rucks, mauls, line-outs and scrums, it’s time to give my body a rest.’