Tomorrow, when Blackheath take to the field for their final National League One match of the 2015-16 season it will do more than mark the end of the Club’s most successful campaign in the twelve years since their promotion back to domestic rugby’s third tier.
For one, it will be the final league game, at least for a while, to be played at the historic Rectory Field venue, while Blackheath look to exploit the better appointed Well Hall facility at Eltham for their primary games, but emotions amongst the Club faithful will be running high for another reason as well as, arguably, their best player of the modern era brings down the curtain on a wonderful career.
After twelve seasons, 277 appearances and 144 tries, Dave Allen will play his final game in Blackheath colours and retire from all rugby.
Born in Hildenborough in 1981, Dave began his playing days at the age of six with Sevenoaks, a club he stayed with until reaching Colts level. At Hugh Christie Technology College he played a number of sports including cricket, basketball and athletics (in particular distance running), but his chief focus remained with rugby. Soon he was making his mark for his father’s club, Old Juddian RFC (which merged with Tonbridge RFC in 1999 to form Tonbridge Juddian), before deciding to join Blackheath in the summer of 2004.
Told by his head coach at TJs ‘he’d never make it,’ with Kent’s premier side, Dave made his Club debut at Rectory Field on 18th September 2004 against Launceston. Current director of rugby Colin Ridgway was Blackheath captain at the time.
‘I’d heard about this lad of “quality” at TJs and said, “Well, if he backs himself, tell him to come up and have a go.” He duly turned up, didn’t say much (nothing changes) and just got on with what he does best. Before long he was smashing it up in the 2nd team, got his chance in the First XV and the rest is history.’
‘I’d like to take full credit for his development and longevity, but I suspect it has more to do with his talent, gritty, dogged determination and an inability to take a backward step or accept anything other than total commitment from himself and those around him.’
And what commitment! A master at controlling the ball at the base of the rolling maul, from where a majority of his tries have been scored (including nine in home and away matches against Cambridge one season), he has been recognised as the best open-side away from the fully professional arena for more than a decade (a fact acknowledged by eight caps for England Counties as well as an appearance for the Barbarians), turning down numerous offers to play at a higher level, and for greater reward.
Instead this man, hard as nails on the field, yet quietly spoken and charming off it, has chosen to combine semi-professional rugby with a stable career and home life, ably demonstrated in October 2010 when, having scored two tries in a 28-17 victory at Sedgley Park, he dashed home from the northern suburbs of Manchester immediately after the final whistle to be with wife Shelley for the birth of their first child Chloe.
A second daughter, Sophie, followed, but it was a year ago, having reached the milestone of 250 Club appearances, and with a third child on the way, that thoughts of retirement loomed. Nevertheless, following the arrival of Thomas, and having maintained his exceptional levels of fitness working on his parents’ farm near Maidstone during the summer, he returned to action in Blackheath’s first home game of the season, arriving off the bench to rip opposition ball and thwart a dangerous Cinderford attack while the game was still in the balance, before scoring one of the Club’s seven tries in a 44-10 victory.
Now though, after another 24 games and ending, once again, as the Club’s top try scorer with 16, he is drawing stumps. At the age of 35, the body which has made countless tackles, been at the heart of numerous mauls and ripped possession from opposition hands so many times is saying ‘no more’.
Sporting teams evolve over time as players come and go and there will be others to fill the void left by Dave. But it’s a mighty big void and we must cherish this opportunity to witness this most outstanding player and individual in Club colours one final time.