That was the year that was

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A lot more happened in 2019 than you would think…

As we head into 2020, it is worth looking back on 2019: it was, indeed, a pretty good year at Blackheath Rugby. 

The 1stXV were playing exceptionally well last season – at the Christmas break they were second in the table, just one point off the top and, barring two home losses against the grain, were genuine promotion contenders for much of the season. This Christmas we are fourth in the table with 51 points, behind Rosslyn Park, Richmond and Rams, who all have 59 points. Our first two games in 2020 are against Richmond (away) and Rosslyn Park (home), so these two derby games have added significance, and we are expecting to see pretty much ALL our supporters at the Athletic Ground on 4 January. For the home derby, we are planning to bring back the Greenhill Mobile Bar and Clayton the singer, following their successful introduction before Christmas.

Photo by Claire Jeffrey

The Women’s Section, currently based at Charlton Park, have had an exceptional 2019, performing well enough in their first season in Championship South One to make the play offs, and then building on this success in the first half of the 2019/20 campaign with 9 wins from 11 matches. The women are also helping to coach the Blackheath Girls’ section, which is going from strength to strength, and who are looking to complete competitive sessions against local teams in the New Year. Contact Rob for more details.

The Bandits ended the 2018/19 season as league winners, having lost just two games all season, and finished the home campaign with a win against Guys Hospital, played on Pitch One immediately after the 1stXV game. Promoted to the Kent 3 league this year, this is as high as the Bandits can go in the Merit tables, so promotion to Kent 2 and the National Leagues is the goal. Good numbers are still showing up for training, leading to hopes of fielding a ‘Bandits Extra XV’. This looks increasingly likely as a number of the Vets have agreed to return to playing for the Bandits to help get the extra team out. The Bandits are unbeaten for the 2019/20 season, coming in to the Christmas break, including 2 pre-season wins against teams in higher divisions. If you want to join the Bandits click here to get in touch.

The Buccaneers (the new Vets team), managed by John Hull and captained on the pitch by Nik Dinning, continues to be fielded. Whilst the rugby is combative and competitive, it is very much played in the spirit of Vets rugby with the focus on getting teams out and enabling the players to enjoy a run around once again – reflected in the recent the Buccs game against Beccahamians, which can be read aboutin the match report. Their first ‘non loss’ would have been recorded but for having points deducted for borrowing a front row from Beccahamians. The Vets are a welcoming bunch and are keen to recruit more players to the ranks, so whether you are 35 or 55, and whether you think you have a full 80 minutes in you or are after more of a 10 minute cameo off the bench, just click here to drop John Hull an email. They have a home game on Sunday 5 January, when no doubt many will be sporting hangovers having gone to support the 1stXV away at Richmond, so do come down to watch.

In addition to the Seniors, the Youth Section is thriving: from the Minis making Hervey Road their home and having a magnificent day at Twickenham last month, to the multiple successes of the Juniors, notably with the U15s ‘doing the double’last season when the 1stXV won the Kent Cup for the second year running and the 2ndXV winning the Development Cup. This squad then went on to play in an international tournament in Portugal, claiming scalps such as USA Schools and, after winning a Final that was live streamed, returned home as Champions.Most recently, this season’s U15s played their Canterbury counterparts on Pitch One immediately after the Senior 1stXV National One match. 

A standout change for the Juniors this season is the formation of the Colts, where the U16s, U17s and U18s train and play in combined teams: the U16s play with/against U17s, and U17s play with the U18s. This was, in effect, started by the U17s last season who were regularly playing opposition that were predominantly U18s. Colts rugby is proving to be a great success and many of this year’s U18s, whose 2019-20 campaign is going incredibly wellso far, will be going on to join the Club’s men’s teams next season.

Off the field, the Close Season over the summer was also anything but quiet, with a huge amount of work being done at Well Hall and at Hervey Road in preparation for the new season. As our Social Media tagsoften say “The hard work never stops” and the Club Instagram feed often shows the work going on behind the scenes by staff and the amazing crew of volunteers. What really epitomises the effort and commitment is the transformation of the Hervey Road Playing Fields, a project that was years in the making and doing, and is still underway. The Club Minis have embraced Hervey Road, making it their home ground and filling it on Sunday mornings, and its ever-growing use includes two local schools for PE and Extra Curricula sessions, a junior football team, cricket and netball. We’re looking forward to the next Volunteer Day to be held there.

2019 has seen Well Hall hosting many fantastic events, the first of which followed the final game of 2019/19 vs Esher at home: the inaugural End of Season Dinner and Awards. It was a wonderful evening celebrating all things Club, with players, members and supporters dancing the night away.

Ahead of the Ruby World Cup, an interesting and entertaining dinner was held at Well Hall when the renowned referee, Wayne Barnes, spent the evening amusing and engaging Club Members and Supporters with stories from his life in rugby, from recounting his transition from player to official, to giving some insight in to what it’s like to referee a World Cup Final. We are very grateful to Wayne for spending the evening with us just before he flew out to Japan for the start of the tournament. Naturally the evening was conducted under ‘Chatham House Rules’ so there was no reporting of what was said, but needless to say it was enjoyed by everyone who attended!

As the World Cup progressed, we saw the Well Hall Clubhouse full of people, from Juniors to 1stXV players, coming in to watch matches, and the Minis packed out the Hervey Road Pavilion for the Sunday games. The England v New Zealand semi-final was a great day at Well Hall, with a joyous clubhouse for the match itself, followed by a Bandits game to watch afterwards. How busy we were then was an indication of how things were going to go for the following weekend, but little could prepare us for quite how many people were going to flock to the Club for the World Cup Final!

On Final Day a steady flow of people streamed in, and the Clubhouse was full to capacity half an hour before kick-off. Behind the bar, our hard working bar staff were joined by Bandits and parents of Juniors to keep the drinks flowing for our thirsty audience, most of who were members and players, but some were first time visitors caught up in the excitement and who’ve been back to the Club to watch 1stXV games since. The posts on Facebookand Instagramcapture only a fraction of what it was like, but it was a special day for everyone and we were delighted to have Japanese TV with us, filming for broadcast back to Japan. The full broadcast, in which we appear several times, can be watched here, and our first appearance is around 6 minutes and 35 seconds in. After the morning’s rugby on TV we managed to set the upstairs up for the pre-match lunch and host the crowds coming to watch the 1stXV against Bishops Stortford. And throughout the World Cup it was fantastic to have updates from the Club hoards who had travelled to Japan for the tournament.

Of course, the start of the 2019 /20 season was filled with excitement about the Rugby World Cup, but National One rugby continued and early in the season, as the World Cup began, we hosted Richmond at Well Hall. Whilst it was the first time that Blackheath and the West London club have played a National One match at Well Hall, it’s a fixture steeped in history. That history and other events that weekend, where the whole Club came together, is summarised here,and it was a weekend that truly epitomised rugby. 

Hidden away amongst all the World Cup excitement was another first for Blackheath Rugby, when the NFL came to Well Hall.This project was long in the making, as negotiations and planning stretched back to the end of last season. Anyone who follows American Football will know that everything about it is huge, and it all takes a lot of work, especially as the teams guard their secrets very closely indeed, which meant that we were unable to share much about what was happening even to Members, and was also why the site had to be closed on the day to everyone bar those listed on a pre-cleared list. 

The project was based on an NFL team using Blackheath as a practice venue on a Friday, ahead of a Sunday match, as part of the NFL London Series 2019. Over the course of the week, a new path was laid between the 3G and Pitch 1, a structure was built on Areas 2, and a full size NFL field was marked out across 2 of the football pitches. On-site security patrolled the grounds, a vast array of equipment was delivered, and the Greene King Bar was converted into a Media Centre. On the day itself, due to a change of plan brought about the exceptionally heavy rain, the NFL Pitch that was already marked out was unusable and a new one had to be marked out on the 3G, together with a complete relocation of all the equipment. And then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to Well Hall.It was a fabulous experience for the Club, gave us some fantastic exposure overseasin the press and on social media, and we hope it will lead to a long term partnership with the NFL. We certainly hit it off with the Buccaneers and their senior management, who joined us in the Clubhouse and presented us with a bespoke framed shirt and some customised balls by way of thanks. 

As 2019 drew to a close, we finished the year with a brace of home derby matches, welcoming OEs on 14 December and Canterbury on the following Saturday. Both days were packed with supporters, totalling over 2,000 spectators across the two games. Resulting in a narrow loss to OEs and a win against Canterbury, both weekends went down as huge off the field successes, showing what we can do as a Club. Well Hall has had outside bars before but the Greenhill Mobile Bar, with its mulled wine and speciality gins and singer/DJ Clayton, was a huge hit with the crowds. The Canterbury supporters who travelled to Blackheath for the match on 21 December, and our friends at Sidcup RFC who came to the game en masse when theirs was called off, really added to the party atmosphere: the Greene King Bar was bouncing, as can be seen hereand here!

Photo by Claire Jeffrey

2020 opens with an away game for the 1stXV as they play the return fixture at the Athletic Ground in Richmond on the 4 January, but there are two home games to enjoy either side of that: on Friday night, in place of the returning students’ tournament that was cancelled due to weather, there will be a game between a Club XV and a combined Old Colfians and Old Dartfordians team. This match is the Anthony Fitzgerald Memorial Match and everyone is welcome to come and watch these young players. Then on Sunday at Well Hall we have the Buccaneers (Vets) match, kicking off at 2pm. 

The first home game of 2020 is against top of the table Rosslyn Park and with Park flying so high we know they’ll bring a large crowd and if we are to triumph against our two West London rivals a massive and vocal turn out of our own will be a huge boost for the boys when they take to the field.

Here’s to a great year and new decade ahead, where the Club looks to build on all these successes, from Top to Bottom.  

See you all in Richmond on the 4thas well as at Well Hall for the Rosslyn Park match on the 11th

Tim Brindle

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