Below you will find the wanderings of Tony Wilson, Durham County President throughout the 2016/17 season visiting your club.
Whether it be to see a new club house, watch your team take on a local rival, present awards or just to have a visit to see how you are getting along – Wilson will wonder. Contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or contact John Denham, County Secretary on: firstname.lastname@example.org
VISIT ONE – HOME: WEST HARTLEPOOL
A busy few days started at home with club West to sign their latest RFU accreditation certificate which will displayed along a plaque in the club house.
The certificate has the signatures of three Presidents, myself for Durham, Les Smith WHRFC and Jason Leonard, RFU.
Friday evening off to Jarrovians for their Friday Night Live tournament and my first visit to the club house.
VISIT TWO- JARROVIANS
My first visit to Jarrovians was to attend there Friday Night Live tournament.
In the tournament five teams played 15 min each way matches on a round robin basis.
I was warmly greeted by several of the committee and recognise the barman as Archie who was a combative prop from the Ams clashes with Jarrovians. He recognises me from my days on the county disciplinary committee as he was a frequent customer.
I am shocked to learn that the club house has been operating for over ten years, does not feel like more than ten years since I was last there.
The bar area reminds me of the bar in our old club house that we left last year and is run by volunteers. Theakston Best Bitter was noted at £1.90 for a pint not that they would let me pay for anything all night anyway.
Their hard working committee are full of enthusiasm for the near future.
Tamara Taylor the England women’s player is their lead coach and with 45 regular players they are optimistic that they can turn out two team regularly this season.
A thriving junior section bodes well for the future of the club.
They have spent heavily in the closed season on treatments for the pitches that are as a result- much improved.
The committee are in the early stages of negotiations with the local council about the possibility of taking responsibility for and developing a community centre. This is next to their club and would include managing the whole site both rugby and football pitches.
The buzz in the club house after the matches was of a proper rugby club with players from all teams enjoying the post-match crack. (Elmo, food hot dogs and chips)
If this is typical of the reception I am going to receive on my visits I am in for a most enjoyable year.
Next week I travel to Bishop Auckland RFC to present their accreditation plaque to them. Not to mention witness the blossoming ladies section of the club.
VISIT THREE – BISHOP AUCKLAND
I presented their RFU accreditation plaque to Keith Wilkinson, Chairman, Dan Lewis, Accreditation lead and Mark Macnair, Club President.
The hole of the club grounds was very busy with Bishop Auckland Ladies playing Sunderland Flames. (Sunderland winning 20 -5), Bishop Auckland first team playing Stockton (Stockton winning 29-5) and an annual motor cycle rally taking place at one end of the ground.
Bishop have pinched a few ideas from what has been done in the new West club house as part of their club house re vamp. They have removed all the rugby decoration from the main room and put them on to the walls in the dressing room area. The main room has been re decorated and prints of local land marks hung on the walls to make the facility more attractive to outside functions such as weddings.
Their committee were eager to tell me of the success they are having in increasing the numbers in their junior section and how their Ladies section is continuing to go from strength to strength bringing in very good financial rewards from the RFU.
Beer- Caffery, food- pasta.
Next week off to Ryton duty driver daughter Laura.
My duty driver for visit to Darlington on December, 10 is now unavailable. If anyone would like to volunteer they will be made most welcome.
VISIT FOUR- RYTON RFC
Ryton Rugby Club are a great example of what can be done by maximising the use of RFU grants and fund matching.
They now have four top class pitches, thanks to a new drainage system installed three years ago mainly funded by RFU grants.
The club house has recently been refurbished, again with the help of RFU grants, fund matching and making full use of reclaiming VAT on previous projects.
As well as refurbishing the bar come function room – they installed two RFU standard changing rooms similar to those in the New West Club house. They also added four smaller changing rooms and a new shower area. As a result, Ryton are now able to facilitate both men’s and women’s rugby simultaneously.
The match was the first round of the County Cup against Hartlepool RFC. When Hartlepool arrived the first person I spotted was the much traveled former West player Andrew Forman, who for probably the tenth season is insisting this will be his last.
Hartlepool were well supported by ten committee men all in blazers and club ties plus a number of other supporters.
The match was won by Ryton who had the edge in the backs 32 – 17.
I was well looked after by Ryton’s hard working Chairman, Charles Thorburn, who had been responsible for obtaining most of the funding for the refurbishment and Robin Wannop, County RFU Committee Representative.
There was a hot and cold buffet after the match. When I commented to Charles how well they fed the players, he told me that was for my visit and they would be back to pie and peas next week.
Beer John Smiths and Bodingtons, food as above.
Next Week Horden and Peterlee. New name, new club house.
VISIT TWO- HORDEN & PETERLEE RFC
First week of the season saw me visit old friends, with a new club name, Horden and Peterlee and a new ground Eden Park. That is Eden Park Peterlee not New Zealand.
Not a good start when I tried to use my 20 years out of date knowledge of Peterlee roads to direct this week duty driver daughter Dawn, firstly directing her via Ellis Bank and then Armstrong Road, both of which had been closed to traffic for at least ten years.
For future reference the new ground is almost opposite the building known as the White House which in years gone by would ironically have been the home of the Horden pit manager, overlooking both the village and the pit head.
On arrival I was as per usual – warmly greeted by the committee who were all busy with the normal first match of the season activities distributing new kit and collecting annual membership fees plus the worries of hosting a first match in new facilities.
Chairman John Groves was given the job of the conducted tour and explaining the work that had gone into the new “home”.
The ground is a former Northern League Football ground and is in effect a mini stadium with the pitch within a wall enclosure. The club house which had been a shell when inherited has been transformed by many hours of voluntary work into a modern, comfortable and welcoming environment. The changing facilities and players dining area are in a separate building next to the club house.
The only blot on the landscape at present is the need for additional changing rooms to accommodate the amount of rugby within the club and the failure of RFU to award a grant towards providing the needed extra space.
Kick off time. Words you would not have heard at the old welfare park, would you like to sit in the stand, stand on the terraces or stand on the viewing patio immediately outside club house – which had only been completed at 7am the previous morning.
I elected for the terraces first half and viewing patio second half (nearer the bar).
A crowd of about 150 were there to witness the first match on the new ground.
The home team contained familiar faces Luke Watson, Davy Heckes and in the unfamiliar number two shirt, Craig Gilmore all of whom have had spells at my club West.
The medicals side contained one extremely large celebrity who am I am told had been the star of a television program “Young Doctors” leading to an appearance on Harry Hills Burp in which he was chased by a Lasagne.
The home side which contained a good balance of young and experienced players won comfortably 34 to 5.
Mention must be made of referee Ray Sutherland who kept the game flowing in wet and slippery condition and had a very good match.
Post-match the club house was full and had a real buzz to it. When I left a live group was setting up for the evening entertainment.
Next week I visit Gateshead RFC to see them take on former President David Jackson’s club, Barnard Castle following their promotion to Durham Northumberland Two.
VISIT THREE- GATESHEAD RFC
This week’s visit was to Gateshead RFC for the clash with fellow unbeaten side Barnard Castle.
After the usual problem finding a parking spot close the ground, my duty driver (wife Brenda) and I were made most welcome by a Gateshead committee that included ex West and North of England Steve Havery.
There was lots of activity in the club as Gateshead run three teams regularly and had home fixtures for the first and third team. In the thick of the activity was Dave Thompson who as well as his many county roles acts as team manager and touch judge for the home club.
On leaving the club house to watch match the first person we encountered was Archie, who had been our host barman on the visit to Jarrovians. He assured us that he was not stalking us or looking for revenge for my comments about him in previous addition of Willers Wanderings, but was there to watch his son who plays at 9 for Gateshead.
We elected to stand on the terracing as the weather was bright and sunny. Sat on a bench close by was Gateshead former County President Brian Dodds and in the true spirit of rugby sat beside Brian was the father Barnard Castle second row Ben Potts. Both men appreciating good play by both teams.
The match lived up to expectations. There were exchanges of early scores, twice Gateshead scored tries only for Barnard Castle to reply in kind.
Midway through the first half, Gateshead gained the upper hand through their dominance in the scrum and back row areas and built a 31-12 lead. Early in the second half the momentum was taken by Barnard Castle. Gateshead lost two of their influential back row players and Barnard Castle made changes that included moving full back Chris McTurk to fly half.
Barnard Castle now sensed a possible victory with McTurk running the mid field and the forwards winning lots of line out ball cutting the deficit to 31-26. With eight minutes of injury time being played by referee Les Cash, his first match at this level, Gateshead hung on for the narrow win.
I suspect both of these teams will be there or there about at the end of the season.
Next week I shall be hitting small golf balls in Northumberland rather than watching an egg shaped one.
VISIT FOUR- CONSETT RFC
Back into the swing of things again and another visit ticked off. This week was to Consett who are coached by two ex-West player, Jon Benson and Phil Wallis. Phil was kind enough provide my transport to and from the match.
I was given a warm welcome by Graham Lee, Club President.
Graham and his committee have put a lot of work into improving the facilities since my last visit to the club eighteen months ago.
The pitches have had a new drainage system installed and been completely reseeded providing two excellent playing surfaces.
The bar and function area of the club house which was an empty shell on my last visit have now been fully fitted out. They are not only an asset on match days but also attracting outside functions such as wedding and christenings.
My visit coincided with the clubs annual ladies day which was refreshing to see that it had attracted fifty plus ladies.
The theme for the day was Spanish so I was given a glass of Sangria as I walked through the door and lunch was a very tasty Tapas selection with home baked breads followed by apple pie.
Consett’s opposition on the day were Stockton in an Durham and Northumberland Division One clash.
There was a strong wind blowing the length of the pitch and Consett had it at their backs for the first half.
Despite playing to the wind is was Stockton that took control of the ball and used it to good effect to keep Consett pinned back in their own twenty two for long periods .The Consett defence finally cracked after twenty five minutes play allowing the Stockton left winger to round off a flowing move with a try in the corner. The conversion kick was blown off course by the wind for them to lead 5-0.
Stockton continued to control the ball and Consett were relying on long kicks down field to put them close the try line. Consett won the ball from a line out inside the Stockton twenty two and worked it into mid field. Rovers and West back row, Stuart Grazier was on hand to crash over for the converted try to take a two point lead.
Just before half time loose clearance kick by Stockton was gathered by Consett outside centre Haydn Petch who shrugged off two defenders to score under the post. Half time. 14 – 5
The start of the second half took the same pattern as the first with Stockton having most of the possession and Consett defending desperately. Stockton cut the deficit to 14-8 fifteen minutes into the half with a penalty kick.
Stockton took the lead after half an hour when winger Chris Farrell crashed over in the left corner. The conversion kick was missed. 14 – 15.
Stockton kept on the pressure looking for a further score but a dropped ball on the try line and some determined defence by Consett prevented them adding to the score.
In the last minute a Consett clearance kick was knocked on by a Stockton defender. From the scrum the ball was worked down field in desperate defence Stockton conceded a penalty. Rather than risk kicking into the wind Consett elected to run the ball. The move ended with the Consett ring wing scoring in the corner. The conversion was missed and the final whistle blown. 19-15
Gareth Forman making his debut at level seven had a very sound match and contributed to what was a very competitive match.
It is with great sadness that I learned that Terry Parsons of Newton Aycliffe collapsed and died during their match with Houghton on Saturday.
My thoughts are with Terry’s family and all at his club.
VISIT FIVE- SOUTH SHIELDS WESTOE
South Shields Westoe, a change of name but the same old Westoe warm welcome and hospitality.
On arrival we were met by Suzanne Etchells who seemed to be at the centre of everything that was happening in the club house. Suzanne was s busy that we were past into the care of club Vice Chairman ,Stuart Ashman and his family.
The micro climate that seems to descend on South Shields on the first day of October was so warm that we elected to take our pre-lunch drinks in to the sunshine on the veranda.
Lunch for us and the sponsors guests were a plate of fish, chips and mushy peas or soggy peas as the locals called them – from an award winning local fish shop.
The match was preceded by a minutes silence in honor of Terry Parsons who sadly collapsed and died while playing for Newton Aycliffe last week.
The visiting team today were Gosforth. Westoe had the advantage of playing down the steep slope with the wind at their backs in the first half.
A combination of driving mauls and slick handling in the backs soon had Westoe scoring freely. Twice in the first fifteen minutes the ball was worked to the left for the winger to score in the corner. Ten minutes later the same tactic was used to feed the right wing for another two tries.
A penalty kick between the third and fourth try gave Westoe a 23 – 0 lead at half time.
The second half got off to a stuttering start. After eight minutes play, the last of the match balls was kicked out of the ground. We then had a six minute stoppage while non-other than Suzanne Etchells was dispatched to retrieve the balls.
On the re start Westoe pressed Gosforth back into their twenty two. From a quickly taken tap penalty the ball was worked to man of the match Westoe prop, Don Connolly who crashed under the posts leaving a simple conversion. 30 -0
Gosforth gradually gained the upper hand after this and adopted the tactic that had been successful in the first half for Westoe, working the ball to the wingers. This resulted in three tries for the Gosforth left wing, two of which were converted. Final score 30 – 19 for the hosts.
Back in the club house, Ian Etchells, Chairman insisted that everyone celebrate the victory with a shot of pochin. A drink that brought back memories of away trips with Phil Quinn, grandfather of current West player Danny Quinn.
My wife Brenda was asked to draw the raffle and drew the ticket of Paul White, Club Treasurer which caused some leg pulling and cries of fix.
In the kitchen Suzanne had been assisted by Eleanor Peggy a recently recruited volunteer.
Eleanor has become an integral part of the club taking on several roles. Her work has attracted the interest of the local press and RFU web site were articles had dubbed her The Angle of the North – a name that is now used to tease her.
VISIT SIX- DURHAM UNIVERSITY
Brenda and I were at invited along to Hollow Drift as guests of Fergus King OBE, President of Durham University RFC for their first match in the new University League structure against Hartbury College.
A large noisy crowd of students tuned out to support Durham.
The two sides exchanged penalty kick scores early in the match to sit even stevens at 3 a piece.
Both sides were playing expansive running rugby with Durham having the better of the territorial advantage. Durham scored two tries one of which was converted to take a 15 -3 lead.
Just before half time Hartbury were awarded a penalty inside Durham twenty two which they tapped and drove the ball over for a converted try. Half time 15 – 10.
Hartbury changed their tactics at the start of the second half electing to keep the ball in the forwards and drive at the Durham defence.
These paid dividends after ten minutes when a driving maul was collapsed and the referee award a penalty try. 15 – 17. Midway through the second half a catch and drive from a line out was Hartbury score again. 24 – 15
Durham came back and were pressing for a score when the ball was turned over and work sixty yards down field for a score in the corner by Hartbury. 29-15
The rest of the match was Durham attacking and Hartbury defending what they had.
With ten minutes left Durham scored in the left corner to trail 29- 20.
Only 4 minutes left on the clock and Durham scored under the posts. The conversion kick was taken too close to the try line and charged down by Hartbury. 29- 25.
Durham pounded away at the Hartbury line and in their desperate defence Hartbury conceded a series of penalties and had two players yellow carded, but they held on for the final whistle to win 29-25.
REPRESENTING DURHAM COUNTY
On Thursday, October 6 I represented Durham County at the funeral of Newton Aycliffe’s player Terry Parsons who died so tragically while playing two weeks ago.
The family that is Durham Rugby turned out in force to support Terry’s family.
The whole of Newton Aycliffe club officials, players, county officials, referees, players and officials of several clubs in the county filling the church.
At the end of the service the church drive became a tunnel of players and officials who applauded Terry off for one last time.
VISIT SEVEN- SOUTH SHIELDS RFC
After a busy week it was back to South Shield for the second consecutive Saturday. But, this time it was to South Shields RFC who were previously known as South Tyneside College. They continue to play their rugby at the college and this week that was against Bishop Auckland.
On arrival the first questions were when does autumn start and are there any flat pitches in Shields?. As per the previous week it was like a balmy summer day and there was a slope that ran the length of the pitch.
Due to the warm weather and the pitch being surrounded by trees much time was spent fending attacks by green fly and midges
The players for the club are drawn from the college students and the local area. The college is a marine college which means that when student players go off to work they are away at sea for up to six months. This causes quite some problems with keeping a regular first team line up.
Despite the problem of students going off to sea the club is growing in strength of numbers of players and this season are turning out three teams every week.
This week first and third teams were at home, with the first playing at the college and the seconds playing at a ground called Brinkburn, which is the same ground name as my club West.
The match was a close contest.
South Shields dominated possession despite playing up the slope but could not turn this into a score. On one of their rare visit in to Shields territory Bishop Auckland scored a converted try to lead 0 – 7 at half time.
Possession in the second half was more even with both sides playing good attacking rugby.
Shields narrowed the score with penalty kick and the two sides exchanged tries throughout the half with Shield scoring last to come up just short. Final score with the visitors grasping a 19-15 win.
As South Shields do not have a club house it was off to a local pub for post-match food, drink and banter.
VISIT EIGHT – BLAYDON RFC
This Saturday I am at Blaydon for their National League One match against Hartpury College.
The Hartpury team was a totally different set of players from those that played against Durham University at Hollow Drift in the match I watched only ten days ago.
We were greeted and hosted to lunch by Blaydon stalwarts, Jim Huxley and Hedley Redpath.
For the first half we were talking to a couple who had come to watch their son play in the Hartpury team. The gentleman was called Peter Polledri and had played in the Bristol team that narrowly defeated West in the semi-final of the 1983 John Player Cup.
Bristol went on to beat Leicester in the final.
In the second half we were talking to a couple of Blackheath fans who were on holiday in Northumberland and had come down to watch the match. This time the gentleman turned out to be Ron Bailey who was the coach of Blackheath that played West in the nineteen seventies, when West’s home pitch was at the Greyhound Stadium and the club house in RabyRoad.
On the pitch Hartpury soon showed why they are currently top of the league and favourites for promotion, quickly building a 23-0 lead. Blaydon worked their way back into the game and managed to prevent Hartpury adding to the score before half time.
Both sides scored tries early in the second half but as the half wore on – Hartpury slowly accumulated points through scoring tries, their kicker was having an off day missing with nine attempts.
Leaving it with a final score of 47- 5 to the visitors.
On the way home from Blaydon we took a detour to call at Horden and Peterlee to wish them well on the official opening of their new club house.
The day had been a great success for them with an entertaining match against a Hartlepool and District team followed by the famous Horden hospitality.
VISIT NINE- WINLATON VULCANS
On Saturday my duty driver, Peter Wilkinson took me along to Winlaton for their Durham and Northumberland Two match against Pontleand.
We were met by Craig MacFarlane, county rep as the rest of the committee were busy doing their various match day duties.
When we arrived, the club were getting in their festive spirits ready for a Halloween party by decorating the club house for the Halloween party that was to be held that night.
Following the weekend festivities the club was to close for an internal refurbishment with a grand re-opening on November, 14. The work has been made possible by grants from both Sport England and awards for all schemes and the hard work of the Winlaton Committee.
Displayed on the wall of the function room is the County’s fourth team shield that was won by Winlaton last season. Next to the shield is a photo of the Winlaton team that were the first winners of this trophy ninety years ago.
The match was a very close fought affair, played in a very good competitive spirit. The lead changed hands throughout the match with Ponteland edging it to secure a narrow 27- 22 victory over Winlaton.
In the club house after the match there was a real buzz with players and officials from both sides enjoying post-match crack and banter.
VISIT TEN- BACK AT HOME: WEST HARTLEPOOL
On Sunday I was back at West for the annual Wilfy Wilgress Memorial Match.
Peter (Wilfy) Wilgress was a prop who played at every level from first team to the sixth team for West.
After an away match at Harrogate 24 years ago Wilfy collapsed and died of a heart attack.
Such was the affection for Wilfy that a mermorial match between a West 15 and a Town 15 has been played every year for the last 23 years. Some people who played with Wilfy bring their boots out of retirement to play in this one match each year.
Peter’s parents provided a trophy to be played for. Each year the family and friends attend the match with his mother and sister presenting the trophy to the winning team on alternative years.
This year’s winners were the West team and it was Peter’s mother’s turn to present the trophy to captain Brennan Baggs who in his acceptance speech rightly said the winner is always the memory of Wilfy and rugby.
I had the chance to chat to former West prop John (chunky) Chappell who is now chairman of Ponteland.
VISIT ELEVEN- BILLINGHAM RUGBY CLUB
Saturday was a short trip to Billingham for their National Division Three match against Cleckheaton.
I was met by Mike Riby and John Kerr who were wearing traditional black blazers while all around the club were people wearing the new loud green and white striped blazers.
When Cleckheaton arrived they had more than a dozen committee men wearing their equally loud red black and white striped blazers you almost needed shades in the club house.
After a number of setbacks and delays Billingham have at last been given March, 13 2017 as the start date for the installation of their RFU G4 all-weather pitch. The pitch will not be completed for use this season but will be ready for next preseason.
The weather conditions were awful for the match with gale force winds and driving rain. Billingham kicked off with the wind and rain at their backs but it was Cleckheaton who controlled the ball using their big pack to drive the play to Billingham.
Midway through the first half Billingham took a quick line out throw to release the full back who out stripped the defence to score a converted try. Cleckheaton continued to play their forwards game and were rewarded when their number eight crashed over for a converted try just before half time.
The second half was dominated by Cleckheaton. Billingham pinned back in their own twenty two and trying to break out using the pace of their backs, but with the weather conditions and a slippery ball handling error made this difficult.
Cleckheaton added a drop goal, penalty and three further converted tries to run out 27 – 7 winners.
REPRESENTING DURHAM- AT THE UNDER 18s COUNTY GAME
Durham U18 V Nortumberland U18 at West Hartlepool.
Durham ran out winners 22 – 10 in a very well contested match which produced some good rugby despite the strong wind and rain throughout the match.
The Watt, Davies cup was presented to the victorious Durham captain by Brian Watt prior to the post match meal.
Thanks go to West Hartlepool staff and volunteers who made the match possible and provided excellent hospitality.
There will be no Willers Wanderings for a couple of weeks as I am off to the far East to re-charge my batteries for the next round of visits.
Willer’s Wanderings: From Bangkok to Stockton RFC
Since my last report my wanderings have taken me to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, Darlington RFC and Stockton RFC.
During my visit to Bangkok I was due to take in the Bangkok 7s but the event was cancelled as part of the 30 days of mourning following the death of the king of Thailand.
On arrival back in the UK, my President blazer badge which had been on order since July finally arrived.
Friday evening, my wife and I where guests at a dinner at Darlington RFC to mark the ground development and ground share agreement with Darlington FC.
The guest list also included, Darlington Borough Council Executive, Darlington RFC Management Board, DFC 1883 board, Darlington Building Society, Royal Bank of Scotland, Sport England, Rugby Football Foundation, Football Stadia Improvement Foundation, Jenny Chapman MP, Sue Snowdon HM Lord Lieutenant of Durham and the guest speaker was Peter Barron.
At Darlington, what was the first team pitch has now been converted into a dual sport stadium with stands terracing and flood lights.
Work is still on going with building work on the club house and changing facilities.
I am due to re visit Darlington on Saturday December, 10 and will give a progress report then.
VISIT TWELVE: STOCKTON
Saturday saw me visit Stockton in their new home for the first time.
They now share a club house with Stockton Cricket club and play their matches across the road at Grangefield College.
The rebuild of the college is still in progress as is the development of the rugby playing facilities.
The teams currently use the changing rooms in the college, but when all work is completed the club will have their own changing rooms and sports hall, several pitches and a flood lit training area.
On the field, Stockton had a run of good form in a high scoring contest against second from top side, South Shields Westoe to win 39 – 30.
After the match in the new club house there was chance to catch up with a lot of old friends that seem to have been attracted back to the club by the move to the new home.
Stockton seem in good health at present, turning out three senior sides and having teams throughout the full mini and junior age range.
They also have seeds planted for their future senior side with a very strong under 16 side at their disposal.
VISIT TWELVE: Hartlepool Rugby Club
No need for a duty driver this week as it was my second shortest trip of the season. A brisk fifteen minute walk takes me to Mayfield Park home of Hartlepool RFC for their match against Northern.
The Mayfield Park goal posts were the tallest in England for many years until a taller set were installed by a club in Devon. Despite changing the name from Hartlepool Old Boys in 1978 they are still known around Hartlepool and most of the county rugby clubs as “Old Boys”.
There were a few aching bodies around the club house as the Old Boys over 35 team had played a match against Billingham over 35 the night before.
As with most of the matches I have seen at this level both team were very evenly matched, this was reflected in the final score, with Northern just coming out on top by 32 – 29. A lot of credit for the quality of the match must go to Garth foreman, referee and his game management.
The match kicked off at 1pm as a number of Old Boys players were going on a stag do immediately after the match so I was back in the club house in time to watch England beat Australia.
I watched the England match with the “Ring Around Crew”. This is a group of senior former player and officials who go to every Old Boys game home and away. Each member of the crew pay £3 per week subs to cover the costs of transport to away games. There is a dress code of shirt, tie and club blazer with the tie having to have the club logo displayed in the correct position. Failure to meet the dress code brings a fine.
After each match the ‘Ring Around Crew’ elect their Old Boys man of the match. This week it went Andrew Foreman, Scrum half but the reward of a down in one pint was passed to the stag do groom to perform.
Club stalwart Stuart Hind tells me that things are healthy within the club with two senior sides playing each week, junior sides at most age groups and work in place to raise teams in a couple of areas where there is an existing gap.
No doubt I will run in to the ‘Ring Around Crew’ again before the season is over.
VISIT THIRTEEN – DARLINGTON
Having attended a dinner two weeks ago to launch their new ground sharing agreement with Darlington FC, Saturday was my return to Darlington RFC for their Northumberland and Durham Division Two match against Blyth on the new redeveloped “stadium pitch”.
This was the second match on the new pitch, Darlington played Redcar on Monday evening under flood lights – attracting a crowd of around 300 to see the facilities being used.
On arrival Mike Keeligan, Chairman dashed straight from what had been a three hour committee meeting to give me a tour of the facilities.
Keeligan told me of the long term plans to add extra flood lighting to training areas and to completely re-lay the pitch in the summer. Both of these actions are needed to offset the dual use of the playing area. Under the joint agreement neither the rugby or football teams are permitted to train on the pitch and can only play a fixed number of pre decided matches on the pitch each season.
In the short term the football team are due to play their first league match on the pitch on Boxing Day and have three home fixtures in January.
The stadium is now complete but the off field facilities are a race against the clock. An FA inspection licencing the use of the ground is to take place on December, 19.
The new club house entrance, changing rooms for the footballers, separate changing building for the football officials and covered walk way to the pitch must be completed to obtain the licence from the FA for the playing of matches.
At present, rugby spectators are only allowed to watch the matches from the club house side of the ground.
We opted to watch the match from the club house balcony as at ground level the dugouts can cause obstructed view of the action.
On the pitch, Darlington had a comfortable 48-3 victory over a gallant Blyth side that battled right to the last. The flood lights had to be turned on for the last fifteen minutes of the match on a gloomy overcast day.
After the match with Mike and his committee all busy with their match day duties we had a quick drink with the referee and his assessor before heading back to West.
COUNTY PRESIDENT- CHRISTMAS BAR STEWARD
As I go around the County I am often called “that bar steward” I think that is what they say! On Christmas day it is true, as I take on the running of the bar at Brinkburn.
This gives the members the opportunity to meet up with friends and family to buy them a seasonal drink, while the staff have a deserved day off to spend with their families.
Boxing Day is one of my favourite days of the year, rugby all the way. Hartlepool folk come out in their hundreds to either play or watch rugby as they shake off their over indulgence of the day before.
In the morning at West there is the Gingers V Stashers match which gives players old and young the chance to have a gentle run out to clear their heads. Fine weather brought a large turnout of both players and spectators. This year victors were the Gingers and the winner was social rugby.
The afternoon brings the main event, the annual clash between West Hartlepool and Hartlepool Rovers. This year it was West turn to play host.
The cold and windy conditions made flowing rugby difficult with West running out 41 – 8 victors. Referee Gareth Forman deserves praise for a fine performance in his first Boxing Day Derby match.
Tuesday saw me at Hartlepool Rovers Friarage ground for the annual match Between West Stags and Rovers Heughers .The winners being presented with the Bill Bowden Memorial Trophy.
Bill Served as Club Doctor, Committee man and County Representative for Rovers as well as being the doctor to the county teams for many years.
This year I had the pleasure of presenting the trophy to The Heughers Captain after their 32 – 19 Victory.
VISIT FIFTHEN – HOUGHTON RFC
President Wilson makes his first club visit of the New Year
Saturday saw my first Presidential club visit of 2017 to Houghton for their match against Newton Aycliffe. This visit meant that I was more than half way through the clubs to be visited during my year in office.
I was greeted by John Simpson, Chairman and introduced to other members of the Committee. The first thing that had to be done was buy some tickets for the infamous Houghton post-match raffle. I was told that there were six prizes including a litre bottle of gin and a meal for two at a venue of your choice, all for ten pence per ticket. The only condition was whatever you win you must take with you.
Houghton are a club on the bounce. A few years ago they were struggling to turn out to fulfil their league fixtures and the junior section was in some disarray. Thanks to the hard work of the committee and coaches they are now turning out two senior teams and have a strong thriving junior section, which bodes well for the future of the club.
On the pitch Houghton put up a whole hearted performance but wasted several good scoring opportunities. Newton Aycliffe were the much sharper side of the two, punishing Houghton’s mistakes to score at regular intervals to run out victors 39 -3.
Back in the club house the bar was full and full of expectation for the raffle draw. There were as promised six prizes that included the bottle of Gin, a cuddly toy, tins of out of date lager and the meal for two. This consisted of a tin of potatoes, a tin of carrots and a tin of stew to be cooked and eaten at a venue of your choice.
All this was part of the buzz, fun and enjoyment that seems to be the order of the day at Houghton these days.
This was the first meeting of the two clubs since the tragic death of Terry Parsons while two second teams played at Dairy Lane.
A date for your diary- March, 5, as part of the fund raising events in support of Terry family a Houghton XV will play a Newton Aycliffe XV at Kingston Park prior to the Falcons match against Saracens.
Please come along and support this very good cause.
VISIT SIXTEEN – HARTLEPOOL ROVERS
Saturday saw me visiting Hartlepool Rovers. This gave me the opportunity to pay my respects to John Howe whose memorial stands outside the club house.
John was a giant second row who played for both Harlepool Rovers and Old Boys in his youth before going on to play for both Saracens and West Hartlepool in the old first Division which is now The Premiership.
Sadly John collapsed and died while playing in a match at Morley for West Hartlepool 25 years ago.
In the club house I was greeted by Rovers stalwart Brian Bambrough who was as usual, busy doing all the pre match jobs. An extra task was created when the opposition “ Novos” turned up with identical playing shirts to those of Rovers and Brian had to find a change of strip.
Novos are coached by former West second row Kevin Westgarth and I had a chance to chat to him before the match.
The match was few in the Hartlepool area to survive the frozen pitches that lead to most being cancelled. This is one of the advantages of the Friarage pitch being so close to the sea.
In a very close hard fought match Rovers took an early 15 point lead and were forced to desperately defend it by a Novos side that dominated in the scrum and lineouts. The match was decided by a last minute penalty kick that gave Novos a 15 – 17 victory.
Sunday I was at West Hartlepool where the healthy future of rugby in the county was demonstrated. In the morning there were seven mini and two junior matches played and in the afternoon the County U15 squad played twin matches against Cumbria.
Durham U15 Bishops team lost narrowly to Cumbria U15 Bears 15- 11.
Durham U15 Princes team beat Cumbria U15 Hawks 19 – 12.
In both matches the standard of play was a credit to all the players and coaches involved and bodes well for the future of both counties.
No report next week as it is a non-league Saturday so I am off for some R&R in the sun.
VISIT SEVENTEEN – SEATON CAREW RFC
Returning from a week of re-cooperation I found myself at Seaton Carew Rugby and Cricket Club.
With only the eighteenth green of the next door golf club between the pitch and the North Sea Seaton Carew in January is not for the fair weather rugby player or spectator. So it proved on Saturday. Although the rain had stopped by kick off time the infamous Seaton wind was as cold as ever.
The conditions did not affect the visitors Whitby as their home ground is equally as exposed to the North Sea elements. This was a double header as Whitby also brought their second team.
Seaton have had a difficult first half of the season, currently bottom of Durham and Northumberland Division Two. The cause of this situation seems to have mainly been due to unavailability of a large number of players. Since the new the availability situation has improved and they have had a win and a narrow loss since the turn of the year.
For today two matches they had forty players available which included a fifty five year old in the first team and a fifty seven year old in the second team.
The first team match was a very close affair. After seventy minutes of play the scores were level at 5 – 5. Whitby were awarded a penalty five metres inside their own half which the full back converted to make the score 8-5 to the visitors. On seventy five minutes another long range penalty extended their score to 11-5.
Seaton looked to be heading for a well-earned loosing bonus point but with the last play of the match, Whitby went all out to score a converted try to make the final score 18 – 5.
Seaton gain some consolation with the second team having a good 41- 10 victory over Whitby seconds.
Mention must be made of the two referees, Kevin Bond contributed greatly to an excellent competitive first match with a fine performance.
The second team match was refereed by 18 year old, Lewis Tucker who won praise from all concerned for his handling of the match. As he gains more experience I would expect to see this young man progress to much higher things.
In recent years the Seaton changing and playing facilities have been upgraded, now thanks to a legacy from and Seaton Carew member they are looking to extend and modernise the club house.
Although the defeat by Whitby makes it very likely that Seaton will be relegated the feeling within the club is that they are in a re-building process and the future for the club is bright.
Next week I will be away at Twickenham to see England play France in their first Six Nations match. I hope you all enjoy the first weekend of the RBS Six Nations!
VISIT EIGHTEN – DURHAM CITY RFC
Saturday was me visiting Hollow Drift for the North One East clash between Durham City and Morpeth.
I was met by Durham President, Richard Wilkinson and introduced to the Morpeth traveling committee which included their President, Ken Frazer.
Ken was President of Northumberland last year and he and I met when he brought his county side to play Durham at West Hartlepool.
When the Durham cook fell ill during the week Richard’s wife, Caroline stepped into the breach to save the day and we were provided with an excellent pre match lunch.
Having myself, several other guests, sponsors and players to feed on the day had provided the sight of club president and county representative Tony Howe sat in the club house bar peeling bags of potatoes, carrots and turnips late into Friday evening.
One of the other guests on the day was the former Durham City and West Hartlepool prop Eddie Bell who is now Lord Mayor of Durham.
The leaden skies and continuous rain meant that the flood lights had to be used from the start of the match. Despite the terrible playing conditions both sides attempted to play some open running rugby.
Morpeth were the first to score when the ball was worked wide for the right wing to score a try in the corner. The difficult conversion kick falling just short. Durham responded with a try of their own from a driving maul, with the ball being touched down close to the posts for a simple conversion.
Morpeth kicked a penalty to gain a 8-7 lead heading into half time.
Due to some very good defence from both sides and handling errors becoming more frequent as the condition deteriorated there were no more tries to be scored in the second half. Morpeth added three more penalty kicks to make the final score 17-7 to the visitors.
Durham will feel a little disappointed not have salvaged a losing bonus point from this match as the score does not reflect the closeness of the match.
The officials for this match could not have had a much wider range of experience.
The referee Alex Mackinder who had a very good match was refereeing at level six for the first time, while running touch for Durham City was former international referee John Pearson.
VISIT NINETEEN – Yarm Rugby Club
It has been ten years since I last visited Yarm Rugby club. At that time they were based from a pub in the High Street, now they have their pitch and club house on a ground which they share with a local cricket club.
The club house reminded me of our old facilities on Brinkburn with it being a series of portacabins put to good use.
I was met by Club President, Steve Passman and Chairman, Gary West.
The first thing that struck me was the posters on the walls advertising the various fund raising events that came under the banner of the “Chairman’s challenge”. The next event being a members sponsored Lyke wake Walk.
Moving on the field, Yarm are currently fielding one senior team, but with a strong colts side due to qualify for senior rugby they are hopeful of turning out two senior sides next season.
The opposition on the day was Wallsend. Yarm were third in Northumberland and Durham Division three and Wallsend forth, so an evenly contest match was anticipated and so it proved to be.
Wallsend took an early lead with a penalty only for Yarm to hit back with a converted try. Wallsend regained the lead shortly before halftime with an unconverted try from a driving maul. In the second half Wallsend extended their lead with two further unconverted tries.
Yarm finished the stronger of the two sides and scored a converted try to close the score a losing point on the board for the hosts after a 18-14 loss.
Back in the club house the Yarm players were coming from the changing rooms carrying Easter Eggs.
I was told that this was this week captain’s pick. Each week the captain nominates an object to be brought by the players. Failure to do so results in a fine which goes into the end of season tour fund.
When speaking to Steve Passman he said that he feels that the club is in good shape at present with a strong junior section and the colts to strengthen the senior squad next season.
A high place finish in Northumberland and Durham division three will be a good result for this season as he does not feel that they are equipped to compete at the level above at present.
PRESIDENT DUTIES- Next generation international rugby, volunteers and president dinner
It was a busy weekend involving watching the next generation of International rugby, appreciating grassroots volunteers and club president’s dinners.
On Friday I visited the home of Darlington Mowden Park as a guest of the RFU for the Six Nations England U20 V Italy U20 match.
Pre match, RFU Vice President, Chris Kelly and I had the pleasure of presenting Value the Volunteer certificates at the Durham County RFU annual recognition event. There was over 28 nominations made this year and even with some nominees not making it, certificates were presented to volunteers from twenty clubs from the throughout the County.
Most were familiar faces as I have seen first-hand their excellent work during my visits around various Durham County Clubs.
The final award of the evening was for the Durham County Volunteer of the Year. This year it was presented to David Carson-White for his hard work and volunteering throughout various areas of the game at Hartlepool RFC.
Day two of duty saw me at home at West Hartlepool for the Club President Les Smith’s annual lunch event.
Originally, the plan was to have just one junior home game in the morning and the Presidents lunch in the afternoon. This all was changed by the intervention of storm Doris.
Firstly Yarm RFU pitches were flooded which meant that six mini matches had to be transferred to be played at West on Sunday morning.
Saturday evening brought a call from RDO Phil Wallis asking if a girls U13 & U15 tournament could be hosted as the original venue Billingham was waterlogged.
The value of the work done by volunteers was demonstrated in accommodating all those extra matches. This was particularly so for the kitchen team who were landed with the task of feeding an additional 120 in the morning and 100 in the afternoon as well as catering for the Presidents do too.
My thanks to all who worked so hard at short notice to accommodate the extra matches.
PRESIDENTS DUTIES – To England’s home of Rugby
The weekend brought the longest wanderings journey to Twickenham for the England V Scotland six nation’s match.
My wife Brenda and I travelled the short 300 mile trip to be the guests of RFU President Peter Baines. In addition, we were fortunate to have familiar faces, Robin Wannop (Durham County representative for the RFU Council) and his Wife, Ann taking very good care of us.
The match day started with a pre match reception at which we were joined by John Cole of West Hartlepool RFC.
John accompanied us as another guest of Peter Baines as part of the ‘recognise the volunteer’ program and had been nominated for this by Durham County RFU. This gave us the opportunity to chat to many of the famous players of the past and take photos.
We also got to be with the Calcutta Cup that was to be presented by either Princess Ann or Prince Harry depending on who was the match victor.
For lunch we were graced with the presence of Phil De Granville, former Durham University player and England Captain
Our seats for the match were in the Royal Box to watch the superb England performance and Prince Harry present the Calcutta Cup.
In the evening we were in the company of players, coaches and officials for the post match dinner, which was a great opportunity to chat and take plenty of photos.
As part of the main events of the evening, guest John Cole was presented with his Value the Volunteer certificate from Eddie Jones, England Coach as part of the evening’s presentations.
VISIT TWENTY- Sunderland & Durham U20s
Back on home soil this weekend saw me visit Ashbrooke sports ground, Sunderland on Saturday for their cup tie against Gateshead.
I was met by Paul Geehan, Chairman who was keen to tell me about the various plans and projects that the club have at present.
One of the plans involves renovating the stand that runs alongside one side of the pitch. They are unable to use the stand at present on safety ground, due its poor state of repair. Any work done will have to match in the current construction as this is a listed building.
Other plans include obtaining a lease for the pitches at Hillview. Sunderland only have one pitch at Ashbrooke Sports Ground and with three men’s senior sides, a ladies side, a full set of junior sides, plus ties with the Sunderland University women’s and men’s team – the extra pitches are needed!
As the women’s game continues to flourish and grow – evidently seen by Friday night’s England’s Women’s Six Nations grand slam victory in Ireland, Sunderland have seen their own success’s in recent years in the women’s section. Paul was keen to tell me that the ladies regularly have good numbers at training nights and of course there was the unbeaten season and promotion two seasons ago.
On a less competitive note, Sunderland also offer a get fit rugby training evening for the over 30 age group on a Wednesday evening and there is the popular touch rugby offer on a Monday evening.
On the pitch, Sunderland were first to lead, with a converted try putting them 7- 0 in front at the half time break. But, in the second half as the Sunderland players tiered, the superior fitness and pace of Gateshead took control of the match.
With a few more tries in the second half from Gateshead, the game ended 25 – 7 to the visitors.
From the touchline I was able to catch up with two former West players; on one touchline was Charlie Bentley supporting Sunderland on one of his flying visits from his home in Turkey. On the other side of the pitch with the Gateshead supporters was Bill Riddley.
Sunday I attended Horden and Peterlee, Eden lane ground for Durham U20 v Yorkshire U20.
Having lost narrowly to Northumberland in the previous match nothing but a win would see Durham progress to the Quarter finals of this year’s competition.
Although, it seemed a tough task with Yorkshire as the reigning U20 County Champions and unbeaten for three years, Durham came through winning 15-12.
Durham will proceed to the Quarter Finals and play North Midlands away at Luctonians on April, 2 at 2.30pm.
VISIT TWENTYONE- Barnard Castle & Durham U20s
For my first stop on Saturday, I traveled South West of the County to Barnard Castle for their match against Ryton Rugby Club.
Upon my arrival, I was met by my immediate predecessor as County President, David Jackson.
Barny as they are commonly known turn out two senior sides on a regular basis. Their mini section is quite strong in numbers but at junior level there are gaps for developing different age groups. To bridge the gaps at some age levels a combined Barnard Castle and Richmond team are used to play matches.
The club house is in the centre of town while the pitches are a ten minute walk away on a ground near to the river. The club have this year been able to obtain a lease for the playing fields which they are now able to obtain grants for ground improvements. Work on the grounds started during last closed season with some much needed drainage being installed. The additional drainage has improved the playing surfaces and surrounds and it is planned to add more drainage during the coming closed season.
Barny are enjoying a successful season in Durham Northumberland One after promotion last season. Going from strength to strength they are currently one of three sides fighting for two promotion places, while Ryton are at the other end of the table with relegation in prospect.
A good size crowd watched the match run to form with Barny running out comfortable winners against a Ryton team that battled to the final whistle.
My second stop of the day was at Billingham RFC to meet the coach taking the County U20 team on the long trip to Herefordshire for the Sunday match against North Midlands. We travelled as far as Birmingham on Saturday not reaching our hotel until 11pm
On Sunday morning we travelled a further hour and a half to Luctonians RFC for the match between Durham and North Midlands.
In a hard fought match, the Durham boys did Durham County proud with an excellent 31- 25 victory.
Their reward for this is another long journey as we have been drawn away to Kent in the semi-final.
The semi is to be played on Easter Sunday with the winner progressing to a Twickenham final on May, 6.
A six and half hour journey back saw me arrive home at twelve thirty on Monday morning.
Worth the effort to see our U20 do our County proud!
VISIT TWENTYTWO- Hartlepool TDSOB
Saturday saw me visit the club with what is thought to be the longest club name in English rugby.
West Hartlepool Technical Day School Old Boys Rugby Football Club or as they are more famously known throughout the county – Tech.
This was my shortest club visit of the season with the Tech Club and ground less than half a mile away from home.
Tech have had mixed fortunes in recent years. At their peak they were competing at level six playing in National League North One East. However, they succumb to damage as with no junior section to supply fresh playing talent they slipped down the leagues. As a result, they eventually they dropped out of league rugby and for a couple of seasons played no rugby at all.
Three years ago with a combination of senior former players and youngsters recruited form the local area, a team was put together to enter the Tees Valley League. After two years’ experience of playing in the Tees Valley League, this season they re-joined league rugby entering Durham Northumberland Division Three.
Tech have a squad of around thirty players and have fulfilled their full league programme and reached the final of the Durham County Junior cup which is due to be played later this month.
Coached by former players, Mick Ingham and Kevin Cooke they feel that this season has been one of progress and with the prospect of a number of new young players for the start of next season they are optimistic about the near future.
In the evening there was a birthday party for former Tech and Rovers back row, Billy Devonport. This brought lots of old rugby friends into the club and kept me there later than I had intended talking about past playing days.
VISIT TWENTYTHREE- Hartlepool BBOB and Durham U20s
A Successfully weekend as Hartlepool BBOB are World Champions and Durham U20s secure final at Twickenham
This weekend was another busy weekend starting at Hartlepool BBOB for the World Cup Championship rugby match and then a well worth lengthy journey to Kent to watch the National Counties U20s Championship Semi- Final.
Starting close to home, Saturday was kick started at the Old Friarage ground for the Boys Brigade Old Boys annual World Cup match.
As far as it has been able to confirm, there are only two BBOB sides in the world; one is in Hartlepool and the other in Northampton.
In light of this, they play one other annually on Easter Saturday for the World Champion title.
Hartlepool played host this year for the twenty first playing of the match.
It is a focal point of both sides playing and social calendar each year with the off field activities being as large a part of the weekend as the actual match.
I was able to join in the pre match reception and watch the early stages of the match before having to leave for the journey to Kent for the U20 match.
This year’s champions were Hartlepool with a 57 – 22 victory and I am told that the post-match activities were as lively and enjoyable as ever.
Saturday evening I travelled to Kent with the County U20 side for the Nation Semi-Final match to be played at Cranbrook RFC on the Sunday.
After an overnight stay at Dartford, we travelled the last leg of the journey to Cranbrook RFC on Sunday morning.
It was a fine dry day and a very good pitch; all was set for a good match.
There was a large crowd which included former England back row, Mickey Skinner who had come to watch his son play in the Kent side.
The Durham lads produced a superb performance eventually coming out victors 26 -18.
We can now proudly say that the lads have earned their way to the Final against Yorkshire at the home of Rugby, Twickenham on Saturday May, 6 – 5pm KO.
It has to be said that it was overwhelming to see the number of families and friends of players that made the long journey to support the Durham team.
They could certainly be heard on the day and the lads said that it helped in raising their game.