Today an email arrived from London Welsh Rugby Club.
Alas, it was not asking me to buy a season ticket for fixtures against Bristol, Nottingham and London Irish. Instead, it was urging me to become a member (£60) thereby entitling me to a seat in the stand at historic Old Deer Park in Richmond, rather than standing for free in the rain. And following the winding up of the professional club and its demotion from the RFU Championship (tier 2) to Hertfordshire and Middlesex 1 (tier 9), it’s a very different standard of rugby on offer this season. Teams such as Hillingdon Abbots, Royston and London French fill the calendar.
Much has been written about the RFU’s requirements for clubs reaching the top tier Aviva Premiership. And plenty more written about the clubs who’ve chased the Holy Grail and landed in financial trouble. London Welsh are just the most recent example that started with Richmond FC at the beginning of the professional era.
There has been recent success for London Welsh. In 2012/13 and 2014/15, London Welsh made it to the Premiership, having won the previous years’ Championship. Unfortunately, in 2014/2015 the failed to win a single match. And this all happened far away from their south-west London roots in the unfamiliar surroundings of Oxford’s Kassam football stadium. But even in the dying days of the professional team, back at Old Deer Park, they were victorious in the British and Irish Cup beating Yorkshire Carnegie. This story is remarkable considering it occurred a mere nine months before liquidation.
And what a club! In the year of a Lions v All Blacks’ test series, let’s not forget the players it provided for the legendary 1971 tour: its captain, John Dawes; JPR Williams; Gerald and Mervyn Davies; Geoff Evans; Mike Roberts; and John Taylor, who is still very active at the club. That’s some roll call for a club who will be plying their trade in the ninth tier of English rugby.
So this season, as London Welsh Amateurs, there will be no Gavin Henson, Olly Barkley or even a comfortably proportioned Piri Weepu on show. There will be, however, that resilient Welsh Kiwi Sonny Parker as head coach, a player and coach at London Welsh since 2012. While he focuses on the First XV there will be four other amateur men’s teams. Add to this a women’s team and boys and girls’ teams at every age level from under 6 upwards and you get a picture of the community.
So while this is a sad story of a team, it is far from a sad story of a club and its community. The club continues to thrive in its leafy corner of Richmond, in the shadow of Kew Gardens’ Great Pagoda tower. It’s bringing joy, friendship and the social life of rugby to hundreds of boys and girls, men and women, Welsh and non-Welsh. And I, for one, look forward to my first home match, in the stand or under an umbrella at pitch side, with a pint in a plastic cup, berating the referee and recounting the game in the bar at full time.
That is, after all, why we love rugby.
Author: Richard Pugh
I have lived in London almost all of my life but I was born in North Wales and remain a proud Welshman. I am a keen follower of rugby union and a range of other sports such as football, tennis and cricket. Thanks to The 1014, and the encouragement of my NZ journalist partner, I am having a go at putting some of my thoughts down to share with others. I hope you enjoy them.
And here’s a photo of one of the world’s finest scrum halves with Aaron Smith ?