In a South Eastern suburb of London you will find a friendly and social rugby club called Footscray RFC. Marketed as the “Friendliest Club in Kent”, you could point out that this is a rather ambitious claim, afterall the club isn’t actually in Kent. You will of course be gently put in your place with kind and friendly remarks, and at the end of a charmingly warm and hearty conversation, you will bypass your geographical prejudices and agree that yes, it’s true, the “Friendliest Club in Kent” really can be found in South East London.
They do in fact compete in the Kent league, and in my less humble and more heavily biased opinion, you won’t find a more friendly Rugby Club. Footscray RFC run 3 senior sides, training sessions for several junior ages, and arguably the pride of the club, the Footscray Ladies XV (who compete at a level that silences even the drunkest of male claims). Whoever you are, whether a spectator, friend or player from the 1st XV through to the infamous Fatboy 7s side, you will always be welcomed. In fairness, the club could proudly field several teams at the latter end of the spectrum.
I joined Footscray Rugby Club in 1999, like most young rugby players, largely against my will but enticed by the lure of free beer on a metaphorical conveyor belt. (If you ever witness this metaphor in reality, please e-mail me). This method of recruitment remains tried and tested, and occurs in all amateur rugby clubs the length of the country. It is imperative for the survival of smaller rugby clubs as the world of soccer continues to envelop us. Over time, this club has become a second home, and I have made lifelong friends from all walks of life.
The area of Foots Cray in South East London took its name from Godwin Foot, a local Saxon landowner recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, and from the River Cray that passes through the village. Until the 20th century, Foots Cray dominated the nearby, less ancient hill-top hamlet of Sidcup (whose rugby club now compete in the high London leagues). Soon, however, the two settlements’ fortunes were reversed, as Foots Cray’s traditional industries declined after the First World War, and Sidcup grew rapidly as a commuter town after a railway was built linking it to central London. Now who said that local history wasn’t fascinating?
Each Saturday afternoon, the guys will pull on their gold and blue hoops, before heading onto the grass with eager anticipation. Despite the customary pre-match “squeeze” and many seemingly random words of motivational wisdom, invariably, they will begin the match brimming with ice in their bellies, and fire in their heads. It goes without saying that the standards witnessed in the subsequent 80 minutes bear little or no resemblance to the stories told that evening in the bar. It is this aspect of grassroots rugby that makes social clubs like Footscray important to the sport, and to the culture of rugby as a whole. It’s not what you achieve on the pitch, it’s how you achieve it. An attitude that we will try and maintain throughout our challenge.
In the early hours of a Saturday morning, as most Footscray RFC players are getting some well needed beauty sleep, another team of Footscray rugby lads are already hard at work. Approximately 17,000km due South East from their clubhouse in New Eltham exists and even older rugby club of the same name.
Footscray, named after the area in South East London, is a suburb 5 km west of Melbourne, Australia. Although a suburb famous for its art, culture and cosmopolitan lifestyle, it also hosts a series of sorting accolades. Aside from hosting the prestigious “Melbourne Cup” at Flemington Racecourse, Footscray is home to an AFL team, Victorian Premiership Soccer side, and cricket team to name but a few. The Footscray Cricket Club alone has provided 8 Baggy Green caps to the national team, including the ferocious bowler Mervyn Hughes, who now has his own named Oval opposite the rugby club.
Footscray Rugby Union Football Club in Maribyrnong, Melbourne was founded in 1928. It is one of the oldest Rugby Union clubs in Victoria, and they have a glowing amateur history. The club colours; red, white & blue, (as is the tradition for sport clubs from Footscray) were chosen in the colonial days, because they are the colours of the British flag. It is thought that this was to differentiate from the many Irish sports clubs around Melbourne. In their 81year existence they have won several premierships and have even produced 5 Wallabies along the way. But despite this success, like all amateur rugby clubs they too are still recruiting for players.
In 2009, the two clubs made contact and agreed to help promote each other to players heading across the globe. This is where our idea was born. My girlfriend and I planned to cycle between the 2 clubs exploring the development of rugby . This devloped into a pilgrimage from the home of rugby (Twickenham Stadium) to the forthcoming rugby world cup in Auckland, New Zealand 2011.
Please feel free to share your views on our adventure.
Little Bill and Tom