It would be very easy to look back on 2020 and dismiss the year as lost to the Covid-19 pandemic and the severe limitations on lives and livelihoods generally, and on the Rugby Club specifically. To have had to contemplate a full season without senior rugby a year ago would have been unthinkable. Rugby not only provides great entertainment at the Club, but also a social environment in which people across all ages, genders and backgrounds can gather, in an atmosphere of friendship and fun. The thought of no rugby, no social life, no hospitality and no income, was frightening and yet that is what the Club has had to deal with; and deal with it we have!
Thankfully we managed to play a bit of rugby before the pandemic took hold: in January the first XV travelled away to Kirkby Lonsdale and were joined by the Ladies’ team for the first time, to play in their own fixture against Kirkby Lonsdale Ladies. My highlight in February was the first XV win at home against Harrogate; this followed a loss on the away fixture. But the home win was convincing and well deserved; it also demonstrated the character of the first XV who went on to challenge for promotion back to National Two.
In March the Alickadoo’s enjoyed a weekend away in the North East at Alnwick. It was such a long journey that a group in the ‘stripey blue blazers’ decided to make a full weekend of it. The rugby was very enjoyable with the 1st XV winning by just one point. In the middle of March, the season was cancelled and we waited for the RFU and the leagues to decide how the end of season standings would be resolved. Macclesfield was on a roll and had six games in hand plus two games to be rearranged due to the weather, but their arithmetic left the 1st XV in 3rd place by less than one full point and just off promotion back to National Two.
It was a great disappointment, but one from which the players and the Club have responded to with a commitment and determination to set the record straight. The 1st and 2nd team squads have been merged as one squad and the morale amongst the players and coaching staff is high. Andy Appleyard, Rick Jones and Tom Davenport have delivered a very professional approach to the senior game and have recruited well to fill gaps across the 1st and 2nd teams. This all culminated in a very entertaining match, in front of spectators, just before we entered the December lockdown. The strength and depth in the 1st/2nd team squad are such that two full sides were fielded and there was little to differentiate the two. Over 60 points were scored and the winning side did so by just one point.
The main highlight through the summer was the response by the membership to everything the Club was able to do, on and off the pitch, as the guidelines kept changing. From fundraising early on to ensure the Club’s viability to all the wonderful activities organised by volunteers on line; to the first race night which raised just under £4,000 – to the participation and involvement of members once the Tool Shed Bar was opened. Saturday 4th July was the first opportunity members had to socialise after the first lockdown and what a response. The Rugby Club’s very large car park easily accommodated the 150 or more people who turned out to use the outside bar, within the guidelines. The outdoor facility was so popular that the Club held a couple of events outside, one introducing our friend Neil Diamondo from Barnsley! it was also encouraging that some form of rugby was allowed to take place. The mini/junior section of the Club was able to operate almost fully and senior rugby returned to training, and to a form of the game known as Ready4Rugby.
Always a highlight of the season is the annual cricket match between Macclesfield 1st XV and our great friends from Macclesfield Cricket Club. It was a great day. The weather was kind and the hospitality was fantastic. As we moved towards what should have been the start of the 2020/21 season and rugby was able to take place under the ready4rugby format, General Manager and Head Coach Andy Appleyard organised a tournament to be held over a weekend. Every age grade from U6 to the 4th Team and including the walking and touch rugby groups was represented and divided into four houses for the purposes of scoring. The participation and engagement by players and supporters were fantastic.
Right up until the December lockdown the Mini/Junior section of the Club was able to continue unhindered and the senior game moved to stage E on the roadmap back to rugby. Stage E was a great step forward and, at last, full-contact rugby could resume albeit without scrums or mauls. At the same time, the RFU and the Leagues started the process of organising merit table fixtures within local clusters. These were still due to start from 23rd January, however the latest full lockdown moved rugby back to Stage A (individual training with one other, socially distanced person).
In October our MC, Thespian and Alikadoo David Wilkinson collaborated with The Macclesfield Amateur Dramatic Society in organising ‘The Priory Park Horror’. This event was run over three days and consisted of a ‘scary walk/horror show’ around the grounds of the Rugby Club, which is still haunted by the events that took place many years ago at the old priory. It was an amazing success and hosted over 700 people in the 3 days from the Rugby Club and the wider community. This event is now a permanent fixture in the Club calendar. As is the memorable Oktoberfest that took place during November last year!
Off the field, a big highlight in December was the official opening of The Sin Bin Bar as a semi-permanent outside hospitality area, including heating, lighting, TV screens and furniture. The Sin Bin Bar made a huge contribution to our ability to socialise within government guidelines and I can report that bar takings in December 2020 were nearly 80% higher than they were when the Club was fully operational in December 2019!
The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged the Rugby Club significantly but there have been many highlights through the year, and whilst a curse, it has also been a blessing in disguise, for had it not been for the pandemic, we would not have the Sin Bin Bar nor would we have achieved the highlights we have over the year. The membership has been engaged and involved in the Club’s activities all year and we have witnessed creativity and ideas put in to action that perhaps we would not otherwise have seen.
Stephen Branch, Chairman, MRUFC