By David Wilkinson
As the first team squad broke up for four weeks off, doing anything but playing rugby, it did seem like the end of the season. The reality is the season 2020/21 never started and we have only been treading water, until September 4th 2021 when our challenge to get back into the National 2 North league is reprised.
On Saturday, the Chairman of the Club, Stephen Branch, had a pass-out for the day to Priory Park, which started with a ‘Touch-Rugby’ session with the younger members. The Bionic Branch reported that he had not let the old folk down, having firmly arrested one of the speedy youngsters (It is ‘touch’ tackling Stephen). After Stephen had slatted his thirst, I managed to collar him for a bit of a Q&A about where we are at, and the coming months before the new season starts.
Stephen, it has been an interesting time, as we have crept out of Covid and started to play rugby, what did you make of that whole period?
I think that the response from the Club has been immense, when you consider that it was a year ago, last March that we went into the first lockdown, missing the end of the 2019/20 season, then the whole of the following season without playing competitive rugby. What the Club has done to keep the membership engaged both on and off the pitch during this period has been brilliant. Financially generating some sort of revenue, whenever we could, has been hugely important, but also making rugby possible for every age grade across the Club, and what really sums up the spirit of the Club for me is the Sin Bin, it has been the change-agent!
How did all that come about?
When you consider that it was the 4th July 2019 and that we had no means of generating any revenue outdoors, which was needed. We started by opening up the ‘Ground’s Equipment Shed’ as a bar, and now we have the Sin Bin which is a semi-permanent structure, brilliant bar, with heating, lighting and television screens – quite simply it has been crucial!
In that period, coming out of deep lockdown, there has been massive change at the Club, in terms of the infrastructure, which seems to have motivated many members to use the Club as an eating and drinking venue, that might not have otherwise happened, what are your thoughts?
Yes, again the members, and indeed some that are not members, come down regularly just to socialise in the outdoor facility that we have. Club nights on a Thursday have been hugely well supported: you have the Colts training, the Walking Rugby, the Touch Rugby playing, you’ve got the 1st and 2nd team squad training and you’ve got people booking tables just to have a pie and a pint. It has been immense. In terms of galvanising the Club, The Roustabouts has been an absolute inspiration.
What are The Roustabouts?
From Peter Harper’s idea, we now have about 20 guys turning out every Tuesday morning, for two or three hours, and sometimes more, to maintain and repair the Clubhouse and grounds, supporting
the Ground’s Team. We have a huge number of people now, people who really care about the Club, which means that we can confidently look forward to playing rugby again, knowing that the Club is fit for purpose.
Having gone through Ready4Rugby the second time around, which has been much more truncated than the first time, and on Monday we would have been back to scrums and mauls, although the Government has now delayed this; having gone through that period we eventually had two competitive games of rugby; what were your thoughts about the games?
I think that it was hugely exciting for the squad to get back on the Park, I think being invited to Sheffield Tigers, who are a division above us, was great testament to the lads; who’s squad was half the size of Tigers but did extremely well. I think that the return contest at Priory Park was extremely successful. The outdoor facility and grounds were crammed with groups sat at tables, eating and drinking. The day started with an Inner Warriors session on the top pitch, the Girls first, which incidentally only started-up during the pandemic, but is now getting good numbers; followed by the Ladies, where some new players were introduced to the game. This was followed on the main pitch with the Under 6s playing their first competitive game ever against Manchester, plus Walking and Tough Rugby. This was all followed by the main event, the return fixture against Sheffield Tigers, which was to be four, twenty-minute sessions. In it we had five Colts that were part of the squad on the day. It was a brilliant day, for the whole Club, for all those that participated both on and off the pitch and for the commendable way the 1st and 2nd team squad represented the Club on the pitch – it was brilliant.
So, the squad have now been released for four weeks to do anything but rugby, before they come back for what will probably be a long pre-season. Back in the early Spring Andy Appleyard announced that this coming fallow rugby period would be a summer of fun; what do you make of that?
During the summer period, our normal close-season, as we come out of lockdown and restrictions are further lifted, we are going to give people the opportunity to have as much fun as possible at Priory Park. This all starts on the 9th and 10th of July with the Macclesfield Rugby Sevens Tournament. It starts on the Friday night with Walking Rugby 7s and Touch Rugby 7s; on Saturday it includes a men’s open competition, Ladies and even netball; camping will be available, and there’s going to be lots of entertainment – it’s going to be a brilliant weekend. Also, in July Priory Park will be hosting the Family Festival of music and fun, for all of the family; and this is followed in August with the Comedy Festival a day evening event, with family comedy in the day and adult humour at night. Three fabulous events at Priory Park during the summer.
And what will be happening with the Club?
The Sin Bin and outdoor food facility will be open throughout the summer for people to use at their leisure, as well as the Petanque course for a game of Boules.
In July, the squad will return for training with, we hope, full contact scrums and mauls; what other rugby will there be before September?
The Mini and Junior sections can continue to play during the summer, but it will be up to the individual age grades to decide what they want to do. The Walking Rugby will continue, on a Thursday night and sometimes on a Saturday morning, as will Touch Rugby; the Girls and Ladies will
also possibly continue, at some level through the summer. So, there will be plenty happening on the pitches as well as the Sin Bin.
Is there also a bit of rugby being played in South Africa during the summer?
Crikey, yes of course, I nearly forgot (he did)! Throughout July there will be matches every week, the Wednesday games kicking off at 7.00 and the Saturday games kicking off at 5.00; which will be great for viewing. Andy will be getting the full schedule up on the website in due course.
I presume that when the boys come back, that Andy will be organising a number of so-called friendlies for the boys.
Yes, the plan is that the squad should take a complete break, it has been 14 months of on-and-off rugby of some sorts; and that they should come back in July, when hopefully scrummaging will be back, and mauls, so they will come back in pre-season to proper rugby, play some competitive warm-ups so that they can really challenge for promotion.
I understand that Clive Griffiths will be coming back to do some more coaching sessions.
Yes, I think that Clive has been pleased and impressed with what he has seen, and there’s no doubt, that in both games, home and away against Tigers, that the guys had learnt a lot from Clive’s defence coaching. I think Andy will probably look at using some other coaches for forwards and backs looking at some specialist areas within the ever-changing game.
Thanks Stephen lets go and have a beer!