Blackburn Whiteout

By David Wilkinson

The tail-end of storm Eunice was leaving a bit of a chill on the North West of England on Saturday morning; but before setting off on the team coach from Priory Park, the pitch report back from Blackburn’s elevated ground was “good to go”. The bus was in good mood, a strong side was assembled with the return of Billy Robinson and Will Davies to the team and an expectant gathering of Alikadoos. The mood changed, the deeper the visitors got into Lancashire, as the temperature dropped snow was falling heavily, and the prospects were not looking good. The call came from Blackburn that the pitch was now covered in snow but there was a team of volunteers busily clearing the lines.

On arrival it was obvious that there had been a serious dump of snow. Head Coach, Andy Appleyard, spoke to Captain Sam Moss: “Get out onto the pitch and check-it-out, it’s your call”; it would be his responsibility to decide if the game was playable. As it turned out the only game to be played was a brief snow-ball fight between the players; the two captains called-it, between themselves, that it would be safer, for all concerned, to return and fight another day.

I spent a sociable hour with our would-be luncheon hosts, discussing the game, in particular professionalism within our sport. We were joined by Paul Weare, the President of Firwood Waterloo, a club that had survived the onset of professionalism by the-skin-of-their teeth, unlike their neighbours Orrell Rugby Club that would collapse under the pressure. Waterloo, like Orrell had been one of England’s top clubs, prior to the game going open; indeed back then, the North West was the hot-bed of English rugby. Now only Sale Sharks represent our region at the top flight, which is a sad barometer of where all the money is to invest in our game; as such those junior clubs that are climbing the tiers are all southern based. The President of Waterloo was adamant that they would not pay players, and that their future would be purely dependent upon maintaining their grass-roots games. A quick count up would reveal that 14 of Macclesfield’s match day squad, in the Blackburn Lounge Bar, were home-grown, having graduated through the Mini and Junior sections.

Macclesfield RUFC Mini & Junior’s 50th Anniversary

Which leads nicely to the fiftieth anniversary of Mini and Junior rugby at Macclesfield Rugby Club. One of Macclesfield’s finest rugby players, David Worthington, had previously recalled his first experiences of the game at the Tytherington ground: “Not being unkind to my parents, but we were dumped at the Club, I was 4 and my brother 3, they had a crèche, we would run around with the under 6s, then all jump into the bath together”. This was three years before the formal start of Mini and Junior rugby, but like in many clubs around the country, the forerunner to the successful formula today. Worthy recalls the impact on him: “It was great, really inclusive; I knew it was the game for me”. The Macclesfield captain, to be, would continue his rugby at Wilmslow Grammar, followed by the Army, before being a major part of the very successful team of the 90s: “When I came back they were all local lads, all home-grown, including the famous front row of Harding, Mannion and Taylor”

A very young Peter Harper receiving the Colts Cheshire Shield, Macclesfield’s first ever silverware

In September 1971 Mini and Junior rugby officially kicked-off under the Chairmanship of George Lewis. It would be 3 or 4 years though until the first competitive game was played; that was against Wilmslow. Playing that day would be David Taylor and the high scoring Graham Jenion, both would play at the top level for both Macclesfield and Sale. Two years later the Colts would have their first success; these would be local lads from school teams, rather than players graduating from the Junior section. President Peter Harper recalls: “Because we were playing for the school, mostly Kings, we weren’t allowed to play on a Sunday, I used to play for the fifth team – it wouldn’t be allowed today”.  Non-the-less, these were local lads that would go on to play at the top level for the Club.

In 1992 the Club was flying, beating Sale to win the Cheshire Cup for the first time, with the U17s matching the success to win the Cheshire Youth Cup. 9 years later it would be the U11s turn, winning the Cheshire Youth Cup. The following 20 years would see continued success for the youth section, the trophy cabinet would bulge season after season, the catalysts being the quality of coaching, with many ex-first team players contributing to the cause along with great coaching teams across all age groups and excellent management.

Some of the very muddied Colts team after beating Sandbach on the road

This Sunday, the Junior Colts took on Sandbach in a very muddy league match winning 7 – 12. Slightly earlier the U16s played their three times re-arranged, Cup Semi Final fixture, also against Sandbach. As pitches at Priory Park were unplayable, Sandbach had offered to host the game. Thankfully the kick-off was before the worst of the weather came in. It was a hard fought game by both sides, with the wind playing havoc. Macclesfield secured the win, Sandbach 3 – Macclesfield 27. The U16s now progress to the Cup Final which will be played on 13th March (Venue TBC).

Macclesfield’s successful U16s after beating Sandbach in the Cheshire Cup Semi-Final

The U16s is a very large talent pool, made up of over 40 players, sadly they won’t all graduate into the Colts as many are at Kings School, where they will finish off their rugby before going on to Uni, but some will remain. They also have 9 players as part of the Sale Sharks U16 development programme, and on Saturday Ollie Davies, amongst others, playing for their Academy, scoring a sensational try against Worcester Warriors.

The next 1st team home game on March 5th will be a revenge return against Lymm, we owe them one! The pre match lunch is a special for the Mini & Juniors, billed as MaccFuture. We will be expecting something special from them on the pitch at half-time.

The season’s run-in

The coach will be departing again for Blackburn this coming Saturday; the squad will be hoping for an improvement in the weather, as their pitch will have taken a battering.

Following the Lymm revenge, the following week, the team travel up to the picturesque market town of Kirkby Lonsdale. On the 19th March we host North West One table-toppers Anselmians in the Quarter Final of the Cheshire Cup; this will be followed by three home games: Rossendale, Wirral and Alnwick, with the last game of the season away against Burnage. It’s a great run-in to the season; lunch is available for all of the home games, subject to availability.

Andy Appleyard and the squad will be looking for a clean-sweep of wins, come and make a day of it – the sun will come out again!


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