“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated “ Mark Twain
The last 18 months have been incredibly tough for rugby (as well as for pretty much everybody else).
Already there are indications that some clubs may not survive.
The opening season dinner at the Rectory Field on Friday evening August 6th heavily underlined that Askeans are not going to be one of the casualties.
It was a fantastic night (and early Saturday morning) - jam packed with Askeans and with several wives to add some glamour amongst the numerous cauliflower ears.
Master of Ceremonies, Steve Homewood, was in charge, not least in mastering the frequent heckling and side chatter.
About the only thing he didn’t master was his rather cavalier and somewhat lackadaisical approach to pointing out the emergency exits as part of the health and safety stuff.
Serendipitously we did not experience a fire, pestilence, plague of locusts or even a flood - this despite several areas of the hall ending up ankle deep in Carling Special Brew and Guinness.
It could have been worse of course – fortunately the Rectory bar does not stock ‘throwing bitter’
It was noticeable however, that no one spilled the fizz from the free champagne bar.
Steve moved forward to outline a particularly unique raffle which involved everyone being required to put cash into brown envelopes (which in itself seemed rather significant).
The unique nature being that there was surprisingly the promise of some actual prizes
More of this later - which I realise suggests that, as is frequent at Askean events, there aren’t going to be any winners!
Wait and see you of little faith.
Steve then moved on to propose the Queen - I found this a trifle disconcerting until it was pointed out that it wasn’t that sort of proposal.
Steve then handed over to Paul Walsh to launch the exciting new charity ‘Friends of Askean RFC’.
The full details are elsewhere on the website, including how every Askean can get involved.
In essence the charity is designed to support both the Askeanrugby club and the wider community.
The project has grown out of a very generous donation from Mike Lalley, a former player, who wanted to give something back to the club where he enjoyed such good times.
Unfortunately, Mike was unable to be at the dinner, however Paul, on his behalf, presented the cheque to 1st XV Captain, Jack Henderson.
As you can see it is a large cheque in every sense of the word and had presumably arrived on the back of an HGV.
A glass was raised to Mike in appreciation of his extremely generous donation. This was accompanied by much applause.
It is planned to update the web page regularly and to enable speedy access there is a link and a QR code.
This obviously works as is evidenced by the fact that you arrived here and are currently reading this (or at least browsing the photos in the hope that you were captured on film – or not, depending on what you got up to).
Paul thanked all those who had worked tirelessly to set up the charity in time for the launch and included the design and launch of the website, banner, brochures and other associated details involved in creating the project.
These included Ian Johns, Ian Lunn, Chris Jeffrey, Steve Homewood, Sarah Walsh, plus the designer Mark Robinson and Dave Shute, although Paul singularly failed to include himself - which was both self- deprecating and a significant omission.
Back to MC Steve who proceeded to make further proposals (still not that sort apparently) to a long list of various rugby unions, referees, societies, leagues, merit tables and a particularly flexible young lady who, I understand, advertises an erotic range of services on a card which can be found displayed in local telephone boxes.
Obviously, I made that last bit up to check if you were still paying attention (although I can let you have her number for a reasonable fee if you are interested).
As soon as we regained our seats Steve demanded that we stood up yet again to toast the club.
Frankly I, for one, would have preferred him to do all the toasts in one hit - not least to show consideration to the older and more infirm of us older members.
During a brief lull whilst dinner was being served a white rugby ball was passed around the tables for everyone present to sign – the quite remarkable thing being Askeans, was that it was only passed forward on one occasion, although to be fair, it was dropped and knocked on pretty often.
Surprisingly it made it all the way round – especially as Peter Dessent has never ever been known to pass the ball.
The ball will be kept as a record of all those who were fortunate to be there when the ‘Friends of Askeans’ was launched.
The meal itself was one of the best we have enjoyed at our dinners - served with speed, smiles and large jugs of cream (for the dessert obviously).
We started to relax now that I assumed the seemingly continuous ups
and downs for toasts were finally completed (I just hate being right all the time!)
Up stood Jack Henderson (remember him from earlier? - he’s the 1st XV captain in case you weren’t playing attention) - rather surprisingly he had not done a runner with the ridiculously large cheque - presumably because it wouldn’t fit in the boot of his car!
Jack responded eloquently in response to the Club proposal- at least
it sounded eloquent - I having liberally imbibed at this stage - primarily due to the constant standing up to toast a whole variety of institutions (many of whom I’ve never heard of!)
Jack continued (equally assured) to present a range of awards for the
previous season -
Players Player – Charlie King
Top Points Scorer – James Roddy
Dedication to Training – Devon Maynard
These were received amidst much cheering and clapping from current players who loudly demanded speeches from each winner.
Luckily for those of us who were desperate for a comfort break (which is a posh term for a waz), they all declined and returned to their seats as the clapping continued enthusiastically.
Steve then presented The President’s Award to coach Tim Keepax - a much deserved accolade to a long -time club stalwart who, like his father, has worked tirelessly for Askeanrugby.
I promised to return to the raffles (despite your inevitable scepticism) and I confirm that there were actual prizes –although the architect of the famous and highly successful Askean raffles that contributed generously to many touringfunds was indeed in attendance.
He looked a trifle non plussed when we had real prizes.
To avoid any embarrassment here I won’t reveal his identity (although he is known universally as Chunky as are his eponymously named raffles.)
Three names were drawn for 2 cash plus a mystery prize - each of which were in plain white envelopes- thus winners did not know which prize was theirs.
Ian Lunn wisely refused his envelope suspecting that he might end up with the mystery prize.
Eventually the 2 cash prizes went to Barry Mellish and Matt Stokes
The mystery envelope contained a pair of scissors (wtf?) and was
handed to Patrick Johns - he had won the dubious pleasure of removing the
ponytail adorning Club Captain Dave O’Connor’s nob (not that one!)
This was duly achieved with some panache to much cheering and hooting in particular from the current playing squad.
It was evident that a number of the older contingent were visibly disappointed that being somewhat follically challenged they would be prevented from being a prize at a future Askean function.
If anyone hoped that the constant stream of toasting was finally over they were to be sadly disappointed (again).
Ian Lunn was soon on his feet to toast the guests (whoever they were - although it turned out to be just one - a charming chap (Keith Roffo) from Colfeians.
Not sure if Keith was the only invitee who bothered to turn up or if we now only invite one bloke along – as I said he was generous in his remarks about the club and I strongly recommend that we make him the permanent guest from now on.
So up we got again!
As we gratefully sank back into our seats, Ian commenced with what has always been the highlight of successive club dinners for many years.
Ian was not only hilarious (as always) but managed to gently roast many of the current players and to talk about the unique character of the Askean RFC and the values that have made it a special place to play rugby for almost 100 years.
Ian also presented an award to Jack Henderson for ‘leading us through Covid’ – hopefully we will not need this particular award in the future and that Jack will hold it forever more.
He also thanked the staff who had served the meal and the bar with alacrity and good humour throughout the evening.
Dom Brown, the youngest player present, was called on to offer floral gifts of appreciation to Marilyn (Head of Hospitality) and her team.
They looked like orchids to me, although for all I know they could have been hollyhocks.
The official business was concluded with Steve toasting absent friends - noting that this was the first dinner that Chas has been unable to attend for about 40 or more years – we also hope that he will be here next year and at the pre-match lunch on 18th September (at the Rectory Field).
Steve also asked us to remember another club stalwart, Mick Sidgewick, who sadly passed earlier this year.
Finally, Steve echoed Ian’s optimism that the future of the club looks both secure and promising.
Everyone repaired (probably a rather more appropriatesuggestion for Saturday morning) to the bar in an attempt to consume the entire Rectory beer stocks. Whilst this was indeed a failure it was certainly not for the lack of enthusiasm by the players.
Marilyn eventually managed to gently cajole everyone outside before the taxis
turned into pumpkins and, at last a sated and happy crew departed.
I am certain that no one left the dinner either disappointed (or sober).
It was a brilliant night and a tribute to all those who did the superb organising and those who attended.
A tremendously successful event.
As far as I know Mark Twain wasn’t ever an Askean ( obviously he wasn’t), however his quote is certainly relevant for us today!
Photos from the dinner will be added as soon as my 10 year old granddaughter shows me how!