If you wanted a perfect microcosm of the increasingly well publicised problems of grass roots rugby, you only had to be at the Rectory Field on Saturday. The RFU’s scary statistics of the rapid decline in playing numbers was only too well illustrated by Askeans home game against Whitstable.
On Friday evening, Askeans had a full team together with three substitutes as confirmed in the match day programme. Less than 12 hours later a combination of late COVID infections, sudden work commitments and a traffic jam reduced the starting XV to 13 on the pitch with no subs come the 2 o’clock kick off.
Under the RFU COVID rules, we could legitimately have postponed the game but some of the Whitstable team had already arrived and team Captain, Jack Henderson and Dave O’Connor decided it was only fair to honour the league fixture.
One of our sponsors, Nick Linklater was playing his first game for over 3 years, another sponsor Ian Hunt was also in attendance, although only on the touch line and in the bar.
The starting line-up had only reached 13 because of 2 from the current extensive injury list were pressed into putting on their boots. Director of Rugby, Ian Lunn had a call from the traffic jam and asked the ref if we could delay for 15 minutes, however the Whitstable coach was immovable and we had to stick with a 2pm KO and started short.
Ian had ran up an impressive phone bill Saturday morning and an even more impressive effort to reach the 13 starters.
After the kick off James Roddy, who had been out with injury for the past couple of months, arrived and for a period we had 14 on the park. This would have been tough under any circumstances, but against a well drilled and full Whitstable complement (plus subs) the end result was never going to be in doubt.
Despite this handicap, it was well into the second twenty minutes before Whitstable managed to break down a spirited Askean defence to add to their solitary early score.
Sam Hills and Dave O’Connor were prominent throughout, as was Jack, although he had to leave the field with an injury in the second half.
Chris Jeffrey had raced to the ground from work (traffic jam notwithstanding) and went on as an injury replacement in the second half to bring the numbers back to 14.
It was well into the second half before a couple of late arrivals replaced some weary legs, but the team never managed to field more than 14 players and were mostly fighting with just 13.
The players showed remarkable resilience and heart in resisting with fewer numbers than their opponents throughout.
The final score for Whitstable was enhanced by the fact that their kicker demonstrated an ability with conversions that was reminiscent of Jonny Wilkinson in his hey day.
Whilst the players were a little dispirited at the final whistle, their hearts were definitely lifted in the bar, helped by a generous beer donation from Chunky.
Further good news is that yet another sponsor, Ollie Kemmis, who was at the game will be playing next week and is bringing some reinforcements too!
Final score: Whitstable - quite a lot Askeans- not as many
In Memoriam - Jim Campbell 1949 - 2021
An adopted Askean
One of the delights of this season had been having Jim Campbell as our Referee Liaison Officer -
He watched every Askeans’ game through the eyes of his Blackheath friends and would always be found afterwards in 'The Tucker Bar', again with his coterie of friends.
As our Director of Rugby, Ian Lunn said 'A Good Man!'
Please follow this link for a beautiful obituary.