There have been many reasons to celebrate in the club’s 46 year history with tournament successes and league wins. Past Atherstone players recall a good cup run in 1993 which could have seen the club make a trip to Twickenham had they defeated Keswick in Round 6 of the North / Midland Division of the Pilkington Shield unfortunately they lost the game 3-10.
In 1977, as 16 year old newcomer, Vice Chair Andy Allan-Stubbs was part of the winning team at the Brew XI Tournament held at Nuneaton RFC. 37 years later he will be in the squad on 9th February with his youngest son, Daniel, hoping for the same outcome. Stubbs will be one of three squad members who are over 50 years old with Lewis Wrigley being the youngest player at 17.
Wrigley is in his first season as a senior having come through the Junior Section. Ross Salt, Atherstone RFC Juniors Secretary said of the final and of Wrigley’s inclusion in the squad:
‘It is great for the kids to see that they could get to a final a few years. There is a buzz around the club not just because of Lewis but because three of the junior coaches will be playing in team.’
One of the coaches is Matt Barnes, who has been a part of Atherstone RFC for 26 years and who coaches the U15s. Having stopped playing five years ago, Barnes decided to return to playing this season mainly so that he was still playing when his son, Jake, moves to senior rugby in two years. Barnes commented that it was surreal that in his first season back he will be playing in a final.
Chris Garry started playing rugby 13 years ago coming through the junior section into Colts. As a young player, he was often likened to Jonah Lomu with his power and speed earning him top-try scorer. A series of injuries have prevented Garry from playing for a number of seasons however he has returned as a player for the seconds and a coach for the juniors. Garry decided to help out with coaching the U6s when his son Charlie began to show an interest. When asked how he felt about the final, Garry said:
‘It means a lot. I am glad to be back on the pitch and in the team. I am certainly looking forward to it and have booked Monday off work’
Matt Kent joined the club 15 years ago and was one of Barty’s Babes, referring to the team of youngsters coached by Ricky Bartlam, brother of club Chair George. Kent remembers his first game against Whittington at the barracks but the highlight of his career, up to now, was scoring four tries against Warwickians which earned him a headline in the Pink. Not only is Kent second team captain but he also coaches U12s and U15s. Kent has five children all of whom play in the junior section Brogan, U8, Bryce, U9, Blake, U12 and Josh and Ben, U15s. Kerry Kent, Matt’s wife, is far from being a rugby widow, she makes sure the seniors are well fed after their games and is a stalwart supporter of all of her rugby players. When asked what being in the final meant to him, Kent said:
‘This means everything to me. Atherstone RFC is my second home more so since I have been coaching the kids. It gives me a great sense of pleasure to lead the lads out in what may be a once in a life time opportunity.’
Kent went on to say that he felt the competition had brought the club together and that there was so much support from the seconds. He thanked those that had always been on the touchline supporting his team and he also applauded the support from the parents of the junior section many of whom will make the journey to Old Leamingtons to watch the final.
Club Chair George Bartlam played his part in the semi-final but is unavailable for the final. Although disappointed not to be there, Bartlam said:
‘I am absolutely delighted for the boys. I hope they enjoy the day and give a good account of themselves. I hope they enjoy the occasion. I would like to thank the supporters and the sponsors all of whom have really got behind the lads.’
Club Treasurer Brian Wilkins, one of the over 50s playing in the match, was asked for his comment. He said, with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face:
‘I am disappointed at the extra cost this final is giving the club. Do they not know how difficult it is for me to balance the books? Then the Chair goes and books two coaches, TWO, I didn’t know we had that many supporters / players…I tell you I nearly fell of my chair when I saw the invoice…good job we had sponsors step up to put money in the bank otherwise we would be looking at a deficit at the end of the year…and the men in black would become the men-in-red!’
It’s a good job we all know Wilky’s sense of humour eh?
Whatever the outcome of the match, Atherstone seconds are making history and in years to come they will be the ones in the clubhouse telling the youngsters how it was in their day.