“Time on the pitch is precious, as is the time we spend together in the pavilion and on our travels near and far.”
Manor Park RFC
As predictable as the fireworks exploding overhead and marriage proposals being made within their colour – 2017 began with optimistic messages for the future scrawled all over social media.
Blindly punching out ‘a new year, a new me’ now almost as common as ‘should auld acquaintance be forgot’ being sung with gusto into the midnight air.
Times are changing – and never more so in the lower reaches of junior level rugby union.
The bonkers scenario of clubs as low as Level 8 in the pyramid paying their coaches seems all the more perplexing as many fail to regularly put out two teams – something in which Manor Park has always prided itself on doing with regularity.
Yet we are not immune to the sea change within the grassroots of rugby union. A strong end to 2017 masked some of the ills endured in the winter months as it was Park who briefly became the team making that awkward phone call or thumbing out an apologetic message to inform opponents of shortfallings.
Yet the calendar year ended with optimism. Shining lights of hope for the future with the bulldozing runs of Elliot Lucas powering ahead on debut against Coventry Welsh and Sean Slinn tackling everything in sight.
New names. Names that were unknown to Manor Park at the start of the year.
Somehow, despite not having a youth section, the club continues to regenerate. People scratching that itch of giving rugby go. And we’ve seen in 2017 just how remarkable that journey can be.
While not without our issues since kicking off the year, we end it safe in the knowledge that despite our comparatively pauper-like facilities, we continue to punch above our weight. David still has a place among the goliaths.
While some may dwell on negatives, there is much to salvage from 2017.
Rugby St Andrews, Dunlop, Bedworth, Old Coventrians, Old Wheatleyans, Shipston and Woodrush – twice – have all tasted defeat at the hands of the Manor Park boys.
How about Podge Everard’s second team? Lifting the Warwickshire III League Cup and perhaps only being denied the league title by... okay, let's not go there and sound bitter..
All of this, of course, has meandered forward from the wake of tragedy.
The tragic loss of Jamie Styles affected the club in a way not felt since Ian Brunton passed away 14 or so years ago.
While the grief remains keenly felt, so does the sense of pride for how Manor Park RFC responded, supported by the wider rugby community.
There was a genuine collective desire to actually put the words ‘if there’s anything I can do, let me know’ into action.
Over a period of months, dozens of people poured in hundreds of hours of labour and thousands of pounds to renovate a home for Jamie’s dependents. Including baby Iyla, who was born as the JS7 house project neared its conclusion.
The final results were simply incredible and testament to the hard work and dedication poured into it. An impossible situation was made a fraction less dark by a tidal wave of goodwill.
That’s special. That’s something we should be proud of. The hurt creeps in when casting our minds back to February’s events, but the subsequent actions gives heart. Gives hope.
The chance to play isn’t always something that is in our hands.
It can be cruelly snatched away from us.
Time on the pitch is precious, as is the time we spend together in the pavilion and on our travels near and far.
Plenty reading this piece will know first hand the frustration of not being able to set foot on a rugby pitch because of bodies or circumstances letting them down.
So to those able to play, only willingness can hold them back.
Our hope for 2018 is the desire to play for and represent this club remains strong.
From the seasoned veteran to the new kid on the block. To the occasional once-a-month player to those taking a break – the club will move forward with your support.
The door is always open.
We all hope 2018 doesn’t test us in the same way that its predecessor decided to clout us.
But it is reasonable to hope we can build on the foundations of friendship and brotherhood, of purpose and unity, that we showcased so admirably during 2017.
The pavilion might not be much, but for nine months a year it’s ours.
The pitch might not be the best, but it’s where we can create memories that last a life time.
Since this piece began, the club held its Boxing Day game that saw the likes of Leo Burton, Tony Mikhael, Steve Rose, Billy McBurnie and Martin Cooke take to the pitch in yet another draw.
Dozens of people lined the pitch with vocal support and hundreds of pounds raised for the MIND charity, a poignant cause for Nuneaton Old Edwardians on the other side of town.
The club might not be the ‘six-teams’ strong institution it once was in the glory days, yet comparatively we are in a strong position – but like all health checks or performance reviews at work – there’s always plenty we can improve on.
Some of that comes from the top down, but the overwhelming power comes from the bottom up.
The main measurement for any sporting club is are people enjoying themselves? How many people are getting involved?
The responsibility for pushing to achieve a positive answer to those two questions lies with all of us.
From holding our hands up to assist with menial tasks, to volunteering time and ideas - to simply replying to messages regarding availability for a game on a Saturday afternoon!
When those fireworks explode overhead this evening, and those love-struck lads get down on one knee for their half-expectant ‘faux shocked’ partners – let us all make a pledge to look after our club in 2018, to roll our sleeves up and do what we can to lift the burden on others.
Moreover, make it easier to create more memories as we edge ever closer to our 60th anniversary as a sporting institution in Nuneaton.
We are the Manor Park boys, let us continue to make a noise in 2018 – and beyond.
Happy New Year to you all.
Updated 09:47 - 31 Dec 2017 by Manor Park