Posted: 18.06.20 at 20:45 by Ralph Henderson
Thurrock Rugby Club stalwart Ralph Henderson continues his series of reflections on the game - looking back at the nation's 'darkest hours' and the heroes that emerged....
AS I sat down to write this article the breaking news flashed across my television screen that Dame Vera Lynn had passed away! Aged 103, she had been a constant source of inspiration in all of our lives.
Vera Lynn did as much as anyone to raise morale during Britain's "darkest hours". Her natural presence was more than just the voice which told us "We'll meet again", but a spirit which transcended the decades, resonating through the current pandemic and even mentioned by the Queen in her recent personal broadcast to the nation.
Fate being the perverse commodity it so often is, this is so poignant at the present time. The song encapsulates separation not just from our extended biological families, but also from our sports' families. Having set the context, though, it quickly moves on to the determination to get back to normality.
After months of lockdown and no live sport to write about, it seems as if everyone has been speculating about the future of sport and most pundits appear pessimistic if not morose.
The conclusion being that sport is in something of a mess.
Sport is usually defined as athletic activity that involves some level of competition. But it is much more than that. For young and old, sport plays such an important role in life by providing all-round development; physically, psychologically and emotionally.
We keep fit and healthy, have better diets, release endorphins and capture happiness through a sense of well-being and achievement. Through team sports like rugby, football or hockey we gain a camaraderie and espirit des corps which greatly enhances our lives. Sadly,of course, "social-distancing" mitigates against this comradeship. It almost seemed that all that was left were 'Some remnants which had escaped the shipwreck of time'!
Then amidst this "shipwreck" and the two great forces of the pandemic and protests over racism, enter the most decent, humble and reluctant hero,Marcus Rashford. This brilliant young Manchester United and England footballer has become a wonderful ambassador and role model not just for sport but for all young people. It is incredible that his generosity, fundraising and eloquence has influenced governments and been so uplifting for sport during this fallow period and for the country as a whole.
Then, almost out of the blue, some sport restarted and we all realised what we had been missing. By nature, most humans are social animals. All words such as society, association and social emanate from the Latin socius meaning friend or companion and the friendship part is key to the success of most sports clubs, especially at community level where large sums of money are not available in an attempt to achieve success.
There are many disagreements one could have with the writings of Karl Marx, but it is hard to contradict some of his views on the detriments of money. Yes, money is useful, he wrote, but there were serious negative consequences for love and friendship which get corrupted by money.
The fact that they are not about money is what makes those relationships so priceless.
With the first matches between Aston Villa and Sheffield United, followed by Manchester City against Arsenal we witnessed some amazingly transformational scenes as opponents "took the knee" and applauded essential workers during these terrible times for the world.
Their actions and deeds will be a lasting testimony to the desire for real change on a massive scale.
Perhaps the saddest part of our long absence has been not seeing anybody on the field at Oakfield or old friends in the clubhouse. At community clubs like Thurrock there has always been outstanding camaraderie among old friends and team-mates. During this period we have been reminded of the kindness of the human spirit and the real sense of community engendered in our clubs.
There have been quizzes,food parcels and numerous whatsapp groups keeping players, fans and members connected. There have been charity events. (Hopefully we can support Ryan Wilkins and Kye Holloway in their "Ski Marathon" ). First Team captain Charlie Russo and Coach Sally Tuson have come up with some great ideas to continue in this vein and we must give them great support.
There are so many unsung heroes in our clubs, without who clubs would not exist. The brilliant author and former Olympian, Matthew Syed writes in his book, "The Greatest" that "Lots of words are aspirational in sport. Champion, victor, icon, legend, hero, to name a few But volunteer, although a word with less effusive connotations should command similar prestige.......According to a think tank, 971 million people volunteer in a typical year across the globe.The monetary value of their time is about £1 trillion. But this is the least important dimension of volunteering. What these people contribute to a nation is not measured in money but in soul."
Thurrock has an abundance of volunteers whose work is priceless and provides the soul and the legacy essential for success.It would be wrong to mention names as there are so many, but without you there would be no club!
With the relaxation of some parts of lockdown there has been lots of speculation on how to restaŕt the game and numerous ideas on law changes to improve the game and reduce contact whilst encouraging future investment.
So how refreshing and exciting to see a sight which seemed impossible just a few weeks ago;a full to capacity Eden Park and a near to full Dunedin for the resumption of rugby in the Covid-free New Zealand!
In the Southern Hemisphere they are experimenting with law changes which we hope will bring more attacking play back into the game. Rugby went professional 25 years ago and this is the first chance we have had to rationalise, re-assess and plan for the future.
It was felt that the game was getting too repetitive, with robotic giants smashing into each other in games dominated by defences. It was no longer a game for people of "all shapes and sizes". Attacking, free-flowing rugby is what makes this an exciting,explosive sport and it seems the time is ripe for change.
The Aotearoa games now have no draws,with "Golden Time" if teams are still level after extra time. Red Cards are rescinded after 20 minutes so that games are not "done and dusted" as a spectacle at an early stage.The referees have been told to be zealous at the breakdown to quicken the speed of the game.
Rugby is constantly evolving and hopefully,we will embrace these changes in the Northern Hemisphere as we enter a new era.
At Thurrock it was great to see Martin Jones and his team of coaches re-commence training this week,although it seemed strange not shaking hands and standing well away from old friends.
Players were spread at vast distances in keeping within the regulations and hands were continually wiped with sanitisers! Nevertheless, it was a special occasion to see several of last season's promotion winning Colts Team graduating into Senior Rugby (More of that next week.)
As sport restarted in earnest this week it is useful to re-consider the words of former Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly: "Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that."
Recent events have perhaps exposed the banality of that statement (Although meant humorously). It might be wiser to paraphrase William Congreve: "Sport hath charms to soothe the savage beast, to soften rocks or bend a knotted oak."
Certainly, we have discovered the importance of sport. It is a distraction from the vicissitudes of life, entertainment and a vital source of friendships and loyalties. In another tragic week, we are grateful for the inspiration of Marcus Rashford and the legacy of Vera Lynn.
It is a week in which sport has found its voice and I will leave you with the words of another great Marcus, the philosopher, Marcus Aurellius: "Very little is needed to make a happy life,it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking."
P.S. We are always looking for new members, players and volunteers - the lifeblood of all clubs.