Optimism amid the gloom as Ralph looks forward to great times for Thurrock

  Posted: 11.05.20 at 10:52 by The Editor

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THE impact of the coronavirus pandemic has brought all competitive sport to a halt.
The local football, hockey and rugby seasons were abandoned and the cricket season has yet to start – if it ever will in 2020.
It would seem likely that doom and gloom would prevail in these traumatic times, but not so. The reality is certainly that tough times are here, and they will remain for some time to come.
But optimism remains.
Thurrock Nub News would like to share with you the thoughts of Ralph Henderson MBE, genuinely a legend in Thurrock circles for his work in education where he worked tirelessly since arriving as a history teacher at William Edwards School in 1970, and became its deputy head. He received his MBE for his work in the Queen's 2008 New Year honours list. He still has close ties with the school, which is now forging strong ties with Thurrock Rugby Club – where its new sister school Orsett Heath is due to open in a new annex in September.
And Thurrock Rugby Club and the sport has been an over-riding passion through Ralph’s life. Ralph, who was born in Abertillery, Wales, played 15 seasons for Thurrock and remains an active part of its administration team. He still holds the world record for the number of drop goals scored in one season - 39.
And he is bullish about Thurrock RFC’s future – as he outlines in this piece which we are pleased to bring you.


"WE are living in difficult and dangerous times! Youth has no regard for old age and the wisdom of centuries is looked down upon both as stupidity and foolishness.

"The young men are indolent and insolent and the young women are indecent and indecorous in their speech,manner and dress."

Sound familiar; older people complaining about younger generations? No, that was Peter the Hermit writing in the 13th Century.

Alan Hansen, the great Scottish and Liverpool captain became more famous as a pundit for "Match Of The Day". In 1995 after Aston Villa had beaten a youthful Manchester United team by 5-0,Hansen said famously , "You can't win anything with kids!" That was the so called "Class of 92" which went on to win the League by a landslide and dominate English football for the next decade.

As a teacher for most of my life, I have never agreed with Peter the Hermit or Alan Hansen. Young people are energetic, enthusiastic and optimistic. They have belief in their ability and a kind of "derring-do" that tends to elude us as we grow more conservative in later years.

Throughout its long history, Thurrock has had some incredibly successful times. Although it would be wrong to "dwell on the past", it is useful to learn the lessons of success.
In those halcyon days there was a plentiful supply of players (enough to run eight teams on occasions). Everything was underpinned by the development of talent through the Club's Mini and Youth section, leading to exceptional Colts' Teams. This was complemented by a strong school system, all of which provided the structures to ensure success at all levels.

Sadly, with changes in education and more pressure on teachers, the teaching of rugby lost some of its importance. Therefore there were far fewer youngsters coming through the system.
With areas, like Southend and Upminster retaining selective education, those areas continued to produce good players. Subsequently interested parents sent their children out of Thurrock to these schools and, even though they played their club rugby at Thurrock they were "lost to the system".

Outstanding work

Throughout that time there was still some outstanding work going on with people like Mercedes Foy at William Edwards, but in spite of the great work done by Ken Laybourne and hosts of excellent coaches on Sundays, it was still difficult to produce enough players to succeed at Colts' level. Indeed, we have to go back eight years to recall that superb team which became the Essex Champions and has provided the club with many First Team players, such as Joss Nunn, Jake Barrand, Alex Jones, Jordan Thorne, Grant Scott & Andrew Nimmo to name but a few.

This was a tremendous season when as well as this, many of the Junior sides were thriving, the First and Second Teams won their Leagues and the Ladies won The Championship, thus gaining promotion to the top tier of English Rugby.

So currently, with the World in the throes of a Pandemic and no current opportunities for rugby, why the optimism? Throughout the last few years the Club has been built on solid foundations.
With many former players working with the Minis and Juniors there are lots of good young players emerging. The dedication of people like James North, Chris Sullivan, Andy Stanford, Ken Laybourne and Trudy Walsh has produced a Colts Team playing some first class rugby which is attracting more and more young people back to the sport.

It is generally considered that successful teams consist of three or four young players, nine or ten at their peak and three or four mature, experienced players. With a good Colts Team and good school structures this is eminently achievable. If we consider the current age profile, there is a good balance.

Bearing in mind that competition raises standards, it will be fascinating to see the duels between the likes of Ryan Wilkins and Dan Ulph at hooker or the battle at scrum-half with Jake Bedding and Alex Jones helping to develop Tom Saunders and University student Eddie Stevens.

All across the teams there will be some tasty contests. Suddenly we have an array of outstanding front row players. It was great to see the return of the mighty Charlie Currie back in harness with young Jack Cowman, Dan Carey and Chris Shorter ! More of this in the next edition!

Club stalwarts recently lost but never to be forgotten: Rev Canon Glyn Jones, Peter Minter and Kevin Hymas

Have a go

The great thing about young players is their versatility and willingness to "have a go"! For example, both Dan and Ryan have done well in the back row and just consider how much potential has been shown by Caolan Watts-Adams in the Second-Row and by Dan Stone who spent all of his schoolboy rugby at 10! To add, young 17 year old Kodie Holloway broke into the team just after Christmas to join his brother Kye.

Great rugby teams have always been dependent on certain key characteristics being in place, These are generally recognised as:

1. A strong history and legacy.
2. A large spectator base.
3. Ambition and commitment of volunteers.
(See Matthew Syed's Book,"The Greatest." which discusses most major sports)
4. The support of the whole community.
5. Outstanding "Pathways"and structures for players through the club and schools.

There are, no doubt, several other factors, but let's consider a few at this stage;

Thurrock, as a borough, is huge. It is an Industrial powerhouse with some of the World's largest docks, over 500 "significant companies" including "Uniserve", the second biggest "Amazon" in Europe and London's Gateway.

Thurrock's population is 175,000 and growing. Thurrock is larger than some of England's great bastions of rugby, in the same league as Gloucester, Worcester, Exeter and Bath.

The "Great Train Journey" to Exeter in the eighties, the incredible support of the whole town when playing London Irish, Rosslyn Park and Bath and the hordes who travelled to Twickenham for The Middlesex Sevens in its Centenary year, provide ample evidence of the potential. As recently as 2011-2012 there were crowds of over 500 for some of the Men's and Women's matches. (Largely owing to the efforts of Mercedes and others in promoting the club).

The truth is, people love to support successful teams, but also have pride in their locality.

Perhaps we can discuss some of the other factors in the future, but one of the key reasons for my optimism is the fact that the structures and "Pathways"are now firmly established. The decision by members to allow the new school, Orsett Heath Academy to be built at the Club and the tireless work of the Trustees and Committee to deliver the Project is of monumental importance in the history of Thurrock.

The new school, set in Thurrock's "Hub of Sport" will provide incredible opportunities to secure an amazing legacy, an inspiration for generations of young people. Together with the new Rugby Academy at Palmer's College, there will be no need for parents to send their youngsters outside the Borough for their education. Thurrock RFC, Thurrock Harriers and The Swimming Club will be major beneficiaries, but I suspect that this will be a massive fillip to the whole of Thurrock.

Because of our location and the excellent structures already in place, it should be fairly straightforward to dovetail into the Schools' Programme.

"Our brilliant staff"

There are many great advantages from having superb facilities such as Analysis and Media Rooms as well as S& C Facilities. The prediction is there will be a vast increase in membership and heightening of membership.

Already, thanks to our brilliant Ground Staff, led by Clive Beynon (and much maligned by Jeff's Programme Notes) we have pitches second to none! Last season they were magnificent!
Recently pundits have been arguing about the top twenty Rugby Grounds in the World. Inevitably the Principality Stadium(formerly the Millennium) comes out on top with Twickenham third.
However, having been to hundreds of grounds throughout the World there are few Community Clubs with pitches better than ours! Also take a look at the new pitch at Palmer's developed by our Groundsmen. Looks like Rugby School itself!

One positive outcome of the Coronavirus Pandemic is that so many people have become aware of the importance of family and social responsibility. People have started to become more aware of community cohesion and core values such as loyalty, and this can provide the impetus for the future.

Sadly we have lost some great club stalwarts during the year. Kevin Hymas will always be remembered for his tireless work in many roles and the Rev Glyn Jones was the most brilliant, humble man with a worldwide reputation, yet genuine love of the club he served with such dignity and serenity. Nobody was prouder when his son, Robert played on the wing for Thurrock. A great supporter and wonderful man of Thurrock and Wales.

It was also sad to hear of the passing of Peter Minter and Walter Farquharson just prior to this epidemic. Walter and his brother, Allaister were outstanding contributors to the history of the club, but people like these have provided the rich provenance we now enjoy.

We are all inspired by the courage and tenacity of Rob Scott during his battle with Corona Virus, an outstanding player in his own right. Everyone has been in awe of his valour, but we knew what he was like as a player. It is great that he is now back home alongside his young family.

All of this reminds us of the fact that, "Time and Tide stayeth for no man" but I am really excited and optimistic about the future. There are outstanding coaches at every level throughout the club led by Martin Jones at Senior level and Ken Laybourne at Junior level. The schools will feed into the Club with some key appointments already in place.

At present we are directly in touch with the R.F.U. via Ivor Smith and they will keep us informed about the resumption of the Community Game. In the meantime, it is vitally important to be the fittest you can be. I know many of you, like the rest of us can't wait for "live rugby, but let's make sure we are ready. They say there will be six weeks' notice to get match-fit and hone the skills!

Finally, I can't possibly agree with Alan Hansen or even Peter the Hermit. I believe we have a great future. There are many reasons to be cheerful, in spite of everything and I would prefer the take of the late, Whitney Houston; "I believe the children are our future!" (along with a fair smattering of experienced players and coaches!)

Please note that this represents my own personal views and is merely intended to help keep Rugby a high profile during these difficult times of inertia.

See also: Rugby club is facing up to the challenge.

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