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BILLIONAIRE Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich has stunned backers of a project to erect a statue in memory of Ipswich's “flying prince” Alexander Obolensky by making his own donation.

Grant Sherlock

BILLIONAIRE Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich has stunned backers of a project to erect a statue in memory of Ipswich's “flying prince” Alexander Obolensky by making his own donation.

The Russian oligarch has thrown his support behind the £50,000 statue project in memory of the Russian prince who went on to become an English sporting legend.

Mr Abramovich's donation - described as a “considerable sum” by the group behind the statue - means the project is close to reaching the total needed to see it built.


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His donation, which is believed to be £5,000, follows a £5,000 pledge from the Rugby Football Union and a £20,000 gift from Ipswich businessman Graeme Kalbraier and a number of smaller donations from rugby fans and business figures.

Ipswich Borough Council today said it was “delighted” by the Chelsea owner's intervention.

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A spokesman said: “We are greatly indebted to Mr Abramovich for his generous support towards the Obolensky project.

“This is a huge boost for us, not only in financial terms but getting backing from a man of such sporting influence shows just how significant this project is.

“This, along with the RFU donation and the generous support of local business people, such as Graeme Kalbraier, means that we are now almost at the try line.”

The statue, which will be erected in Cromwell Square in the town centre, was the brainchild of borough council chief executive James Hehir, himself a huge rugby fan.

The memory of Prince Obolensky, a winger, has stayed in the minds of sports fans for 70 years after he scored a famous try at Twickenham in 1936 in England's first defeat of the New Zealand All Blacks.

The prince, a Russian immigrant who became a British citizen after his family fled their homeland when he was a baby, scored two tries in the victory, which was also the 19-year-old's international debut.

He later joined the Royal Air Force and died in his Hawker Hurricane fighter in a crash at Martlesham Heath in 1940. He is buried in Ipswich Cemetery.

- Donations to the project should be made to Ipswich Borough Council (Prince Obolensky Memorial project) and sent for the attention of: Chief executive, Ipswich Borough Council, Grafton House, 15-17 Russell Road, Ipswich, IP1 2DE

Fastfacts: Prince Obolensky

- Prince Obolensky's family of aristocrats fled Russia after the Revolution. His father Prince Serge was a commander in the Tsar's Imperial Horse Guards in St Petersburg

- His rugby prowess has since seen him named in England's “most influential XV ever” along with Martin Johnson, Will Carling and Jason Robinson

- He is also honoured in the rugby Hall of Fame

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