Club dream is no longer in the clouds

LIKE some of the best laid plans, it started in a pub.

Friends getting together over a pint, talking about how they wanted to play rugby together once more and deciding the best chance was to start up their own club.

Only this wasn’t just any ‘new’ team. And it wasn’t a random and foolhardy idea after sinking one too many ales.

For 22 years, Leiston and Thorpeness Rugby Club existed with some success attracting players from New Zealand and South Africa who were working on various construction projects at nearby Sizewell.

But there was the problem. The fair-weather players who graced and often improved the side would leave as soon as their employment in the local area was up.

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The diehard local players, growing frustrated, had already looked elsewhere for their weekly rugby fix and when the problems came to a head, it was too late.

The rugby club packed up and for 15 years, the playing field in Thorpeness was left barren, save for the occasional cricket match or car boot sale.

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Back to the local where James Cook and Mark Souter thought something had to be done. The pair were playing rugby, for Southwold and Woodbridge respectively, but they wanted to play for their local team.

From this somewhat romantic perspective grew the origins of what has now become Thorpeness Rugby Club.

Amazingly, the initial idea of reforming the side only began in March this year. Eight months on, the club are in the Suffolk Merit League Division Two with the seed of some impressive facilities and credible plans for the future.

For Dale Hoffman, who has played for Thorpeness old and new, the new club’s rapid ascent has even taken him by surprise.

Hoffman, the honorary secretary, said: “Restarting the club was always in the back of my mind, but I didn’t think there would be enough local interest. I assumed people who wanted to play rugby were doing so elsewhere. When James and Mark first came to me about reforming the side, I was concerned about numbers. But they told me there was already a list of 25 people who were interested.”

While some sides might have been happy just playing friendly matches at first, Hoffman believes the carrot of something altogether more competitive was a great attraction.

He explained: “Some people didn’t just want to come along and play friendly rugby, it was important we found a competitive league and the Suffolk RFU and Eastern Counties Rugby Union have been absolutely brilliant, helping us every step of the way. Certainly getting into the Merit League was massive for us as it helped with recruiting players and sponsorship.”

The thorny issue of money is a sticking point for even the most established local rugby sides, let alone the new kids on the block.

Hoffman admitted: “It has obviously been financially difficult as the set-up costs have run into a few thousand pounds and came at a time when we didn’t have the sponsors on board like we have now. We did have to dig deep into our own pockets.”

After all the hard work off the pitch, which has now been matched by decent sponsorship and generous support from local businesses, the scene was set for the side’s first home match in the league last week.

A narrow 15-12 defeat at the hands of unbeaten Ipswich YM Hawks did nothing to dampen the achievements of everyone connected with the club.

One thing is for sure - Thorpeness Rugby Club are once again here to stay.

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