Last week I took us back to April 2017 and the promotion play-off win at Chingford that brought us up to our current level 5. This week, we go back one more year to the day Tunbridge Wells RFC “turned HQ blue”!
I sit writing this looking out at a cloudless blue sky on the eve of the 4th anniversary of the greatest day in the club’s history. The forecast for tomorrow is “Sunny and 20 degrees, much as it was on Saturday 7th May 2016.
I had intended to share a few of my own “Mr Chairman” memories but given the quality of the contributions I have received from so many others who shared that day with us, I have decided these can wait for the 5th anniversary. These memoirs will, though, definitely include how Greg Robbins, Clint Redman, Adam Webb and I beat the horrendous Portsmouth weather and the “boisterous” home fans by occupying their wind and rain-swept balcony throughout as we took the first steps on the path to Twickenham….soaked through but happy…..we must have been bonkers!
THE 2015/16 ROAD TO TWICKENHAM…….London & South East Intermediate Cup
September 12th – Round One BYE
November 28th – Round Two Portsmouth 5 Tunbridge Wells 13
February 6th – Round Three Tunbridge Wells 48 Hove 5
February 27th – Quarter-Final Tunbridge Wells 20 Horsham
10March 12th – Semi-Final Fullerians 0 Tunbridge Wells 53
March 26th – Final Sevenoaks 10 Tunbridge Wells 38
RFU Intermediate Cup
April 9th – National Semi-Final Tunbridge Wells 29 Matson 15
May 7th – National Final St Benedict’s 14 Tunbridge Wells 56
There is a story to be told on each of the March and April matches but I shall save this for 2021 too……
Saturday 7th May 2016For the match report I turn to the admirably fair review by the Cumbrian News & Star newspaper:-
“St Benedict’s dream run to Twickenham proved to be one step too far as they were well beaten by Tunbridge Wells, who extended their winning streak to 29 matches. The 56–14 final score in the RFU Intermediate Cup final was, to be fair, an accurate reflection of the game. As both teams have won promotion to Step 6 for next season, neither will have the chance to repeat the experience, at least in the RFU Intermediate Cup.
The match had a messy start with the opening scrum having to be reset and Tunbridge Wells were then penalised for hooking too early. They had, however, shown that their pack was strong and mobile and when the next scrum was set, St Bennys found themselves five metres back. A minute later, Tunbridge Wells were reduced to 14 men when Lee Campion was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle. From the resulting penalty Bennys attacked and Kyle Drake thought he had scored in the left corner, only for the touch-judge to rule that full-back Mike Hawley had knocked on as he challenged his opposite number Hayden Pope for a kick-through.
Another big problem for the Cumbrians was that their line-out was failing miserably. Three of their first five throws missed the intended target and Tunbridge Wells got the ball, too. In the ninth minute, from their first attack inside the Cumbrians’ 22, the Kent club showed the power and pace, and only a tremendous last-ditch tackle from Hawley stopped a try, albeit at the expense of a five-metre scrum. From there, Bennys were penalised and Tunbridge Wells elected for another scrum. This time, there was no stopping the powerful pack and Nicholas Doherty touched down beside the posts. Pope added the extras.
There was immediately more danger for St Benedicts when Tunbridge Wells launched another attack. Hawley, was once more the hero, producing an excellent on-on-one tackle to stop Alex Maynard. It was a temporary reprieve because after a turnover, Tunbridge Wells again attacked down the right and this time Maynard would not be denied, running behind the posts to touch down.
Something had to be done to slow down the Tunbridge Wells charge and when they were penalised for going over the top to kill a ruck, St Bennys elected to kick at goal. Unfortunately, Daniel Rayson was wide left with the kick and, things got even worse a minute later when Campion ran onto a grubber kick and scored a third Tunbridge Wells try. With 22 minutes on the clock, after Pope’s missed conversion, the score was 19–0 and the men from Mireside had a mountain to climb.
A break by Hawley offered some hope, but that was extinguished five metres out by a knock-on and then a penalty as a forward picked up the loose ball in an offside position. In 32nd minute, there was more joy for the men from Kent as Maynard made another break and Campion finished it off. Four minutes before half-time a high tackle on the 22 gave Tunbridge Wells a penalty and Pope added another three points, making it 27–0.
With the last play of the half, St Benedicts got on the board with a try from Ryan Fisher. Hawley made the break, chipped over Pope and then got a bit of good fortune as the bounce went Fisher’s arms and he scored. Rayson added the conversion.
St Benedicts need to make a good start to the second half, and two mistakes from Tunbridge Wells helped to them achieve it. A box kick went into touch on the full and Pope knocked on from a kick into space. From the scrum, two missed tackles gave Hawley clear run to the line and the cover didn’t arrive in time to stop him. Rayson’s conversion cut the deficit to less than two scores and St Benedicts were definitely back in the game. Now it was Tunbridge Wells’ turn to display nerves and they started making handling errors under little pressure. Bennys had both a lineout and scrum between the 22 and 10-metre lines, but they failed to take advantage of either good position.
The comeback was stilled in the 53rd minute when Charlie Harding made a break, broke through four tackles and his pass gave Tasi Fred Tila the chance to charge over the line. Three minutes later, more dancing feet from Harding ripped open the St Benedicts defence and after he was stopped five metres out, Charles Spence was able to wriggle past a couple of players on the try line before putting down the ball.With 20 minutes remaining Steven Wood was sin-binned for a high-tackle, and Tunbridge Wells capitalised, five minutes later, when Harding scored near to the right touchline. Brave tackling from Fisher stopped Guthrie Holliday from adding his name to the Tunbridge Wells try-scorers, but when the attack broke down, Harding dropped a goal from 20 metres out. With a little more than two minutes remaining Tunbridge Wells broke through the 50-point barrier. Maynard, whose running was too much for the Miresiders all afternoon, burst through the defensive line and he sent Pope over in the left corner. The full-back added the conversion to complete a comfortable victory.”So now, without further ado here are the personal memories of that day as written by seven people. I have tweaked these as little as possible as I have always been a subscriber to the theory that you should never let the truth get in the way of a good story…….there is a lot to read but then again we do currently have the time……!
The Organiser – Michelle Greenall
“After the semi final against Matson on the 9th of April there was so much to do to prepare for the final less than a month away. The football club had been to a Wembley final the year before so we knew that the town would unite behind the rugby club going to Twickenham. The big issues were tickets, merchandise, transport and the RFU paperwork. We decided that it was easiest for people to buy their own tickets and we split the paperwork between us. That just left stash and transport.
It’s situations like this when you realise what a great club Tunbridge Wells is! The offers from volunteers flooded in. We designed a logo, ordered hundreds of T shirts, polo shirts, hoodies. flags and bags (to #turnhqblue) and organised places to set up pop up shops. They opened over the long May bank holiday weekend. The response was overwhelming and we sold out of hoodies and polo shirts and had to place another order!
We also decided that we owed it to the members to organise transport to Twickenham and we ended up booking coaches to take over 600 people to the ground. We’d initially thought this would be an easy job and a coach company would just say thank you for the business and do all the work for us. This wasn’t the case and we had to take individual bookings and payments and then allocate seats on buses. It was hard work but we got everyone there (and back) and we did turn Twickenham blue!”
The Coach – Mike Whatman
“At the start of pre-season that year, the coaching group along with Mr Chairman met for a dinner to set out the goals for the upcoming season. The goals were to win London South East 2 and target a good cup run, with the priority obviously being the league. However, as the season progressed and it seemed that the league title was becoming an inevitability, the realisation after the regional final against Sevenoaks that we were 1 game away from Twickenham, hit us as coaching group.
The semi-final at St Marks which is still one of my favourite days involved with the club, was a battle beyond belief, and in reality should have been the final. But Matson were put to one side and we were off to HQ.
As a coach, your job is really done before the day of a game. At this point it’s down to the players so I remember getting on the bus on the morning of the final feeling a huge amount of nervousness but also a huge sense of excitement about the opportunity that the boys had in front of them. We stopped off not far from the stadium at a very posh hotel for some food and to do some walk-throughs. Then we began the journey to Twickenham.
We had seen the efforts the club had gone to with regards to “stash” and publicising the event. However we had no idea what we were about to see. As we got off the bus we could hear a buzz of excitement from behind the gate, then the gate opened for us to walk through and we were greeted by a cacophony of noise and blue, white and pink, that to this day still gives me goosebumps. I could see on everyone’s faces how much of an energy boost this gave everyone from Fred and Big Tone who took it in their usual laid back nature!
We had to warm up on a dusty school playing field across the west car park, which meant there were major time differences compared to our usual pre-game warm up, but as we came to expect with that group, they took it all in their stride and before we knew it we were lined up in the tunnel waiting to get the nod to walk into the stadium.
“Stand up, if you love the Wells…” welcomed us out pitch side and I remember turning to see the stand packed, it was unreal. Flags waving, familiar and unfamiliar faces wearing their stash with pride. The buzz was palpable and I’m not good at standing still at the best of times but that day was something else and added to the fact it was sweltering at pitch level, I needed severe re-hydration At full time! It was also a step into the unknown as we weren’t playing Sevenoaks or Crowborough anymore, it was an unknown quantity who had a tonne of confidence after their own unbeaten season.
The lads were hugely confident, so confident in fact that Lee thought we could beat them with 14 men so thought he’d test that theory after 10 minutes … What a guy!? Every member of the match day squad played out of their skin that day; it was one of those days as a coach when you just stand and watch as a fan and admire what you are seeing, which was lucky as the crowd was so loud no one could have heard me shouting at them on the pitch anyway!
Obviously by the last few minutes of the game the result was inevitable, but that didn’t take away the elation of the final whistle. As well as the team swan dive in front of the crowd at the end. Yes we have won closer games that were more tense, but because of the sheer theatre and once in a lifetime nature of the day, it will always be one of the proudest days of my life.
An incredible group of lads who achieved incredible things together. But days like that aren’t just about the coaches or players it’s about the entire club and shows what can be achieved when everything comes together.”
The Player – Lee Campion
“I can’t speak for the other players, coaches, physios and the vast support team, but it was a far calmer week as a player in the lead up to this game than the semi-final (I’m sure it wasn’t for many of the club staff & volunteers). For me it was just a pleasure to be there, sure I was desperate to crown off our run to the final with a win, but relief was the overriding emotion until the day. The semi-final was emotionally and physically draining, some calm was welcome, but inevitably it didn’t last long the nearer we got to kick-off.
We were blessed beforehand to have such amazing support and it’s testament to how great the T.Wells community is that people far and wide beyond the club were so engaged with the whole event. The size of crowd on the day, which felt like near 100% populated with TWRFC supporters, made for an amazing atmosphere.
On the day it ran like clockwork as the club had thought of everything we could need as a squad, even to the extent we were incredibly fortunate and grateful for one of our club sponsors organising a local hotel for a coffee, food and extra pre-hab. By pre-hab I mean sitting out in the sun getting a little top up of the tan for those match-day photos. It really helped break up what felt like the longest stretch of time between getting up, meeting and travelling to the ground. Most importantly it was the chance to relax and reflect with the boys away from the hyper energy of such a day.
I can safely say arriving at the ground was one of my all-time favourite moments in my entire time within the game of rugby. To walk through those main gates next to the golden lion statue, with what can only be described as a rapturous welcome from the TWRFC faithful, gave a real excited buzz for the boys at just the right time. As much as we were trying to act cool, calm and collected, it was a moment for me that gave a taste for us amateur players what it’s like for the professional players of the game. And for those thinking it was probably just a few people cheering as we wandered through, there’s a video of our arrival and it was anything but!
Getting into the stadium and our changing room was as you can imagine, like children running around just shouting at one another how cool this ‘playground’ of ours was for the day. I stuck to the same routine and could see the other boys doing likewise; humans are creatures of habit but none more so than in sports teams on match day. My mind slowed down at this point to take it all in, noticing all these little creature comforts and nuances of the boys prep, the coaches and physios. I realised at this point I was no more nervous than a normal match day, if anything less, but shortly after kick-off I got little shot in the arm.
Before the kick-off however we had that slow walk onto pitch-side. Obviously you know it’s not going to be like when you walk to your seat on an international match day, so it was a surprise to walk through the tunnel, turn and see what I believe was a wall of maybe 11,000-12,000 people (overwhelmingly in TWRFC gear). The rest of the stadium didn’t matter, looking up and spotting faces and the happiness of those involved with the club, it was a lift like no other before a game. Charlie Harding and I as we always do, sat next to one another in the changing room and walked out together, little moments like that give best mates their glory days stories until they’re old and grey. He spotted our significant others all together, at which point I gave in to a bit of emotion and gave up the act of keeping cool – that inner child who used to think how awesome it would be to run out on that pitch got to take over and enjoy the day.
It’s very much that inner child who I blame for getting over excited and immediately sin-binned post kick-off. Now I could try and claim mistaken identity but it’s a little difficult when you look up and see the big screen replaying your indiscretion. Saying that, I’m not entirely sure what the offence was, but I think my brain thought I was the complete rugby player all of a sudden and tried a swift tackle into jackal movement all in one. As it happened I think I’d barely let the poor guy get near the floor before I’m over him, slipping straight off the ball he’s trying to present and nearly taking his head off. Absolutely no risk of a red card but given the scrapping in the previous game the ref was keen to set the tone.I didn’t have any concern about the game. I knew the boys had this and of anyone in the team they could do without me for 10 minutes. It actually ranks as one of my favourite moments, getting even more of the professional experience than I bargained for, walking back towards thousands of supports as the yellow mark goes against our teams name on the big screen, replaying my clumsiness as I find my naughty chair by the side of the pitch. It also has given me a reasonable excuse for missing 30 tries in my first half season with TWRFC and of course what would have been a hat-trick at HQ.
The game was a buzz, hot and quite tough going energy wise, I think all the boys felt that. Scoring a couple of tries was the nice selfish moment, but just looking over at other players and our support team pitch-side, it was just great seeing as a group us all getting to enjoy what we’d done many times that season and put in a great performance on match day. Getting to look over at the loved ones and give them this one game in such a setting was huge. It might sound a bit much to some, but I’ve been ferried around for years and supported in all manner of conditions, in all manner of locations. I’m not too proud to say I loved getting to pretend to be the real deal for a day, feeling just a little bit like I was giving those loved ones something back for all the support over the years .
All the boys were sublime on the day, Charlie Harding epitomising the squads confidence and embodying our fun approach to games, by nonchalantly knocking over an entirely unnecessary drop-goal from far out as if we has bored with going more than a few phases on too many times. The team played their expansive style as normal, solid as you could ever ask for up-front and the backs doing waves of running for an old timer like me to latch onto at the right time. A great send-off for the boys leaving us after the season and a defining milestone for a young core of the squad that are still together today and doing an amazing job in their league campaigns. Shortly after the final whistle went, and we got to celebrate on the pitch and take it all in, getting presented the trophy and celebrating more than probably necessary (as I’m sure is typical of all the teams enjoying the day!).
Pitch-side pictures with family and friends to prove it wasn’t all a dream and to liven up the stories in years to come. Needless to say the changing room beers were the best tasting of the season, the food after the game the most comforting and the bus trip on the way home more energetic than we’d had for a while. Quite rightly we made our way back to T.Wells to do as teams should, celebrate in the age old manner we’d been accustomed to, to do so at the club with the team’s support that had been there all season wherever we’d been and however well or not we had done. Then into town, albeit this is the point that wisely the story ends.”
The (First) Parent – Thea Rigby
“In the months leading up to the Twickenham game Charlie was 18 was involved in the 1st XV and 2nd XV squads and was attending all training sessions taking it all very seriously. For him it was all about making the match day squad if they got to the final. Obviously it was never a given that they would make the final but after the close Matson game win there was so much joy and excitement for the day to come.
He still did not know if he would make the squad and I clearly remember the Thursday evening training session when he would find out whether he was in or not. He went off full of nerves but determined not to show it. I know how disappointed he would have been to have missed out, so as a mother I spent the next couple of hours hoping for his sake that he would be chosen. He came home and didn’t say a word with a glum look on his face……Charlie being Charlie was just trying to wind me up and he pulled his matchday shirt out of his bag! Number 22. Can honestly say we have never felt so happy for him in our lives. He was beyond excited but also disappointed for a couple of lads who weren’t so lucky.
The day dawned after not sleeping so well…..full of expectation. So excited for Charlie who was about to have the day of his life. Travelling up to Twickenham on a coach with all the fans….So many coaches on the motorway with TWRFC flags waving and everyone in the same match day t-shirts.
One of the most exciting moments of the day was waiting inside the main Twickenham gates waiting for the players to arrive. The image of Charlie emerging through the gates with his bag on his back beaming from ear to ear will forever be etched in our memories. To tread where so many rugby legends had trod before, just a dream come true for all the lads. I had a tear in my eye when he came over to hug me that’s for sure. Then into the stadium. Charlie’s name up on the team board at Twickenham! The home of rugby union!! One of those pinch me moments…..The details of the game itself I don’t remember so well…. Just was hoping and praying not only that they would win but that Charlie would get a chance to play on the hallowed turf. Luckily TW were well ahead and so he got to play for about 20 minutes. He actually had the chance to score himself but typically Charlie passed the ball out to make sure of the try. I remember thinking “just play your best and don’t make any mistakes”. So in part it was stressful to watch as a parent.
We both remember throughout the game the sea of blue supporters all waving their flags, cheering, singing, united in support of TWRFC having the time of their lives. The atmosphere was just incredible. When the final whistle went the crowd went mad. Then shortly after, we went down to the pitch side and Charlie came over for a congratulatory hug. We felt immensely proud of him and the club that we have been involved in for probably the best part of 35 years.
There were lots of photos with different groups and when the crowd started to drift off after the medal and cup presentation it was lovely seeing lots of people you knew (even those you didn’t know were there!). I missed the clubhouse antics after the game as I had another longstanding commitment (bad parent) but I know Charlie’s dad had a brilliant evening in the clubhouse celebrating with so many of the team and supporters who had travelled to the game. Charlie will say this was the best day of his whole young life so far. A day to be treasured and remembered always with pride and joy.”
The (second) Parent – Andy Maynard
“I can remember arriving with my pink third team polo shirt on and running into most of the current 3rds at the gate looking like a solid pink phalanx which the players entered the stadium through. It was quite a sight. Then as we watched the players come out I can remember Alex looking as white as a sheet and thought he looked really nervous and hoped he would get an early touch to settle nerves.
Well within a couple of minutes we were down to 14 with a rather harsh yellow card for Lee Campion but firmly holding lots of the territory and finally got the first score from a number 8 pick up, by I believe Docco. That settled nerves and Alex got a clear break and we thought he was going to score but got nailed by their full back, a very good player and had the pleasure of hearing my father in law state that he is bound to get a try. Then at about fifteen minutes Lee Campion got past his wing and with only the full back to beat popped back inside to Alex who dotted down between the posts. Great cheers from the Maynard contingent and thumbs up from all around us.
The centre partnership with the Tasi Tila a big Aussie centre was working very well with Charlie Harding pulling the strings at fly half. Better than the commentator who extolled the strength and power of Alex and the speed of agility of Tasi Tila to the hilarity of all. The move of the game, that was forwarded to the try of the month, occurred towards the end of the first half when we were comfortably ahead. Tasi Tila popped a ball to Alex who bobbled it but managed to catch it and, while being tackled, popped it to Charlie Harding who was in support who then popped it to Lee to score. The Maynard contingent were buzzing and so were both the pink shirted thirds and about 9000 others wearing blue!
Alex didn’t come out for the second half and I didn’t realise at the time that he had had a head clash with Charlie Harding at the end of the first half and had come off worse and was in the bowels of Twickenham being stitched up. The opposition came back and scored two quick tries their full back again featuring heavily. Alex came back on about ten minutes onto the second half and TWRFC seemed to get back to a settled pattern and it was one way traffic from then on; Alex popping a ball to Hayden Pope when he could have scored himself being a highlight and Charlie Harding scored a cracking individual effort to round off a fine game at fly half.
With the final whistle Alex came up to see us and watching my father in law vaulting over seats to congratulate him is a sight I will never forget!!. Alex did as usual look quite a mess and was bleeding quite heavily from the mouth cut but was clearly very pleased with himself. A great day!
The next day Alex showed up at the TWRFC sevens and his dad stepped in to play as he was a bit broken, from the resulting celebrations, but that is another and less happy story!!!”
The Lino – Paul Robbins
“I woke up that day full of hope and expectation. With our Twickenham suits on, Dad and I joined the Tunbridge Wells team on the bus to Twickenham…..”
For the second in the series of Paul’s reflections go to:-
The Supporter – Francesco Colangelo
“I was away for the semi final on a 50th birthday golfing weekend and walking up the 18th fairway on the phone to my wife after receiving regular updates “have we won – have we won, yes, no, yes yes yes” The news spread around our 8 players all affiliated to to the club and numerous beers were drunk that night in celebration. “We are going to Twickenham”
I remember the Football Club going to Wembley a few years before and this was the equivalent in rugby terms. The club needed to unite every player, supporter, mini, junior, sponsor and even the non rugby fans and get them to “Turn Twickenham Blue” The work behind the scenes was immense not only on the playing side but for the supporters. Hoodies, Polos, T shirts, flags, wristbands were ordered – pop up shops set up as the town got behind this great achievement. Then the organising of supporter coaches – that alone was a huge task. Our players and coaches became Local TV and Radio stars as the big day got closer.
I have been to Twickenham many times but this for me was already the most excited I had been pre-match. Myself and Steve Webb organised a 52 seater full of family, friends and kids. There was so much genuine excitement especially from those that had never been to HQ. I made the decision to try and enjoy the day and not drink too much which was a wise choice but sadly lasted 15 minutes as my first beer was handed to me. Oh well!
On arrival at Twickenham it was like a meeting of long lost friends. I seemed to know everyone. Past players making long trips to come and support and just friends from TW with no real interest in rugby just here for the day out. The picnics came off the coach and a base was set in the car park as the food and drink flowed before KO and the atmosphere built up. I can’t recall how I was feeling at the time, but I am sure it was just a mix of nerves and excitement.
We packed up the mess and headed to the ground with 30 minutes till KO, the noise and buzz getting louder…then the singing came as Tunbridge Wells Football Club supporters arrived in force with songs that will live in the memory for a long time. As we entered the stadium beers in hand the West stand was filling up nicely and there was blue and white everywhere. I sat down with friends and took in the atmosphere. I never dreamed that I would be able to see the club that I played for from the age of 16 at Twickenham. For a second I wished I was out there but that passed. It wasn’t about me it was about the club and the players that had just had the most amazing season.
It was time and the estimated 10,000 supporters that had travelled in blue and white started to cheer. The team came out, they looked focussed but they had a job to do against a St Benedicts side also unbeaten and not to be underestimated. As they lined up a tear or 2 dropped from my eyes…this was emotional! Then Kick off. We were outstanding, it was never in doubt as we carved up the pitch with speed and power in all areas. Nothing was left out there as the crowd joined our football friends in singing “stand up if you love the Wells”…”we are Royal we are Royal we are Royal Tunbridge Wells”…”oh when the Wells go marching in oh when the Wells go marching in”…My son called me from his uni as he was sitting an exam that morning and couldn’t be there he was cheering down the phone from the library watching the live stream – he was there in heart as were the many watching the stream from all over the world.
Our Opposition came back at us for 10 minutes but they could not stem the tide as our team in blue and white ran in tries from every corner of the pitch. We had won and created club history. The rest is a blur really. Lots of hand shakes and hugs, tears and laughter as more beer flowed. The coach home was full of song and the clubhouse back home was packed to the rafters. The headache in the morning was severe!
When people ask me what my favourite day at Twickenham was, without hesitation i reply “the day Tunbridge Wells RFC turned HQ blue”.
There is little more to add…..