I’ve been to one or two ‘Ladies Day’ pre-match lunches in the past and there has usually been a table of ladies but it has still been very much a male-dominated event. When I arrived at Ely Rugby Club however I was confronted with 65 women sitting down for lunch and a sole man – me!
Clearly Ely RFC had decided to do this properly with guests being greeted by a waiter, topless except for a bow-tie, offering a glass of fizz and around the room were stalls selling candles, jewellery, hand-made chocolates, etc. I had arrived with Hilary who usually drives me home but I quickly realised that I wasn’t going to be able to get away with that today so I stuck to water and let Hilary join in the fun.
At my table I sat next to the (female) editor of the Ely Standard who said that her sons played football and she was curious about the difference between the two sports. With Rugby, I told her, the game is almost an excuse for the socialising around it, and she would see what I meant after the match.
After lunch I was to make some presentations so I stood up and commented on my surprise at being the only man, but at least I thought there would be more genteel conversation at the dinner table; knitting patterns, swapping recipes, fashion tips, etc., (I had to avoid a couple of bread rolls at this point!) but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I think it was when the subject turned to piercings, how many people had and their location that I went selectively deaf!
I then went on to talk about the Core Values of Rugby and how they differentiate our sport from others, and from football in particular. Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship, all things we in the game take for granted but which are not always so obvious in football. Another key difference between the two sports is professionalism, how far down the structure it goes, and the impact on volunteers. Rugby Union is wholly dependent on its volunteers and would not exist without them. It was particularly gratifying to present RFU Value the Volunteer certificates to four women who had done so much at Ely.
Formalities over I went out to watch the game. It was cold, wet and miserable and the pitch resembled a mud bath, so it was no surprise that all but a handful of the ladies opted to stay indoors and carry on their socialising. The match itself was a little bizarre as Ely were wearing pink shirts to mark Ladies Day and Thurston for some reason had opted for red rather than their usual blue strip, so it was a challenge to tell the teams apart, although by half time all the players were a uniform mud-brown so the shirt colours made little difference.
The conditions made it very difficult to play an attractive game of rugby and after going to uncontested scrums at half-time because the ground was so muddy the referee sensibly abandoned the match after the minimum 60 minutes had been played allowing the 36-5 scoreline in Ely’s favour to stand.
Back in the clubhouse the ladies were still in full flow and they were delighted at Ely’s win but probably even more delighted that they didn’t have to brave the elements to watch it. As players and supporters came upstairs the club room was buzzing and the unique Saturday evening post-match atmosphere that you get at Rugby Clubs filled the room. I leaned across to the Ely Standard editor, took in the room with a sweep of the arm and said “This is Rugby” and she began to understand how different our game is from football, where players rarely have this kind of experience.
Every woman got a goody-bag when they left but they also took away memories of what a great place a Rugby Club can be on a Saturday. I must congratulate Ely RFC and Jon Evans in particular for organising such a successful Ladies Day, and I am sure they will repeat it in seasons to come.
Pictures from Ladies Day at Ely RFC