In 2009 I wrote an article about Brightlingsea Rugby Club (How does Brightlingsea survive?) and how a club with no clubhouse, bar or even on-site changing rooms manages to keep going. On Saturday I was at another of Eastern Counties’ smallest clubs Mistley for their annual President’s Day game.
I am often asked in conversation where I’m going at the weekend and when I say Mistley the next question is often “Where?” The village of Mistley nestles on the Essex bank of the Stour estuary a little downstream of Manningtree and about halfway between Colchester and Ipswich. The club play on a pitch just by the Secret Bunker (not so secret as it is signposted) with a two-room changing facility and The Anchor a quarter-mile away providing the social amenities.
I first visited the club as part of an Eastern Counties-wide facilities audit we were doing to gauge and prioritise the overall need in our area and when I arrived at the ground I could hear hammering coming from the ramshackle wooden shed that served as a very basic changing room. I went in and introduced myself to club stalwart and player DJ who was busy trying to replace and repair the pretty basic facilities inside. The RFU’s Groundmatch scheme had been launched a season previously and I asked him how much the club was spending on improving the changing the changing rooms. Afterwards I contacted the club committee about getting some match funding to go from an adequate but make-do-and-mend upgrade to creating a changing facility that would meet all the proper Sport England and RFU specifications.
The result was officially opened in 2007 and included two changing rooms, showers, toilets and a small lobby area. It doesn’t sound like much but it is a huge improvement on what was there before.
A season later I was invited to the club’s 25th Anniversary game with soon-to-be RFU President Brian Williams and other Suffolk and Eastern Counties officials and in The Anchor’s dining room we were served the the most fantastic steak and kidney pudding I have ever had. We rarely talk about Mistley at Eastern Counties without reminiscing about that meal!
Mistley dropped out of the RFU leagues in the 90s and spent a number of seasons in the Suffolk League, so demonstrating how successful merit tables can be in providing the right level of rugby for new clubs, or those wanting to rebuild their player numbers, or those just wanting a more social game. Felixstowe, Renegades, Watton, Mildenhall, Thorpeness and Cambourne have all benefited from merit table rugby. A youth policy which sees Mistley cooperate with Harwich & Dovercourt RFC saw player numbers grow to the extent where the club applied to rejoin to leagues at the beginning of the 2009/10 season and the following year put a second team into Division Two of the Suffolk League. This season the 1st XV finished a very creditable fourth and the 2nd XV honoured all of their fixtures.
Back to President’s Day. It’s the third one I’ve been to there and it follows a traditional format of a Club XV taking on a Presidents XV made up of players from local sides, then to The Anchor for plenty of food and drink. The President of Mistley is David Tate who with wife and Hon Secretary Shelagh have been the drive and inspiration behind the club for longer than they care to remember. Will Meston took over as chairman from the indefatigable Rod Baxter (who will be Suffolk President next season) and he has ambitions to to grow the club through purchasing some land where they can build their own clubhouse and pitches.
This year players from Brightlingsea, Clacton, Colchester and Mersea Island featured in the President’s team and on a gloriously sunny day but on a very hard ground Mistley won by about eight tries to four, although no-one really worried about the scoreline. The day was about celebrating Rugby, about bringing together players from around North East Essex to have a fun game without the pressure of league points, and about recognising the achievements of a small and friendly grass-roots club.
Pictures from the game