I went to watch Mersea Island RFC play Wisbech on Saturday, their first home game of the season having had to play five away games on the trot. Mersea’s home ground is at a Youth Camp owned by Essex County Council who have decided that the club can’t play games while there are any youth activities going on there. This has meant some switching of venues for games at the beginning and end of the season which in part explains their poor start with just one win from five.
Mersea Island RFC started life as recently as 1989 with the help of Don Bland and Colchester RFC who were their first opponents and it wasn’t long before they were tasting success with promotion from Eastern Counties Division Five in 1993/94. About this time, political ructions at Colchester Rugby Club saw a number of influential players move to Mersea and the club swiftly moved up the league structure with three more promotions in five seasons.
While Mersea were were enjoying success Colchester were in decline and with both playing in Eastern Counties One (Level 9) in 2000/01 they met for the first time in a league game. Mersea won a forward-dominated game 5-0 at Colchester’s ground with a large, passionate and vociferous crowd cheering them on. Mersea also won the return fixture and the following season won the first of two successive promotions to find themselves playing in London 3 North East (Level 7).
Although the club had attracted more players from Colchester and other local clubs, strength in depth proved to be a problem despite their running two sides. As the more influential players got older their ability to change the course of games diminished. Fewer top quality players were moving from Colchester, who had now got their act together, and the two clubs passed each other again. At the end of last season Mersea were relegated back to Eastern Counties One.
Playing on an island has had its advantages. The only access to Mersea other than on a boat is by a causeway known locally as the Strood. However, it is regularly covered by the high tide and in fact it was under a metre of water by 1:30pm on the day I was there. It is for that reason when the Match Secretary confirms home games he gives his opposite number the latest time that the opposition can cross the Strood before they are stranded.
I remember a few years ago Wanstead players came in a number of cars to play a league game, but despite the warning about the tide times only a couple made it across in time leaving most of the team stranded on the mainland. Naturally the game was abandoned but the League Secretary awarded the points to Mersea as they had done all they could to make sure the opposition knew they had a deadline to cross the causeway. Happily, Saturday’s opponents Wisbech did heed the warnings and their players were all safely on the island by 1pm and both sides agreed to kick off at 2:45pm to save them all hanging about.
At one time Mersea boasted one of the biggest packs in Eastern Counties and from what I could see their size hadn’t diminished by much. Their forwards dominated the first half and with the help of the wind and the slope they scored three tries to take a 19-0 half time lead. In the second half Wisbech had the elements in their favour and used them well, gradually pegging back the hosts until two late penalties secured them a 23-19 win. Although they have had a difficult start to the season I saw enough determination and teamwork on Saturday to be confident of Mersea staying in Eastern Counties One.
What is less sure is where they will be playing their rugby in a few years time. Essex County Council have agreed to the Rugby Club playing at the Youth Camp for three more seasons after which they need to find another venue. There have been discussions with local landowners but a plan to move to a multisport site on the island has been resurrected.
These are uncertain times for the club but their volunteers are committed to keep playing rugby on Mersea Island, and with some cooperation from the local council and help from supporters, Eastern Counties and the RFU they have a good chance of doing so.
Pictures from the game