I’ve had a couple of weeks away from rugby since I returned from Africa, but Saturday saw the beginning of one of my favourite times of year, the Eastern Counties Beach Rugby Series. The first event of the series was at Clacton-on Sea which was holding its eighth Beach Rugby tournament.
The first event in 2005 was a collaboration between Eastern Counties Rugby Union and Clacton RFC with a lot of support from the newly-formed Leisure Rugby department at the RFU headed up by Alan Black with Dan Brown. Twelve teams took part and the next year that number rose to twenty.
It has gone from strength to strength with over 40 teams taking part for the past four years, many of them returning year after year. 2012 saw multiple teams from Burnham-on-Crouch RFC, Chelmsford RFC and Barnet Elizabethans RFC who make an annual pilgrimage from North London to the Essex Coast to take part, in the past bringing as many as nine sides. There were 45 sides in all and what made it so special was the spirit in which all the games were played.
No-one really minded if they won or lost and when a team of adults came up against a team of younger children, they did their best to make it fun but competitive. Another encouraging aspect was the increase in the number of women and girls taking part. It seems that girls that have taken up rugby in clubs got their friends to make up teams in this non-contact version of the game to give it a try and to see what it means to be part of our game. Hopefully some of the new girls will give rugby a try at their local club.
Clacton Beach Rugby seem to have a charm of its own, the family-oriented atmosphere attracting teams who just want to play for the fun of it. In 2009 O2 put some money into a Scrum On The Beach initiative and Clacton was chosen as one of the venues to get all sorts of O2 branding, publicity and resources for its tournament. Inflatable pitches were set up along with rugby posts, an O2 Blue Room was set up with games and chill-out areas, and England winger Paul Sackey came for the day. Despite all the razzmatazz, feedback from most people was that it wasn’t really needed and when the 2010 event went ahead many said that they preferred the more understated style.
Clacton Rugby Club now run the event themselves with a little support from Eastern Counties Rugby who provide the pitches and posts, Essex Rugby who pay for the trophies, and the RFU who sent five of their regional staff to help on the day, and many would say that the 2012 event was the best so far. The sun shone (good weather always makes for a good day), there was a breeze that cooled the players down just enough, the volunteers did a magnificent job of setting the pitches up in the morning and taking it all down again, there were others manning the burger and drinks stall, a team of scorers and officials, and when the RFU staff unexpectedly announced that they had to leave at 2 o’clock, volunteer referees came forward to take charge of the last two hours of games. Most important of all was the wonderful spirit in which the games were played.
Altogether there were 123 matches played on six pitches in just over five hours. Most of the teams came back to Clacton Rugby Club who had laid on food and live music and the party continued well into the night. Without exception people were very happy with the day and although there were one or two hiccups they were ignored as everyone was enjoying themselves too much.
The events coming up at Great Yarmouth on 7 July and Southwold on 28 July have every chance of being as good as the one at Clacton, with a bit of co-operation from the weather!
Click here for pictures from the tournament