It felt as if the ground shook as the two teams, Bromley’s Westcombe Park Rugby Football Club (RFC) and Colchester RFC, in what amounted to a decider for the Regional 1 South East title, took to the field at Goddington Dene on Saturday 4th March. A mere £5 for a match programme saw me admitted.
Rugby teams don’t consist of the relative waifs found on football pitches, and a favourite moment of the whole game was an early massive collision in centre field between two strapping lads vying to catch an up and under. With a thud that could be heard across the ground they met, at speed, and got up, slowly, slapped each others backs, and were looking about them just in time to see Westcombe Park’s first points go on the board through a penalty. 3-0 soon became 8-0 with the first try, and then 10-0. Then another try, 15-0, and I was soon to lose count, forgetting to consult the busy scoreboard near one set of posts. This was one-way traffic from a Westcombe side sensing the glory of a return to the national league, I was told, for the first time in a couple of decades. A missed conversion was followed by another try, and I had time to ponder just how high a standard of rugby was on view. It wasn’t just that the referee’s whistle, much-used for tries and conversions, sounded just like what you hear on the TV for international games, here were slick moves, high quality handling, and precise kicking. These players might not be the man-mountains to be found in the international game, but they can play.
By then, at 29-0 to the ‘Combe’, I was touring the ground, chatting to people as I went, but still keeping my eyes and ears on the game. A player’s girlfriend told me that the Tuesday and Wednesday night training gave her a bit of time to herself, but that she also washed her man’s kit, clearly not an everyday wash. I passed the one stand to the left of the field, and an ecstatic black Labrador dog being stroked, one of several canine onlookers. The stand was filled with enthusiastic supporters of both sides, and I went onto ‘the mound’, where a naturally good view is to be had.
From there I went to stand behind the far posts and pass a few remarks with ‘Chairman Rugby Playing’, Steve Reynolds (above), as Combe scored another lovely try on the left wing. “Yes! That’s the bonus point”, came from Steve. He asked a player, “Still nervous?”, and the reply came back, “Not now. It’s good nerves. Channelled it.” More bluntly, as Colchester exerted perhaps their first pressure of the match, a player exhorted his team mates with the rallying call, “Right boys, let’s dig deep here. Let’s get f**king through it.” A disallowed Colchester try followed, then a fine finish for a first opposition try by one of the team’s Army contingent. Undaunted, an under the posts discussion as the conversion was attempted included another Combe rallying cry, “Let’s put another try on them before half time.” By then my companion Steve was getting a little nervous, “This ain’t over by a long shot”, he said as Colchester sought to exert themselves further. In a happier vein, soon he was to say, accurately, “Oh, we’re going to score here.” 34-7. But that one bonus point needed to be added to, and Steve revealed, “That means they’ve got to get to 41… it’s a good performance so far, a cracking performance.”
Half-time intervened and as the second half began, Westcombe didn’t slacken their efforts, rapidly scoring a disallowed try. By then the crowd had relaxed somewhat and had got on to discussing the finer points of rugby. In an already entertaining game, another Westcombe try was followed by a conversion attempt bouncing, unscored, off a post, but the magic 41 point mark had been passed. At that point Colchester, largely starved of possession, broke through for another try of their own. The crowd’s calls of ‘Come on, Combe!’ were answered again and again with more and more tries scored until the final score of 60-19 was achieved. I was lucky enough to interview bearded Westcombe fan Graham on the cusp of the final whistle, and the cheers can be heard in the audio recorded as it happened.
Both teams went into a post-whistle huddle to absorb what the day meant to them. As I went to photograph the players, one of the crowd said, “We won the league in style today.” He was right, and, as Steve Reynolds confessed, now he could sleep again for the first time in days.
I found one more interviewee, Westcombe Captain Harry Hudson, a very happy, proud man, and scorer of one try on the day. He and his team mates were tired, and as one tried to dispose of some rubbish, he said wryly, “I can’t even hit the bin now.” Yet the team had put over nine tries, and one conversion. Me. I will be back. Seeing that quality of rugby at that price, and what it meant to every man, woman, and perhaps dog there, means I am no longer an entirely armchair rugby viewer. Go, Combe. The National League awaits.
The club’s own match report and the names of all the scorers can be read here. Congratulations to Raf Dutta, named man of the match.
Our first podcast interview with a member of the club, Chairman John Vallely, is here (April 2022).
Darren Weale, 7 March 2023