Ongar Rugby Club has a ball to celebrate anniversary
FORTY years ago a Welsh maths teacher arrived at the Ongar Comprehensive School and introduced pupils to rugby.
With no rugby club in Ongar to turn to upon completing their education, a group of four pupils founded their own club with the help of said teacher, the late Alf Jones.
Four decades later, Ongar RFC is still going strong and is on the up thanks to a strong youth base.
Members of the club celebrated the anniversary with a dinner and dance at Blakes Golf Club last Saturday, an event attended by some 160 people from the club's past, present and future.
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Club president of 20 years, Peter Blake, 63, was one of the founder members.
"The camaraderie about the club is brilliant," he said. "It's a way of life. It's not only the rugby, it's the social side as well, you make so many friends."
The club, which plays in the Essex Merit League, hopes to be in a position to field two teams next season.
"In the early days we started very small, but built up to four teams and most recently we've had a bit of resurgence with some good young players," added Peter, whose two sons have both captained the side and whose twin brother is the incumbent chairman.
Secretary Nigel Doubleday played in the club's first ever match, along with Peter, in the 1971/72 season.
"Alf was my maths teacher, he was a tough teacher but easy on the rugby players," quipped Nigel.
"At our peak we fielded four teams, playing both at Love Lane and at the school.
"It was a very enjoyable club to belong to and still is. When you think that nowadays there are no schools to choose from in Ongar we are definitely punching above our weight."
Following the closure of the Ongar Comprehensive School in 1989, the feed of players to the club began to dry up and it became a struggle to field one team.
But the club, whose shirts are sponsored by Ongar Round Table, has been buoyed by the success of its mini-rugby scheme.
Launched three years ago, it sees 70 children turn up every week for coaching.
"The club is growing, our next aim is to field two [senior] sides every week, then our next aim will be to introduce the kids into the senior side," said Nigel.
The senior team finished third in the table in the season just ended.
Social secretary and current player Ben Whateley-Harris, 29, made a speech at the dinner dance about how the club is growing.
"The club means an awful lot to me," he told the Gazette.
"It's the heart and soul of the community and it's a brilliant way to make friends.
"We pride ourselves on being a family-friendly club."
Ongar RFC meet at the Love Lane Sports and Social Club on Tuesday evenings from 7.30pm. New members can enjoy a free taster session.