A look back 6 years (Part 2): A change of balls

I was clearing through my old google blog site and came across a couple of Camelot rugby related articles that made for enjoyable reflection (for me anyway!) as my son and his Camelot team now move towards the end of their Under 14’s season…

22nd April 2012

As we go into the last week of the football season with everything still to play for, things have been no less tense as the Camelot Under 8’s rugby season comes towards an end. As mentioned in my previous post, a weekend away at Bournemouth gave me an excuse to miss the Barwell debacle, and today the season culminated with a trip to Tring for the County Festival. If you read this blog purely as a football fan then you might want to skip this post because (other than a possible mention of the metal that surrounds Tring Athletic FC, and the history of) there won’t be much footy talk that follows…but perhaps worth a read anyway.

There is no doubt that this season has enabled me to empathise much more with the mini set-up at Chesham United having now gone a whole season of watching my youngest play rugby at Camelot, Hemel Hempstead – Under 8’s. Rather bizarrely he decided he wanted to join right at the very end of last season, missing out on a trip to Bournemouth, but it was apparent early on that the seaside trip was a highlight of the season, and last weekend we had a chance to partake in this year’s event.

You may recall from my previous posts that my Ben plays in the third team (The Chargers), and thrives on the role of Captain. However, for the trip to the Bournemouth Festival Hemel were only taking two teams, but Ben was selected as a sub for the Seconds (Wizards). It is fair to say that every other player travelled with their family for the weekend, but having missed out on the Sonisphere weekend when I camped away with his brother, Ben insisted that this was going to be a “Lads weekend for just him and Dad”. Well, if the boy wants it, when have I ever been one to not want a lads weekend away?

So it was on the Friday morning that we set off down to the south coast, stopping off at Fleet Services for a KFC where there seemed to be coach loads of other rugby teams heading in the direction of Bournemouth. We arrived at the hotel just after 1.00pm, took a little walk down to the beach (walked down, cliff lift back-up) and then noticed our next door but one neighbours arriving at the hotel just as we got back from the walk (Their son being the captain of The Wizards, they had travelled as a family). With the time being, well, almost 2.00pm, we decided to partake in a cheeky San Miguel, making the most of the day off work. As we discussed what else we might do with the afternoon, we had another sneaky San Miguel…The tone was set for the weekend!

With the kids (Ben, Conor – Wizards captain, and Gemma – Conor’s sister) showing signs of restlessness, Allison (Conor’s mum – stick with it!) volunteered to take them for a swim in the hotel pool whilst Steve (Conor’s dad) and I were left with little more to do than, well, have another sneaky San Miguel…

…You are probably starting to get the jist of why I enjoyed the weekend so much, I won’t go into detail about every drink we drank, but as more and more people began to arrive the afternoon seemed to just merge into the evening, accompanied by a couple of San Miguel’s, and then the night.

You know that feeling when you go out for a few drinks and wake up in the morning with a bit of a panic thinking – did I take the key out the door? Have I got my phone? Wallet?…How did I get home? I opened my eyes Sunday morning, looked across the room to the other bed and was relieved that I had in fact managed to bring Ben back to the hotel room with me! (A big thank you to the magic beer fairies that must help me get home with everything every time I go out for a drink).

As always in the Calder household, we were up early on Saturday – breakfasted before any of the other Under 8’s awoke, we headed down town for a wonder around before meeting up with some others on the beach for some rugby…until the heavens opened, bringing the game to an abrupt end. Heading back to the hotel we had a quick dip in the swimming pool (seeing as we were wet anyway) and then slipped off for the cosy comfort of the bar and, well, yes, a sneaky San Miguel.

Having partaken in a sweep stake for the Grand National it seemed only right that we stayed in this area of the hotel to watch the race and be sociable as other families arrived ahead of the festival that was the following morning. Unlike the previous day, we did manage to drag ourselves away from the bar area for a quick change before going to dinner, and we did get ourselves away and back to the hotel room in time for Match of The Day that night – sensible pre-match preparation.

It was an early start on Sunday, breakfast at 7.30am, on the road by 8.00am, arriving at the ground (right next to Bournemouth airport) by about 8.30am ready for the festival. I won’t lie, with Ben being sub for The Wizards, rather than it being The Chargers for whom he is captain, I didn’t feel that same tension as I had at the previous Marlow festival. However, for Camelot it is a huge occasion, last year the Knights (the first team) had met The Wizards in the final of the competition – a remarkable achievement. No pressure this year then!

There is no denying that this is a huge festival, and involves an amazing amount of organisation – the only real complaint was the fact that the pitches were painted out using red paint, making the try lines really difficult to see, leading to the ludicrous situation in early matches where kids are running through to score, but instead of putting the ball down for a score they carry on out of the end of the pitch. My Ben himself fell foul of this scenario in the second game against Bournemouth when they overcame the distraction of  a whistle from another pitch to carry on the move, Ben picks the ball up out wide, a step from the scoring zone…but instead of putting the ball down he carried on running in the direction of Christchurch – still looking for a visible try line. All teams faced the same problem, the only real issue being how the referee decides to deal with it, inconsistency on whether to award the try or not created a little Sunday morning controversy.

Most my time was spent watching The Wizards, so again this post will inevitably be biased towards the team Ben was playing for. In their opening game they comfortably beat Romsey 6-4 with two similar halves, being 3-2 at the interval. The winning margin should have been more, but it was fair to say that the referee was a little generous with opposition tries, including one where the kid had missed the score zone and carried on running…

In the next game they drew 7-7 with Bournemouth, again there were contentious issues regarding the ref’s decision on some of the tries; thankfully the draw did not stop The Wizards from winning the group and progressing to the semi-finals (winning their last match v Wimborne) where they were to meet… Camelot Knights! Yep, The Knights had cruised to victory in their group, including one game being stopped early after they had built up a 6-point margin (hard to keep up as all festivals seem to have slightly different twists to their rules).

For The Wizards it was tough to face their team mates as the Knights ruthlessly showed their great skill and precision to cruise to a comfortable victory and take their place in the final. So there we were, on day three of a weekend away, 111 miles from home, watching the final of the Under 8’s Cup – Hemel Hempstead v Harpenden. Somehow it just felt wrong, being so far from home, playing against a team that was only 7 miles up the road from Hemel! The Knights went on to defend their title with a victory, a deserved reward for some fine rugby and hard work, not just on the day, but throughout the season. The Wizards too could be proud, winning their group and only losing to their own team mates.

As you might expect on a Sunday afternoon, at the end of a school holiday, the journey home was a bit sticky with traffic, but both Ben and Dad had enjoyed their lads weekend away and now understand why we had heard so much about it over the previous few months. Next year though, I think we’ll be looking to make it a family event, allowing mum and brother to join the occasion.

Most disturbing about the weekend was how little I missed the football, although I think that is still part of the deliberate winding down I am going through since stepping aside as Chairman. By Saturday I was back sharing the tension ahead of the game v Frome Town, which we won, leaving us going to the last Saturday of the season in a play-off spot, but with a tough away game at Leamington…a nerve-wrecking day ahead.

Today (Sunday) it was back into rugby action with the County Festival at Tring. For this one The Chargers were back in action as there was effectively different tounaments for clubs First, Second, Third teams etc…Which means there would be no repeat of Bournemouth whereby two Hemel sides come face to face, instead each team was competing for their own Cup, Plate or Bowl (a different name for each competition).

Again, this post is going to be about The Chargers as that was the team I was watching and the team my Ben was captaining. It was another early start, arriving at 8.45am and parking the car behind the football club, almost right up against the football club perimeter fence which is built out of those lovely sheets of metal which played such a key role in some of my more controversial days of fundraising for Chesham United. I don’t like the memories that get re-ignited when I see this metal fence, I don’t mind admitting. I am not going to re-open wounds from nearly 20 years ago (isn’t that frightening?), but in short, that material was purchased through some seriously hard fundraising by supporters of Chesham United as we set up a fundraising appeal (CUBA) to raise money to bring the ground up to Conference standard. A lot of money was raised, this material was purchased to help with the improvements… and then allegedly sold to Tring Athletic allegedly from under our alleged noses by other alleged people at the alleged club, and CUBA allegedly slowly disappeared as a huge alleged embarrassement. This was one of my first lessons as to what to expect when you start to get involved behind the scenes at a football club, it is unbelievable at times, I should have let that put me off there and then, rather than become Chairman some 15 years later!

Back to the rugby and The Chargers opened their campaign with a tight encounter against Tring. For tag rugby it was a slow start in terms of actual tagging – I think Chargers were 2-1 up literally before a single tag had been taken! Both sides were matching each other try for try; Chargers were leading 3-2 at the break with little Jacey proving unstoppable with his mazy runs to score. After the break Conor Hobbs made it 4-2. Breathing space? None of it, Tring fought back to 4-4 before Archie sneaked home a late winner. 5-4. Great start.

Elsewhere around the field The Wizards and The Knights also recorded opening victories. A good start for Hemel.

Next up for Chargers was Chess Valley; with the top two going through to the semi-finals a win would probably be enough to see them through, not that I was going to tell Ben that! Again it was free-scoring in the first-half, every Chargers try matched by an equaliser, and when they did fall behind, the Chargers were quick to equalise. 4-4 at the interval. The second period looked to be going the same way, Jack put Chargers ahead, they equalised. Connor then put Chargers ahead again, but rather than conceding an equaliser, they managed to turn over play. Ben “took the run” and surprised everyone by showing a turn of pace, and a twist of the hips, to run three-quarters the length of the pitch to score, and put the Chargers 7-5 ahead. An excellent all round performance by the Chargers saw the game comfortably progress to a successful conclusion (they had no subs for the occasion, so players taking knocks were having to get up, and tired legs were being forgotten – Ben did go down in the first game against Tring after a full on collision with the only girl in the Tring side; although the girl was one of their biggest and best players, I was relieved to see Ben being the one who got up and dusted himself down… the poor girl had to be substituted).

The final score against Chess Valley was 9-6. Elsewhere around the field, both the Wizards and Knights had also won their second matches.

Unlike the Marlow festival, keeping track of scores and league tables was not easy as the results were not publicly displayed. I’m beginning to think it is just me, but I hate that, I like to know what is going on and all the different permutations. At this point I did sneak into the “control room” for a look at the league table. The Chargers final opponents, Fullerians, had lost to Chess Valley, which, in my mind, made them beatable!

My hunch was right. The Chargers had never really thrashed anyone before and this proved to be their real test of sportsmanship – “you don’t celebrate scoring like football players” – as the huge smiles on the players faces was not to be mistaken for gloating. Archie and Connor put them 2-0 up before conceding their first try, and the same pairing scored another each to put them into a 4-1 lead. Before the break they conceded another before Ben scored his second of the day for 5-2. The Chargers dominated the second period with superb passing, and excellent tagging – so good that Fullerians scored no points in the second half as The Chargers went on to rattle up a 9-2 win.

The Chargers triumph of topping the group was matched by The Knights and Wizards who also won their groups with three straight wins. Even better news, in the semi-finals all three teams had managed to avoid their nemeses, Old Albanians (OA’s – it seems that any tournament in Hertfordshire ends up with Hemel and the OA’s in the final, and this season the OA’s had tended to get the better, always by the odd point, they are clearly a bigger club, entering no less than six sides into this particular festival).

I must admit, it is always at this stage of festivals that I find most frustrating. The break between matches seems too long, the players lose focus, start feeding their faces, muscles stiffen up… At Tring it was even worse! I’ll never knock anyone who organises these sort of things, but it seemed to take an intolerable amount of time to even work out who was playing who, let alone on which pitch and with a referee! Surely before the last group games even start you know what all the potential outcomes are? I think it was this part of my personality and nature that led to me becoming Chairman at Chesham United – I get frustrated when sometimes such seemingly simple things are made to look so hard… I just want to organise it myself!

After over 90 minutes of waiting around, it became apparent that Hertford were to be the opponents for the Chargers in the semi-final, starting immediately…well, as soon as they could find a referee!

It was another tense affair, to coin a favourite phrase – it was “more tense than a campsite”. In my own mind I had hoped they would reach the semi-finals, and anything else would be a bonus. For much of the game, that’s where it looked like it would end. Despite Eddie equalising the first try, The Chargers slipped behind 1-3. An Eddie and Archie double pulled it back to 3-3. Not for long, it was soon 3-4. 4-4. 4-5. After the disappointing start, it was a relief to be only one score behind at the interval.

Straight after the break little Jacey equalised with another twisting run, then Byron gave The Chargers the lead for the first time in the match – 6-5…6-6…7-6 (good ol’ Jacey). Another Jacey try put them 8-6 ahead, a two point lead, the final beckoned?

One thing I have learned watching this game, never count your chickens. The only other two tries in the match went Hertford’s way. 8-8. The winners would be decided by a count back (a look at scores from the qualifying games).

To be honest, I’m not sure what formula was used, but I felt confident any which way as The Chargers had won their group with three wins and plenty of tries, whilst Hertford had been runners-up in their pool, winning one, losing one and drawing one. Huge credit goes to the coaches of Hertford who sat both teams down whilst we awaited the outcome, told them what superb rugby they had played, asked each team what they found tough about playing each other and basically made all the kids feel proud of their achievements – whatever the outcome.

For the second time in the day, my hunch was right. The Chargers were through to the final to play…the OA’s. And once again, a scan around the field confirmed that both the Wizards and the Knights had won their semi-finals and they too would face the OA’s in their finals.

For Camelot rugby club it was another excellent day. In only their second tournament I personally think The Chargers once again completely surpassed expectations by reaching another final, and a guaranteed medal. In reality, they were outclassed in the final by the OA’s who looked much faster and more focused at the end of a long day, but it was no disgrace. They stayed on their tails early doors, matching try for try up to 2-3, but The Chargers were having to work much harder for their tries. At the interval it was 3-5, a late try by Jack keeping them in the match.

The second half started badly, slipping to 3-7 and effectively out of the match. Huge credit to the boys, they battled on to ultimately lose 5-11 and have to settle for runners-up, losing only to a very very good side.

As The Chargers collected their medals, the Wizards emerged from their final with a 8-8 draw and a share of the Plate whilst The Knights once again lost their final by a single point to the OA’s first team. It brought the curtain down on a fantastic season and all the players and coaching staff deserve a huge amount of credit for an excellent season. Next season this age group disperse with the tags and enter a contact version of the game…with the OAs’ titles firmly in their sights.

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