BY STEFAN FROST
Askeans rugby club ended their 25-year long search for a permanent home after signing a contract in September with Rectory Field in Blackheath.
The side’s previous home ground in Broadwalk, Kidbrooke, was sold to another rugby club in the mid-90s, initiating a long and arduous period of multiple ground shares.
“I played at the old ground for 30 years so it was a real wrench to lose it,” said David Shute, the communications director for Askeans.
“We’ve been nomads for a long time since then.
“The players have been incredible. I don’t know how long I would have stayed as a player if our home ground kept chopping and changing. It made attracting players much harder and then the pandemic came and kicked rugby in the teeth.”
Shute started playing rugby for Askeans in 1966 and is pleased that his club have signed a 10-year contract with Rectory Field. The deal gives the club access to two fully licensed bars, changing rooms, a stand for spectators and several function areas, while the surrounding grounds contain tennis courts and a new commercial gym.
Rectory Field was originally used for cricket, lawn tennis and served as the home ground of Blackheath Rugby Club for more than a century until they relocated to Well Hall in 2016.
And before Twickenham was constructed, the field played host to numerous England rugby games against the likes of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
“Rectory Field is a fantastic place,” Shute said. “Without a home ground you lose camaraderie, so now we want to build our social aspects and create what we had back when I was playing.
“Back then you’d meet at the ground, go to the bar and hang out with your mates. Everyone knew each other.
“We just want people to come down and enjoy themselves.”
The long-lasting camaraderie at Askeans was demonstrated in early October when more than 30 former players gathered to reminisce about their on-field days over a sit-down meal.
Former British and Irish Lion Stuart McKinney was in attendance, having been Shute’s coach at one stage, and made the trip over from Ireland to be present.
To ensure similar dedication in the current era, Askeans have encouraged players to bring their families down to boost the social side of the club. This is of particular importance given that player turnout is still lacking.
“We’re still struggling for numbers,” said Shute.
“Participation has increased a bit but a lot of people don’t know we’re at the Rectory. And many of our starters are playing for Greenwich University at the moment so if they play on Wednesday and get injured, we have squad problems.
“But despite our age, we have a very energetic committee. We just need a solid group of young players willing to play every week.”
Askeans used to run six sides, including a veterans team, and are looking to rebuild their following by only charging match fees to those who are working.
There is also no subscription fee for players fresh out of school or still at university.
Shute is also particularly proud that Askeans still provides matchday programmes, a ritual which has become almost defunct in the lower echelons of English rugby. Within the programme is a weekly player profile, starting line-ups and the chairman’s notes on upcoming events.
Askeans have endured some difficult times of late, but Shute hopes that playing at Rectory Field will give his club a new lease of life.
“We’ve got a good history so the chance for us to live again is amazing,” he said. “We just want to play every week, fulfil all our fixtures and win when we can.
“At grassroots level, playing is more important that winning.”
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