Stand in the middle of central London, Trafalgar Square to be precise, start walking north and the first rugby club you will come to is Belsize Park RFC.
Based in the heart of London amidst a population of over 8 million people you may expect Belsize Park to have always had an abundance of players available to them but that hasn’t always been the case.
“It’s always been a great club with a very strong spirit but up until the last five years or so we sort of kept it to ourselves and so we were always a relatively small club,” says club director of rugby Zach Webb.
“In the last few years we’ve taken player recruitment very seriously and have seen massive results.”
From 77 new recruits in their 2011/12 season, this year the club has seen an increase to 280 new players with 380 in total playing for one of their six sides.
TAPPING INTO LONDON’S POTENTIAL
After deciding to prioritise recruitment, the club began by targeting the thousands of people who move to the capital each year who had once played rugby but were now without a club.
“We encouraged every player to become a recruiter, to spread the club’s message by word of mouth,” says Webb. “When players join we try and create a home and a rugby lifestyle for them here. We give them a rugby club and also a family that accepts them in.”
As a result, Belsize Park has become one of the most diverse clubs in the world.
“We have players from Uganda, Chile, America, Canada, Australia, Uruguay, Argentina, France, Italy, Greece, Spain, South Africa and New Zealand to name a few as well as players from all over the UK. The next challenge comes in retaining them.”
Retaining hundreds of new players each season is a unique challenge and Belsize Park approach it in a unique way.
“We consider ourselves to be the most widely toured amateur team in the world,” says Webb. “Every year since 1989 we’ve gone on two tours and have now travelled most of the world as a club.”
From China to Barbados, Belsize Park continue to take a group overseas each year with the aim of developing a strong ethos.
Despite having only senior teams, the club also has a partnership with Regent’s Park Royals mini and junior rugby teams, offering coaches every week to help develop the sport.
CLIMBING THROUGH THE LEAGUES
All their efforts off the pitch seem to be paying off on it.
The club has secured eleven promotions across their four league sides since the 2011/12 season with their 1st XV winning promotion to London 2 North West this year.
“We gave ourselves the target of reaching London 3 and managed to do it a few years earlier than planned so the next plan is just to keep rising through the leagues and show that we can do it while remaining strictly amateur,” explains Webb.
In recognition of Belsize Parks’ extraordinary growth they were awarded the Player Recruitment award at the President’s Awards by RFU President Jason Leonard, a fitting accolade for a club leading the way in growing the sport.
We have seen a lot of Champagne Rugby this year, but that was a tense finale! Winning in the last play!
There was joy for Belsize’s third team as they secured a third successive title and promotion in the Middlesex Merit Table while extending their magnificent unbeaten run in competitive rugby to 50 matches.
Captain David Tink scored a winning penalty with the final kick of the match as BP beat Kilburn Cosmos’ second team 20-17, maintaining their perfect record for the season and taking another crown.
Pressure is on!
They have won all 15 of their league games this campaign, scoring 789 points in the process and conceding just 61.
Kilburn kicked a penalty midway through the first half but Belsize quickly responded as Matt Fiander touched down for a converted try. And, when the Cosmos replied in kind, Adam Marcus went over just before the half-time whistle to give BP a 12-10 lead at the break.
The Cosmos struck first in the second period but Park’s number eight Lee Harrison made it over the whitewash to equalise at 17-17.
Belsize thought they had scored again when Miguel Martinez touched down, but the try was disallowed for a forward pass.
Instead, it was left to Tink to win the day as the referee awarded a penalty right at the end of the match, and the skipper stepped up to win the match and the title.
The two teams go head to head again on Saturday – this time in the Middlesex Merit Bowl final at Finchley RFC.
Photos available here;
You can also purchase pictures from David who will print them in Hi-Quality via the following link
BP XV’s III bs Kilburn Cosmos b’s League Final 13/04/15Photos from multiple sources.
Belsize’s second and fourth teams have also won their leagues this season, but they lost their cup semi-finals at the weekend against Hertford’s fourth team and Biggleswade’s third string respectively.