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.
All,Tidings of the season to all Belsize men, women and all your families.
2015 has brought highs and lows. Another successful end to last season, and more silverware and promotions for some of the league sides, with the others knocking on the door of the same. In the current season, the run of form, which is now 4 or 5 years old, continues and all league teams are performing strongly. The Bulls continue be a force on the London rugby social scene. April 2016 therefore promises to be a very big month for us, as long as we remain committed to the greater glory of Belsize.
As always there have been new recruits and several departures, none more so than Ben Keogh, who has gone to the great tour in the sky. Hopefully Gandalf and others are having as much fun as the tourists to Barbados, our first trip across the Atlantic for several years. We were also visited by old friends who returned to London to watch the World Cup, including in our new home at the White Mustache. Perhaps the greatest achievement of 2015 is that the World Cup didn’t prove to be the destruction of the club’s playing activities it has been in years past, and was a sign of our current position as central London’s top amateur club.
We have always considered that as our territory, but with 5 regular sides all performing well, several hundred members all contributing to the club’s general well being, and our touring and social reputation it cannot reasonably be argued by any of our competitors. We are regularly asked how we are doing it, especially when rugby clubs have been struggling in recent years. To me the answer is simple. A rugby club is a lot more than people playing rugby. It ought to be a community and if anyone spends 10 minutes looking at phone or email contacts, or friends on Facebook you’ll find that this is the biggest community you are part of.
Thank you all for your service to Belsize and each other, in whatever form, in 2015.
I hope everyone has a top class Christmas and New Year.