Scrum down: Matson Rugby Club special report
THE truth can be a powerful weapon and Matson Rugby Club have learned to use it to maximum effect.
Eighteen months ago the Redwell Road men were close to folding, but now they are stronger than ever.
In the 55 years the Gloucester side have been going they have won more Combination Senior Cups than anyone else and once enjoyed a golden era of success.
That run came to an end at the start of the 21st century with their last trophy being lifted at Kingsholm in 2001, making it 27 triumphs in 44 years.
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They had an ageing line-up but they failed to put in place the foundation blocks for the future and suffered as a result.
In 2010 Stephen Freeman and Steve Sadler returned to the club as president and chairman respectively and set about turning their beloved club around.
Hard work from everybody involved was recognised by becoming the first club in the city to be awarded the prestigious RFU Club Accreditation Award.
The huge strides in the last year and a half saw them chosen for a visit by Ian Ritchie, the RFU chief executive, on his whistlestop tour of the county last May.
Gloucestershire RFU chairman Peter Williams said Ritchie was impressed by everything that had been achieved.
“Ian Ritchie was pleased with what he saw and heard when he came down to Matson,” said Williams.
“The two Steves were completely honest with him and said that they really had to challenge people with the truth and realism of their situation.
“From there the club have gone from strength to strength and I’m delighted with their current situation because it’s all their own hard work and they’re leading from the front.”
New showers, changing rooms and environmentally friendly boilers were installed along with solar panels on the roof, and the lounge was also extended to host functions and parties, including weddings.
The club was featured in an episode of the television show Don’t Tell The Bride in June 2011 when Matson player Joshua Ahern married Stacie-Marie Evans.
The skittles alley provides a link to the past and still gets plenty of use, and outside the clubhouse’s walls lay five-a-side football pitches and netball courts.
All of these attractions have helped draw more people into the club, and despite being slow to get off the mark with minis and juniors rugby originally the youth section is now booming.
Last year’s Under-17s, coached by Matson sons Shaun Knight and George Porter, lost in the National Cup final at Sixways in May.
A number of those colts have graduated into the first team in Western Counties North – English rugby’s seventh tier – with plenty more waiting in the wings at Sunday morning training sessions.
The professional prop duo of Knight and Porter are now guiding the promising Under-15s team, with hopes high for a repeat of their elder counterparts’ achievements.
Freeman said the club have had to learn the hard way, but everything is now in place for a potential return to the glory days.
He said: “People were only bothered about beating Matson once. If they lost to everyone else but beat Matson that was all what mattered.
“We were right up there once and people used to come to us to play their rugby.
“Within four miles as the crow flies there are seven rugby clubs, so it’s hard to compete with that because we’re right in the heart of the city.
“The club were a bit set in their ways. It used to be that there was only one way to do things and that was the Matson way but it’s not like that anymore.
“One of the reasons over the last 18 months we’ve put all of these things together is to make it as attractive as possible.
“We’re grassroots rugby. People come here and they enjoy it and the club caters for a lot of people now.
“Years ago a lot of rugby clubs didn’t have these facilities but everyone can enjoy a rugby club now.
“It’s been hard work but dads came to play here and then their sons followed and now their grandsons come to play.”
Ravenhill knows better than most how rugby repairs:
MATSON secretary Chris Ravenhill was, by his own admission, a bit of a tearaway in his younger days.
As punishment for his bad behaviour he would have to clean all the mud off the walls and floors of the Redwell Road changing rooms on Friday nights.
Having felt the cold hard hand of discipline himself, Ravenhill says the younger generation need structure to keep them on the straight and narrow like he did.
The waves of youngsters that flood through the Matson doors every Sunday morning are currently being guided by Stuart Locke, and Ravenhill says there is no-one better for the job.
The Gloucester side were late to join the minis and juniors revolution but are now feeling the benefit of it, with five youth teams ranging from ages seven to 15.
With close links being forged with two nearby schools, Ravenhill says the rugby club has an important responsibility in the local community.
“Rugby can help sort these kids out if they’re stepping out of line. It can put them on the straight and narrow because it installs discipline in them,” said Ravenhill.
“The club is located right next to a massive council estate so it’s important to keep the kids active in the community.
“I had a phone call one day from one of the schools saying one of the local kids had been playing up, so Stuart had a quick word with him and got him to play rugby.
“We were very late getting into minis and junior rugby for whatever reason, but Stuart has taken it on by the scruff of the neck.
“He has taken it all on by himself and looking after 50 screaming kids is difficult for anyone but he has taken it all in his stride and has done a lot for minis rugby.”
Matson’s commitment to their community and to youth rugby has seen them awarded the RFU Club Accreditation.
Clubs must demonstrate evidence of good practice in areas such as club management, player development and recruitment, child protection, sports equity, coaching, refereeing and volunteering.
Chris’ wife Rachel had a big part to play in attaining it, and she paid tribute to county rugby development officer Don Parsons for helping them achieve the accolade.
“The Gloucestershire RFU only used to know Matson Rugby Club for disciplinary reasons but now we’ve worked out that there’s all this help out there,” said Rachel.
“For Ian Ritchie and the rest of the RFU to actually pick our club for a visit earlier this year was amazing.
“To pick our club out of all the clubs, not just in the county but in the whole country, was very special.
“We started planning for the accreditation last year and Don came up and held a few meetings with us.
“There was a huge folder containing so many different documents that you have to go through and some of it didn’t make any sense to me but he helped translate them all.
“It will help put the club on a stronger footing now.
“The only problem for us now is that all our players are having little girls, none of them have had any boys.
“So at the rate things are going we could probably have enough girls to start our own girls’ team up!”