I first joined the Steelers in the summer of 1998, and it was at the first game I attended, away to Old Beavonians (now long gone) out on the A3, that the then Chairman, Richard Carswell, asked me if I could “help out”, and so I took on the role of Hospitality Manager, which involved sorting out the players teas, the Annual Dinner etc, I then took over from James Parsons as Supporters Secretary, looking after our intrepid band of followers (and continuing the half-time chocolate tradition).
Then my admin background came to the fore as I became Operations Manager, and later Hon Secretary, until I was honoured to be elected as Chairman in 2003, a role I held for 6 years before handing over to our current Chairman, Tim Sullivan, in 2009.
Since standing down from the Chairmanship, I have been the club treasurer and then spent the last 2 seasons as President, a mainly ambassadorial role, where I have represented the club at home and abroad, as well in the media. With my move away from London, and from day to day contact with the club, it is only right that I now hand over these responsibilities and I know that my successor Richard Lee-Heung, who has been a loyal clubman since the founding season of the club, will do a fantastic job and I wish him well.
It has been an amazing experience to watch the club grow from playing friendlies, to our first league game in November 1999, our first league win on 1st April 2000 (29-10 against Racal Decca), to our promotion at the end of the 2006/7 season.
So, have I enjoyed every minute? Well no, there have been plenty of lows, amongst them:
- In the 2000/01 season we lost every game, and finished the campaign with a 1,100 points deficit.
- Spending countless hours in committee discussing… well that’s in the past…
- Being threatened with violence because someone didn’t agree with a decision.
- Spending hours in Newham A&E waiting for players to be stitched up.
But these are more than outweighed by the highs.
- Seeing the turnaround in our performance in 2001/02 and our being named Rugby World’s Team of the Month on that back of the improvement.
- Securing promotion at the end of the 2006/07 season, losing only 2 games in the year
- Winning the Union Cup twice in 2007 and 2009 (and I’m glad that this has continued with the third consecutive win in 2011 under Tim’s Chairmanship).
- Hosting the Bingham Cup 2004 (although that was sometimes also in the Lows category too!)
- Being part of an amazing family of Steelers.
In a couple of weeks, we’ll be taking both teams to Manchester for Bingham Cup 2012, and it’s from our hosting of the tournament in 2004 that my best memory comes. The 2nd XV had progressed to the Final of the Bingham Plate against New York. It was a controversial game, which saw our 2nd XV, and it was as our 1sts were playing at the same time, take on a New York 2nd XV which included 4 1st XV players as they had no more 2nd’s left. During the game they made 10 replacements (do the maths), but our 2nds hung on and finished the game in a draw. After extra time, the scores remained even, and it went into a period of ‘sudden death’, NY got a penalty, I held my breath, but it sailed wide of the posts, another 10 minutes of play dragged on, until our forwards secured the ball and crept towards the tryline, for what seemed like forever the American defence held firm, until with one almighty, final, exhausted, heave the entire pack forced their way forward and the referee saw ball touch grass. I’m man enough to admit I burst into tears as the whistle signalled our victory.
The thing I am most proud of is that through good times and bad, whether we were winning or being battered, we continued to play rugby. Proper, 15 man, contested, rugby. We had no easy options when we started, and we have never sought them.
I am also proud that our relationship with our friends at East London RFC, and our reputation within Essex as a well-run, stable club has continued to grow.
It’s been a 14 year long emotional rollercoaster, and whilst I’m sad to be leaving, I do so with loads of memories, some fabulous friendships, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
I wish both teams well for the Bingham Cup, and for the 2012/13 season and beyond. Above all I wish you all, players, officers, committee members and supporters, good luck, good health and prosperity for the future.