Celebrating 50 years...
It was the year Winston Churchill died, man first walked in
Space, Canada got it maple leaf flag, and The Beatles took the US by storm.
It was also the year when half a dozen sport-loving pioneers
founded what has become one of the Bahamas’ biggest and best-known sporting
organisations – Freeport Rugby and Football Club, which celebrates its 50th
anniversary next week (November 13).
From humble but dramatic beginnings – several of the
original seven, who were volunteer firemen, had to rush off from that first
practice because of an alarm - it has grown into a remarkable organisation with
a youth playing membership which runs into the hundreds, helping guarantee its
Through the 50 years FRFC has:
hosted big name soccer and rugby players
won the support of the English Premier League
and the Football Association
expanded its playing area – twice - and has the
largest playing fields on Grand Bahama
had its activities enjoyed by spectator celebrities
from the world of international politics
fielded hockey as well as rugby and soccer teams
been the venue for the now legendary Sir Jack
Hayward Soccer Camp
staged weekend sports festivals
hosted teams from the US, Ireland,
the UK, Canada, Qatar, Cayman, Jamaica, and Bermuda
been a formidable
competitor and frequent winner of trophies against Nassau teams
The club’s position as a mecca for sporting
activities continues with a typical Saturday underlining the point – in the
mornings 50 or 60 juniors are put through their rugby paces, over lunchtime
another 60 or 70 boys are coached in soccer, and during the afternoon around
330 girls take part in the girls’ developmental soccer league. All that on top
of nightly training during the week for older members.
A look back...
All these successes, and many more, are
being celebrated next week with a weekend of fun activities aimed at all ages,
and not just club members. Friday night
sees a celebration dinner at the club followed on Saturday from midday onwards
by an afternoon of games tailored for young and old with a barbecue expected to
go well into the night.
Club president Rob Speller is hoping that
lots of people from Freeport who have never set foot in the place will do so
next weekend. “We have been an
established part of the local scene for a very long time and for many years now
have had a very strong contingent of Bahamians, not just playing but taking a
full part in the social side of the club.
There is an open invitation to everyone, whether residents or citizens
to come see for themselves and help us celebrate this great occasion. I guarantee they will have a great time as
“Over the years this club has been lucky to
have some brilliant sportsmen and women playing in its various teams, many
going on to represent the Bahamas at international level both at home and
abroad. And it has been particularly
heartwarming as the years have unfolded to see those teams become increasingly
less reliant on expat members and become largely made up of locals, many of
them having started with us as youngsters and graduating to the senior level.
“I am very proud to have had the chance to
play my part in that both as club captain and more recently as president. It has been a rare privilege.”
Two of those pioneers from 1965 still live
on the island and will be there to enjoy the fun. They are local attorney Chris Cafferata and
retailer Chris Paine.
Over the years...
Cafferata recalled, “It all started with an
advert in the Freeport News announcing rugby practice at what was known as the
Rotary Field. That was more or less
where the YMCA is now. I well remember
the volunteer firemen leaving when the siren went off.
“Soon enough though we had enough players
to field a team against visiting Royal Navy ships. We beat the crew of the frigate HMS Tartar
10-0. It was the first game of many such since at the time the Navy was our
bread and butter for all sports.”
He was co-founder of the Nassau rugby club,
the Buccaneers, a year before FRFC started up and a game against them was the
first to be staged in Freeport the following year. The next big milestone was the move to the
current home next to the YMCA at East Settlers Way and the building of the
clubhouse and groundskeepers’ apartment.
The completion of those buildings was marked by an 18-6 victory in a
game against a Nassau team combining players from the capital’s three clubs,
Buccaneers, Baillou and Cuckoos.
Cafferata recalls that it was not just
rugby providing the club with its lifeblood.
For some years there was field hockey – it ended because the need for
very close-cropped grass was not compatible with other club activities – and
soccer has been important from the start. In fact for some years in the days
when former German international player and manager Franz Beckenbauer was at famous
New York Cosmos flew down and trained on the club field.
The sport has had a resurgence on the
island in recent years, partly because of the annual soccer camps supported by
the English Premier League. They have
featured household name players as coaches, including Warren Barton and Robbie
Earle now regulars on local TV screens every weekend with Barton featuring on
Fox Soccer Channel and Earle on NBC.
The EPL CEO Richard Scudamore cannot be at
the celebration next week because his league season is in full swing. But he said: "I am honoured to be
congratulating Freeport Rugby and Football Club on their 50th anniversary and
wish all those associated with it continued success and, most importantly fun.
“Having visited the club a number of years ago I know what a
fantastic place it is. The facility is excellent but, like all successful
sports clubs, it is the people that make it thrive. Thanks to all of you that
make it happen and keep up the great work."
His views were echoed by early camp coordinator Phil French
– now switched sports as a director of the English Cricket Board. He said, “It's amazing to see the club
continue to go from strength to strength over half a century. I have seen
for myself over the last decade the impact it has had on young people’s lives,
helping them to develop, grow and learn the value of being part of a team while
having enormous fun playing sport. None of this would have been
possible without the dedicated commitment of a handful of volunteers who have
given so much of their time and energy to make this club a focal point of the
local community and such an outstanding success!"
Cafferata continued, “Former rugby stars to
have played at Settlers Way include England players Jeff Butterfield and Dickie
Jeeps. They brought the Golden Oldies, a
team of former internationals from the UK.
They included Tony O’Reilly and Fergus Slattery (Ireland), Mike Roberts
and Gerald Davies (Wales), John Jeffry, Gordon Brown and Ken Scotland (Scotland). All legends of the game.”
Richard Scudamore played a huge role in the development of
the club in the mid-noughties when he donated $95,000 to turn the old fire
station site decimated by the 2004 hurricanes into pitches, which doubled the
playing area. The late Sir Jack Hayward,
chairman of the port authority at the time, provided the funds to ensure the
job was completed.
Sir Jack, and other knights from the UK, have also featured
in club history. In fact three of them –
Sir Denis Thatcher (husband of former PM Margaret Thatcher), airline entrepreneur
Sir Freddie Laker, and Sir Jack - attended a game together in 1999 which ended
in Freeport captain Nigel Kirkby accepting the Thatcher Trophy from Sir Denis
after victory against a Fort Lauderdale team. (see pictures)
The seven pioneers were John Lively, David Taylor, Bill Campbell, Mike
McMahon, David Chisnall, Chris Paine and Chris Cafferata.
Speller finished, “Let’s hope hundreds of locals show up to
help us mark the great legacy they have left Freeport.”