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Golden weekend set for Freeport Rugby Footbal Club
Nov 12, 2015 - 4:08:09 PM

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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 future.

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.

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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 well.

“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.

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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.

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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.”


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