BY YANN TEAR
For the players involved, it is all about the taking part, rather than the result, and that is just as well – because there never is one.
In Masters Rugby League, the idea is that it is all for fun and where age is no barrier – and where every game is effectively a draw because no scores are recorded.
The London Silverbacks, formed in 2016, and based at Club Langley FC, in Beckenham, are London’s only Rugby League club playing Masters rules.
There are only about 50 clubs and 1,000 players throughout the country taking part in this form of the game, which originated in New Zealand.
The Silverbacks evolved from the South London Storm rugby league side which used to play in Croydon.
For those not familiar – and that means almost everyone outside the small circle of players who take part – Masters is for over 35s and has attracted players in their 70s and 80s.
The oldest member currently playing for the Silverbacks is 71-year-old Jim Collins.
To even the playing field, the players wear colour-coded shorts, which determine the level of physical contact opponents are allowed. For instance, the younger players wear white and can engage in full contact, whereas the over 70s wear green and can only be stopped by grabbing hold of the tag they carry. Most of the players are in their mid-40s.
Club chairman Chris Ashton bills it as “social rugby at its finest” and freely admits to recruiting new players in the bar after home matches at London Broncos matches.
“It’s kind of a press-gang, though sometimes the guys we’ve approached claimed they couldn’t remember agreeing to coming down when we follow up with a call,” he said.
The club have played curtain-raiser matches before Broncos fixtures, taken on a visiting Australian Masters side and been on tour to play in Carcassone, France. Now, they are about to embark on another thrilling two-match tour, this time in Canada.
Their 25-man squad is due to take on the Toronto Wolfpack Masters on Thursday, June 13 (7pm) and the Ontario Greybeards Masters on Saturday, June 15 (9.45am) – both taking place at the Lamport Stadium in Liberty Village.
The latter will be a prelude to a regular-season English Rugby League contest – the Betfred Championship clash between the Wolfpack and Dewsbury Rams, where the Silverbacks will be guests of honour.
This will be the first transatlantic meeting in Masters Rugby League and, organisers hope, another step in furthering the game worldwide.
Ashton said: “Masters is social rugby at it’s finest and is in fact the fastest growing form of Rugby League in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with France also increasing participation.
“It is a great way of keeping fit, both mentally and physically, meeting new mates, occasional business networking and most importantly, having fun. We’re lucky and privileged to bring this fantastic sport to Canada for the first time in 2019.
“We’re a small, very friendly club, with a loyal band of supporters made up of former rugby union players, retired rugby league players, season ticket holders of London Broncos and friends of friends.
“The club is going from strength to strength and looking to link up with several military veterans associations with a view to former military personnel joining our club, to assist with development and assimilation into the civilian way of life. Also, we’re looking to form partnerships with men’s health and well-being charities to raise awareness for these issues and also to assist with player recruitment and retention.”
The South Londoners arrive in Toronto on June 12, and will be taking part in a skills day with local school children at Oakley Park Public School in Barrie the following afternoon.
Their head teacher Nicholas Mew said: “The South London Silverbacks coming to the school to teach skills and have fun is what will get kids to realize this is an accessible sport for all ages. This visit has the potential to be the start of something bigger.”
It is a view clearly shared by the enthusiastic Ashton, a former player himself, albeit in the union code with Streatham-Croydon RFC.
“We are a motley crew of ex-players with some complete beginners. But we are all keen to enjoy ourselves and help the sport to grow,” he said.
The club is keen to attract sponsors to help pay for the tour, which is costing £855 per player. Anyone interested in finding out more is asked to send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org