Tales from rugby’s front line

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Welcome to the second in a new monthly series of articles from rugby’s coal face. These are the stories of people who live and breathe rugby, almost exclusively volunteers, all of them with a passion for the game and a tale or two to tell. These are the writer’s own stories, told in their own words. My role is strictly to collate and edit, to help bring them it to life.

This month’s article features a woman who developed a reputation in Perth for her determined advocacy during the difficult period around the axing of the Western Force from Super Rugby.

While her love for all things WA rugby hasn’t diminished, she has now also developed another rugby connection much further to the east.

Part 2: Alison Foskett; Simply for the love of the game

Not that long ago, I was at a rugby function making polite conversation with the woman who happened to be standing next to me when she asked, “So is it your husband who plays rugby or is it one of your children?” When I replied, “Neither”, the woman looked at me very perplexed and said, “So, what is your connection to rugby, then?”

It was a similar look to the one I got when standing in a pub watching the Super Rugby final a few years back when a guy asked me which side I was supporting and I replied: “Neither – I’m just here because I love rugby and I know that this match is going to be an absolute cracker.”

Am I that much of a rarity? A dyed-in-the-wool, female rugby tragic who loves the game, ‘just because’?

These days, most likely not. But back in the early 1980s when I first became transfixed by the ‘game they play in heaven’, it probably was a little unusual.

I had never been an active or keen sports player; growing up in England and being forced to play hockey and netball at school with some rather vicious competitors, and being made to do long, cross-country runs in the freezing cold of winter, rather put me off.

But I remained an ardent sports watcher, starting in my early teens continuing into adult life. My first loves were soccer (I was spellbound by the Liverpool team of the late 1970s and can probably still reel off the names of the players who beat Manchester United in that 1977 FA Cup final) and tennis (no one will ever knock Bjorn Borg off top spot in my eyes).

But after I discovered rugby union, everything else pretty much fell by the wayside. And now, nearly four decades later, it’s still the only sport that has me utterly bewitched!

So, what is it about rugby that caught me hook, line and sinker? I’ve thought about this quite a bit over the years and I think it comes down to just one word: camaraderie.

It’s the spirit of camaraderie you see among the players, who can spend 80 minutes knocking seven bells out of one another and then all share a few beers and laughs together in the clubrooms or the local pub afterwards.

It’s the spirit of camaraderie among us fans, who can spend 80 minutes shouting and yelling support for opposing teams and then go and share a few sherbets and a late-night kebab or curry together afterwards.

And if you are as lucky as I have been over the years, it’s the camaraderie you get from the many groups of international friends you amass as you follow your teams.

Social media in particular has played a key role in bringing groups of like-minded fans together in a way that wasn’t possible before the arrival of the Internet. Thanks to Twitter, I have so many people in my address book as friends who I would never have met if it were not for rugby and that connection through social media.

And, like I’m sure every true rugby fan would say, my life so much the richer for having those people in it!

Another thing that rugby has given me, and for which I will be forever grateful, is the opportunity to travel. Extensively.

From travelling to watch club games and England games back in the 1980s and 1990s, when I regularly sat in the stands at hallowed grounds such as Gloucester, Bath, Twickenham and Cardiff Arms Park, ending up hoarse from all the cheering (not to mention feeling a tad the worse for wear after one too many pints of the amber nectar), to travelling around Australia following my beloved Western Force during the club’s early years, and then the Wallabies.

To travelling to Singapore for the Sevens one year and meeting up with friends from the UK there who I’d met through the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia in 2013; to Hong Kong to experience the fun that was Global Rapid Rugby (I am still devastated that COVID arrived to spoil that particular party).

The list is long, and the memories are plentiful, and I have rugby to thank for it all!

But looking back over the past 40 or so years that I have been a rugby lover, there is one experience that really stands out from all the others, that epitomises what the game means to me.

That is the sheer joy I get from my involvement with a junior rugby club over in Fiji.

Back in 2018, I had been invited to attend a ‘women in rugby’ conference hosted by Oceania Rugby in Nadi. The conference took place over a few days and, given the distance between Fiji and WA, I decided to stay on a little longer afterwards to have a bit of a holiday.

A friend of mine said that if I had any spare room in my suitcase, I should take over some rugby kit and hand it out to the rugby-mad kids on the island. I thought that was a wonderful idea so I put a call out to various clubs to ask if they had any spare kit that I could take across with me.

Rugby WA were absolutely amazing and emptied out their store cupboard of all sorts of items, including jerseys, shorts, T-shirts, caps and a box of rugby balls.

I got in touch with the Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) and asked them if they could put me in touch with a junior club. They hooked me up with a club in Nadi that had recently been set up by a group of gorgeous rugby mums. They invited me along to meet the kids and watch them train and I absolutely fell in love with them all!

The huge grins on the kids’ faces when I emptied out my various bags of rugby goodies melted my heart, and their sheer delight in putting on the jerseys and caps is an image that will stay with me forever.

As will the sound of them joining together in a loud chorus of, “Thank you, Miss Alison” at the end of their training session!

I was due to go back to Fiji again in 2020 with another huge haul of kit plus several pairs of new rugby boots, all very generously by the WA rugby community, but COVID put a halt to that, and so I ended up shipping it over instead.

When it finally arrived at the club in Nadi, the mums told me it felt like Christmas as they opened each of the boxes and saw what was inside.

Thanks to the Western Force, Rockingham Rugby Club and a host of other fabulous Perth rugby folk, they now have enough matching uniforms to fully kit their U18, U16 and girls teams.

Just recently, the FRU organised a junior rugby festival in Votua Ba with the aim of just having fun. Prizes were given for the teams who displayed the rugby values of discipline, respect, integrity, passion and solidarity.

Our teams – all decked out in their new uniforms – scooped the discipline and passion awards and I don’t think I could be any prouder of them if I tried.

As I put the finishing touches on my planning for (fingers crossed) my next big rugby trip – over to La Belle France for next year’s Rugby World Cup – I once again find myself saying thank you to the rugby gods for catching my eye all those years ago, and enticing me to chase the egg… just because!

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