It’s the stuff of rugby fairy tales. With their rugby club’s big game at risk thanks to a snow-clogged pitch, a British town comes together to shovel snow from the field and the game goes ahead. Too good to be true? Not in Bath.
Then again, what else would you expect from one of Britain’s most rugby mad towns?
When snow threatened their final Amlin Challenge Cup clash against Bucureşti Wolves this weekend, the Club swiftly issued a call to arms for anyone available to help shovel snow from the pitch. Local devotees answered the call, clearing the field and setting the stage for Bath to romp to a 53-8 victory.
So what lies at the heart of this tie between club and town? Some put it down to the fact that Bath has no high profile football team to battle with rugby for local affection.
‘Like other towns and smaller cities that have no sizeable football team – Northampton, Gloucester and Worcester for example – Bath Rugby carries the sporting ‘flag’ for the city,’ says Glyn Edwards of Bath Supporters Club Allez Bath.
‘For the Bath sporting community, Bath Rugby is the main focus of attention, not just locally but in being what the city is known for across the rugby world – with Bath University’s centre of sports excellence in second place’.
Bath Rugby Club has quite the legacy for its devoted following to be proud of. Founded in 1865, it is, as its website proudly declares, ‘one of the oldest clubs in existence’. During its illustrious history, a host of rugby legends have graced the grass of Bath’s beloved home, the Rec, including World Cup winners Jason Robinson, Mike Catt and Mike Tindall. In fact, one of England’s most respected backs in history, Jeremy Guscott, spent his entire career at the club.
The golden era of the early nineties saw Bath Rugby triumph domestically, achivements which Edwards credits with cementing their loyal fanbase.
“Because of the unparalleled success in the late 1980s and 1990s when Bath totally dominated English club rugby under Jack Rowell,’ Edwards says, ‘the winning teams established a firm grip on the sporting interest within the city and surrounding areas’.
Recent years have seen Bath struggle to recreate this magic. The latest English elite line up features just one Bath player, prop David Wilson, and they currently sit eighth in the Aviva Premiership. Nevertheless, this year’s performance on the European stage has given the fans a cluster of victories to be happy with. Utterly unbeaten in their European Challenge Cup Group, Bath go into their home quarter-final against Stade Francais as the top seeds.
But there’s more than enough evidence of Bath’s passion for rugby outside of the Rec. For a start, the men aren’t the only one’s playing for the city’s pride – Bath also boasts a strong women’s team in the high level Championship South 1 tier. Then there’s the local media – the Bath Chronicle for one devotes a deservedly generous number of column inches to recounting the successes of Bath Rugby Club.
Local pubs like the Pultney Arms and the Royal Oak are acknowledged hubs for rugby mad fans to indulge their weakness on the weekends. The city also boasts two stores devoted almost exclusively to rugby merchandise – not something to be underestimated in an age where rugby stash is often unceremoniously stuffed into dark corners of mainstream sports shops.
So what will England 2015 mean for Bath, the city and the club? Certainly, they’ll hope to get more of their young breakthrough players in the running for World Cup call ups. Given its ‘modest’ capacity of 12,300, the Rec won’t feature as a World Cup venue, but expect the city’s rugby population to turn out in numbers to watch the televised games regardless.
Bath remains a staple point of homage for any rugby pilgrim from overseas and a must-see for egg-chasing tourists across the globe. Expect their numbers to swell come 2015, with Bath retaining its status as one of the homes of English rugby.