January 2, 2008
There must be something in the Sussex air, for Bognor have been celebrating the birthday of Barry Mitchell, a founder member of the club in 1965 who is still going strong in the back row at the age of 60.
�Baz' is a Mancunian by birth but he came to the South Coast via Hereford and Slough and first wore the Bognor No.6 jersey in the club's inaugural match at the Salts in Seaford in 1965.
Forty-two years later he continues to turn out for the 3rd XV every Saturday. "He'll play 80 minutes, too, unless there is a replacement brave enough to try to haul him off," says the Bognor chairman, Andy Sweeney.
"Barry has had more birthday celebrations than the Queen this year. He went to Venice for a long weekend with some club members and the following week there was a vets' tour to Weymouth.
"The weekend after that we had a celebration at the club when Barry was presented with a special award."
Tom O'Brien, Bognor's vice-chairman, paid tribute to �Baz', saying: "A little mental arithmetic estimates that Barry has spent a remarkable 15 weeks of his time on earth in a competitive rugby match representing Bognor RFC, and 40 years playing senior rugby.
"Barry's attitude has changed little over the years. He is a flanker of the old style who is never afraid to put his body on the line. Although the years may have seen his mobility reduced he has remained a master in the darker regions of close contact forward play.
"Such an approach has brought its share of inevitable injuries over the years. Most parts of his body have been affected. His shoulder represents a tribute to reconstructive surgery - even if it can cause problems in airport metal detectors."
Barry played for the first team for 35 years and though it is a long while since he picked up Bognor's "most improved player" award he graduated to being named the "most consistent player" three times before taking up the third team captaincy.
He has played or watched rugby - and educated the locals in his favourite "plug 2" call - from Switzerland, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and Holland to Hong Kong, Thailand, the USA and Canada.
Barry still trains two nights a week, not to mention a stint on the rowing machine most evenings. "While there's still a big hit left in him, Barry will continue to tape himself up, pull the number six over his creaking bones and give his all," says O'Brien.
And the Mitchell rugby dynasty at Bognor appears secure. Barry's wife Jackie has done years of sterling service washing kit and making teas, sons Nigel (back row) and Paul (hooker) play for the first team and there are high hopes for the next generation of Miles, Annie-Rose, Oliver and Leo.
* Bognor have had the green light from the Rugby Football Union to switch leagues and cut down on travel time and costs next season. Currently riding high in London Four South East, Bognor will, if promoted, join London Three South-West. Failing that, they will move over to London Four South-West.