Photo: RFU Archive
Former Newcastle United hero Malcolm 'Supermac' Macdonald swapped his footballing skills to help raise money for sports equipment to bring rugby to the curriculum at St Mary's CoE Middle School in Belford, Northumberland.
When a group of pupils and parents from the school suggested to Headteacher Lynne Brookes that rugby was so popular it should be added to the curriculum, they found a a willing ear but a logistical challenge.
As a Leeds Rhinos supporter during her time in Yorkshire, she needed no convincing about the virtues of rugby for building character and providing youngsters with valuable life skills and she immediately support the request.
With a local pitch available to the school, thoughts turned to raising money for a set of posts and much-needed kit.
David Paul, a member of the school Parent Teacher Association (PTA) organised a fundraising dinner and secured the after-dinner speaking skills of Toon favourite 'Supermac'.
Paul also arranged for Newcastle Falcons and former England Counties scrum half Chris Pilgrim to get involved with the project with the event raising enough money to cover the cost of the uprights and some high-quality training kit.
Local contractor Gilbert Birdsall weighed-in with the cement for the post foundations and with support from RFU Community Rugby Coach Mark Watson and Dougie Hall from Berwick RFC the game has been given a solid footing in the school.
Pilgrim was invited to 'christen' the new rugby facilities making a personal appearance for a training session with kicking practice for the local youngsters.
"We’ve always been sympathetic to rugby but without the means to buy posts and the equipment to put it into the timetable," said Mrs Brookes. "So when the pupils asked if they could start playing rugby and we had a PE teacher who was keen on rugby, we started doing rugby lessons.
Photo: RFU Archive
"We had early encouragement when our Year 5 tag team won the first tournament they entered and at that point the PTA offered to do a fund-raising sportsman dinner which was a great success.
"At that stage someone mentioned that they knew Chris Pilgrim and that he might come to ‘open’ the facilities and he accepted. He was very good, speaking with the children about rugby and building life skills and also working with them on the pitch.
"Now the children are really enjoying the game and we’ve got some smashing little players, as you might expect from a farming community. We’ve got a lot of strong, fit boys. So I’m delighted with the way things have gone and I’m also very pleased at the way some of the children who are not what you might call naturally sporty are enjoying it and getting a lot out of the game.
"The beauty of being a small school is that if you can walk at all, you get a game. Everybody joins in and I like that. It’s been a success which has been building ever since I came to the school and it goes from strength to strength. Getting the posts and the equipment is part of an on-going development of the game in this school.
"We just try to improve the facilities for the kids and to improve their life chances. The thing about sport is that it spills over into a lot of other areas, like team-work and determination and courage. These things impact on their academic work and how they get along with people. They’re building something that will last them a lifetime.”