- Schoolboy memories rekindled for MP
- Support for rugby ethos still burns bright
Photo: RFU Archive
Keighley’s Conservative MP Kris Hopkins went back to his sporting grassroots in a very literal sense when he trod the rugby pitch at Oakbank School during a visit to learn about the Rugby Football Union’s All Schools programme last Friday (February 8), which is resurrecting the 15-a-side game at the school.
A former pupil with a well-developed interest in sport, he chatted with a group of Year Nine rugby union fledglings, school staff, local club officials and RFU development personnel to discover how the RFU’s initiative was impacting on them and the school.
While he has the build that would have made entry into any pack of forwards a formality, as a teenager he was a ‘petrol-head’, with events like the Lombard RAC Rally exciting him much more than events at Twickenham.
That changed when he joined the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, although there was no easy route into the elite end of a Dukes Regimental team that constantly attracted a raft of high-quality players.
Rugby eventually gave way to running as his fitness regime of choice and while he recently donned his boots once again for the House of Commons and Lords XV which played a South African Embassy XV, his next major sporting assignment is to complete the 33-mile Haworth Hobble in a respectable time. Seven hours is the target.
At Oakbank, however, his support for the game of rugby and the All Schools project was very clear.
“I played a bit at school and I played where we are standing now when Phil Artis was our sports master, but I was interested in motor sport at that time,” he said. “Getting into the Dukes Regimental team for someone coming in as a novice was very difficult, but I enjoyed the games I got with the lower teams.
“When I became an MP I started putting on a few pounds and turned to long-distance marathons to keep in shape, but I still keep in close touch with what’s going on in rugby and when the invitation came to play for the Commons and Lords team, I thought ‘Why not?’ and enjoyed it.”
Listening to comments at Oakbank reinforced his beliefs about the value of rugby and the strengths it promotes: “Getting young people involved in physical activity is a serious mission these days and rugby ticks lots of boxes.
“It’s energetic, well-disciplined, competitive sport and we need more of it. I’m really pleased that my old school has taken it up once again. I think the sport instils so many good qualities, not only into its players, but also in its audiences and I think a lot of other sports could learn from that.”
Oakbank Headmaster David Maxwell, a passionate rugby man of Ulster before work brought him to Yorkshire and a niche at Old Brodleians RFC in Halifax, is a fervent supporter of the All Schools programme.
“Believe it or not, I think we are actually becoming a rugby school,” he said, a reference to the fact that both codes are catered for. “Rugby is giving these youngsters more self-esteem, more confidence, a greater understanding of teamwork and I think it has made them more courageous. They’re also more willing to improve their skills.
“What we need to do now is to develop this with the children coming through. For us it’s a 10-year programme. We’re very lucky to have Mike Derrick (Oakbank School PE teacher) involved. He is so committed to rugby.
“I think the kids also see the All Schools programme and the visit we had to Twickenham as an investment in them and they really appreciate that.
“It’s great for state school kids to have the same privileges and experiences as private school kids because they deserve them just as much. That’s the best thing about the All Schools rugby project.”
At Keighley RUFC, the belief is that the Oakbank project has re-established a crucial link. Once upon a time, Keighley Boys Grammar delivered a new contingent of full-fledged young players at the end of each school year, some of them ready to step straight into first-team action.
Thanks to the All Schools programme and the enthusiasm of Oakbank Deputy Head Saira Luffman and Derrick, that conveyor belt has been switched on again for Keighley and other rugby union clubs in the area.