- Pip sets the high standard for rugby newcomers
- But Stockton girls are keen to follow
Photo: RFU Archive
Female rugby players from both ends of the age scale in Durham have been in the news in recent weeks, with experienced players and complete novices claiming a share of the spotlight.
Setting a very high benchmark for the younger end is 33-year-old Philippa ‘Pip’ Bell, currently enjoying her 25th season as a player, who has been recognised with a Special Achievement award in the Hartlepool Mail Sports Awards for her contribution to the women’s and girls’ game.
The Teesside University Sports Development Officer notched up the first 20 years of her exceptional record while playing in Hartlepool, starting out at ‘West’ as an eight-year-old when she and her brother went along to the club with dad and moving on to the ‘Old Boys’ as a 16-year-old when ‘West’ could not sustain her ambitions.
A decade with the Old Boys followed, before a similar scenario unfolded once again for Pip, who then moved to Darlington RUFC, where she is still playing.
However, her passion for West Hartlepool RUFC and the creation of a sustainable women’s and girls’ team still burns brightly.
“I’ve had such a fantastic opportunity to play women’s rugby and my whole life and lifestyle choices have been developed around playing the game,” she said. “I was very lucky to get involved at an early age, especially when I see girls and women coming into the game later in life and really enjoying the experience and regretting how much they have missed by not starting sooner.
“When Hartlepool Ladies folded we were devastated, but some players were wanting to retire and others were going on to higher things, so we simply couldn’t raise a team. It was soul-destroying when it happened.
“Now women’s and girls’ rugby in the North East is going from strength to strength and with Hartlepool being such a strong rugby town it would be nice to have a women’s team back in action.”
Confirmation that the early enthusiasm which took Pip into the game is still alive and well in the area comes from Stockton Rugby Club, where a new girls’ section has been created which coincides with the Norton club’s 140th anniversary.
The club has opened its doors to local schoolgirls after over 50 girls in Years 7, 8 and 9 at Ian Ramsey CofE and Our Lady and St Bede RC in Stockton began participating in PE lessons overseen by Durham RFU coaches. The popularity of these sessions prompted some of the youngsters to ask about how they could play rugby outside of school.
The enthusiasm was such that the club, with help from Durham RFU Community Rugby Coach Jon Benson, has launched a girls’ junior section.
Fourteen youngsters have been training each week and recently took part in the first club cluster competition involving girls teams from across Northumbria, Durham and Cumbria at Ryton RUFC.
“The creation of a girls’ junior section is an exciting time for the club as it opens participation to the whole community,” said club Chairman, Graham Newton. “Stockton is a family club with a proud heritage and we look forward to watching the girls develop their skills and ultimately enjoy playing the game of rugby union with the many new friends they will make along the way.’’
As someone who knows about these things, Pip Bell will heartily endorse that ambition.