Thousands of young rugby players descended on Darlington at the weekend for a celebration of the sport. Meanwhile, just along the A66, seniors from another club enjoyed a party of their own. Andy Walker reports from both events.
THEY came from Marseilles and Melton Mowbray, from Middlesbrough and Morpeth.
Darlington Rugby Club was the venue for a festival of junior and mini rugby that was first held in 1973.
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More than 1,800 young players showed off their skills over the course of the two-day tournament.
Club officials estimate that, with mums and dads, grannies and granddads, brothers and sisters factored into the equation, the weekend turnout was somewhere approaching 5,000.
That estimate was certainly borne out by the queue of cars that snaked along Grange Road, patiently waiting to be ushered into the club grounds, on Sunday (May 4) morning.
And it is no exaggeration to say teams came from as far afield as France and Leicestershire to take part in the festival that many clubs use as an end-of-season tour event.
The festival was part of a huge weekend of rugby in Darlington.
On Saturday afternoon, just a short distance from where the rugby festival was getting under way, Darlington Mowden Park’s first team was successfully battling for promotion in a winner-takes-all play off.
Festival director Michael Stowe, of Darlington Rugby Club, offered his congratulations to neighbouring Mowden on promotion to the higher level.
He said: “It is great for them, we are really happy they are doing well and it’s fantastic for the town.”
Mr Stowe said the rugby festival, which saw matches taking place on some 16 pitches, was a big success.
Among the attractions was club chairman Michael Wilkinson feeding the hungry hordes by cooking up hot dogs and other treats.
Mr Stowe added: “The festival has gone fantastically, the volunteers we have brought in have done a brilliant job.
“We had 24 teams on Saturday in the 13 to 16 age groups and 95 teams in total over the course of the weekend, mostly in the seven to 12 age groups.
“Everyone seems to have been enjoying themselves and it’s great that we can do our bit for the game of rugby in Darlington.
“As well as teams from all over the region, we have got teams from Marseilles and Melton Mowbray and teams from as far away as Oxfordshire taking part.
“When teams come back year after year and use the festival almost as an end-of-season tour, that’s the biggest compliment we could receive.”