One of England's largest tens tournaments takes place at Loughborough in July. Behind the event are two poignant stories that sparked the local rugby community into action
Rugby and charity go hand in hand and one of the best examples of that union takes place on Saturday 29 July on the playing fields of Loughborough Grammar School.
Robbie’s Rugby Festival is a joyous mix of tens and sevens rugby played to a sombre backdrop. Robbie Anderson was only 13 when he lost an 18-month battle against cancer in 2006, but he still created a trust to help young people and their families cope with and fight cancer on a daily basis.
Every day in the UK, six teenagers are diagnosed with cancer and a new and modernised ward at Leicester Royal Infirmary is tangible evidence of the difference the Robbie Anderson Cancer Trust has made to the lives of young sufferers.
A group of school friends played an old boys’ reunion match in Robbie’s honour in 2009 and nine years on that has morphed into the largest tens tournament in the Midlands, with around 2,000 spectators each year.
The tens tournament comprises 24 teams, playing over four pitches, and is the focal point of a packed day.
Another key ingredient is Jake’s Round Robin, a six-team social tournament named after Jake McCarthy, an old boy of Loughborough GS pupil and Manchester Metropolitan University.
In 2012 he suffered a seizure on holiday in Thailand and was found to have a brain tumour that, on 24 December that year, took his life. The past decade has seen a 16% rise in deaths from brain tumours in the UK and the Jake McCarthy Foundation raises awareness of the symptoms to ensure early diagnosis.
Every year his friends enter a team in his memory and thus, in the true spirit of rugby, people are coming together and giving back to the game.
* 2009 Loughborough Endowed Schools
* 2010 Syston RFC
* 2011 Team Schweff (Loughborough Endowed Schools Alumni Team)
* 2012 Syston RFC
* 2013 Syston RFC
* 2014 Seals (Loughborough Endowed Schools Alumni Team)
* 2015 Do it for Dawson (Durham University Alumni Team)
* 2016 Seals (Loughborough Endowed Schools Alumni Team)
In addition to the Robbie Tens and Jake’s Round Robin, and kids’ tag rugby for those aged seven to ten, this year sees the launch of a ladies sevens tournament.
Entrants for the tens tournament include the likes of Rosslyn Park, Loughborough, Hinckley, Derby, Wisbech and Long Eaton, along with several invitation sides from universities and local schools.
While the players work up a sweat, spectators can spend time in the Rugby Village, which features a bar, physio tent, gin tent and hot tub among other attractions, or enjoy the taste of summer in the Pimm’s and Champagne Garden.
And the action continues long into the night because Party on the Pitch commences at 8pm and features a live band and DJ to get the dance floor shaking. A hog roast and food vans will stave off hunger and there’s a photo booth – always popular – to capture those priceless moments.
Nottingham Rugby are one of the many event sponsors and Neil Back, who started his senior career there before finding wider fame with Leicester and England, is an ambassador.
“Events like this bring the rugby family together and there is something available for everyone,” says Back. “It started very small and now there are 30 teams. I live in Leicestershire and know members of both families involved. They raise money every year while having a great time.”
The desire to raise funds and awareness for the two charities is at the heart of Robbie’s Rugby Festival, and the bar has been set high.
“We have been overwhelmed by the support and generosity shown by everyone towards the festival over the last eight years,” said organiser Georgie Fowle, co-founder of Addo Events who organise the festival.
“We were delighted that the 2016 event raised an excess of £12,500 for the Robbie Anderson Cancer Trust and Jake McCarthy Foundation. Our hope for 2017 is to not only to increase the total further but to raise awareness of the incredible work both these charities do and to help engage more people to join the fight against cancer.”
Entry to the rugby is free (donations welcome) and tickets to Party on the Pitch are £20. To book your tickets visit robbiesrugbyfestival.com