There’s nothing quite like the local rugby club, the absolute epicentre of all social events for any amateur rugby player. From the old worn out sheds with a bar to the ultra modern training facilities they all hold a special place in our hearts. I have personally had both, as a player at Chesterfield Panthers since the ages of 9. For the first 15 years of my time with Chesterfield, the clubhouse was bloody awful. Patched up holes in the roof, a bar that looked like it had been lifted from a 60s working men’s club and a toilet that had seen more ‘puke’ than Newcastle town centre on a Saturday night, but it had charm, I could never quite put my finger on but it just felt like home. I have so many incredible memories there, from playing age grade with all my best friends to playing my first senior game at prop against Sheffield Tigers vets (safe to say that bloody hurt in the morning) and standing on a chair necking a dirty pint on my 21st birthday to the chant of ‘get it down, you Zulu warrior’. I just can’t imagine how boring my life would be without those experiences and the people I’ve met along the way.
But a rugby club isn’t about bricks and mortar it’s about the people, the pissed old lads that watch you play every single week through rain and shine, letting you know every time they’ve had a pint too many that players where so much harder in their day, the ladies team that put the boys to shame on every social occasion and drink us under the table and your teammates, what can I say about those? A squad of rugby players is such a strange and eclectic mix, in ours, we have everything from gas fitters to a warehouseman to a surgeon but once they get to the rugby club, none of that matters, we’re all rugby players and we all speak the same language, pissed up jibberish! Which leads me onto the socials. My club, as I’m sure most do, thrives on the social events, whether it be a spare of the moment trip to town with a few of the lads or an organised party at the clubhouse. These are where many of our memories are made and nothing forges a bond better than sinking a Cheeky’s ten pound deal (a Chesterfield delicacy) with 40 of your closest friends.
But what is it like joining a club? Especially when you’ve never played rugby before. Today I’m going to talk to try scoring virtuoso and Chesterfield Panthers second row Dec Wileman or ‘Dick Wildman’ as he is better known, about what it was like to enter, let’s face it, quite a daunting environment.
So Dec, what made you join the Panthers in the first place?
I had the opportunity to play when I was younger, but being forced into it I never really gave it a second thought. It wasn’t until three years ago when I walked into my local Travis Perkins and met Lee Laughton, the current first team captain, and we got talking, he explained that preseason was starting that night. At the time I wasn’t feeling great about my weight so I thought what the heck, I don’t like any other sport so I’ll give it a go and maybe lose a few pounds and get in shape at the same time.
What were your first impressions?
I’d be told little bits about what preseason consisted of and I was a little bit worried id be left behind or fall at the first hurdle. As I walked up to the club I was welcomed by a 7ft odd giant Adonis of a man (Ashley Holland, check out our Instagram for his training tips) thinking to myself, shit, I hope they’re all not that big! As I walked in and saw them all chatting and laughing I just thought to myself, everyone seems so tight knit, I want to be part of that.
The session started with lots of running and I started struggling after 5 or 10 minutes as id not really done any cardio since school but when the lads saw me struggling they were all there to push me further which made me feel as if I’d been welcomed into the team. None of them knowing me and them still supporting and encouraging me was fantastic and is what reinforced my wanting to come back.
When did you feel you were part of the Panthers family?
For me it felt pretty much straight away, everyone was really welcoming and helpful. I’d never really watched rugby before and I didn’t know any of the rules but the coaching staff and players were so good at getting back to the basics to teach me everything I needed to know.
What makes you want to stay?
What makes me want to stay? Addiction. As soon as I stepped on a rugby pitch I never looked back, all week I look forward to Saturday, playing the sport I love with my teammates fighting for a win. Now rugby is in my life I don’t see a future without playing or being involved with Chesterfield Panthers. I’ve met some great mates through rugby and feel like I’ve known them forever, not just three years.
What does rugby, and the Panthers mean to you?
Rugby for me is a release, getting down to the club on a Saturday and not having a worry in the world is amazing. Playing for my club and my teammates is what I love doing now. Over the three years I’ve been at the club I’ve tried to be as involved as possible, from filling the water bottles or setting out the match shirts to making my special Christmas game ‘Decs dirty box’. I want the club to be there forever and see it as my second family.
So now you’re hooked, how do you see the future for yourself at the club?
When I finally get a grasp of all the rules and can develop my playing ability I’d love to captain one of the sides and obviously win. Also top try scorer, but that’s an inevitability.
I may be biased as a hardcore rugby fan but I really do encourage anyone out there that has the slightest urge, to just do it, join your local team, you don’t need to be the next Jonny Wilkinson or be able to bench 200kg, there’ll be a place for you. I’m so glad I joined and I know for a fact my life wouldn’t be the same without my club and all the people that have made it over the years.
Thanks for reading my guide to social rugby, if you agree with me share some of your memories with us. Preferably embarrassing dirty ones.