Players share memories as North Walsham rugby club celebrates its 50th anniversary

At least 80 players past and present were reunited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a north Norfolk rugby club.

North Walsham Rugby Club was founded in November 1962 by Paston School headmaster Kenneth Marshall, police officer John Mansfield and North Walsham Secondary Modern sports master George Howard, who were all eager to see the sport played in the town.

Club members from all five decades travelled from throughout Great Britain to celebrate the landmark anniversary with a lunch at the club's ground in Norwich Road, Scottow, on Saturday.

Players in the club's mini and youth teams marked the occasion by bringing the ball for that afternoon's match against Ipswich from the site of the now demolished Old Bear Stores in North Walsham, where the club was first founded, to it's current home in Scottow.

The young players handed out flags around the town before running five miles across country to the ground, where the ball was presented to the match referee.

George Barran was one of the club's founding members and attended the anniversary event. He said: 'We often had great difficulty finding 15 people to play in the early days.

'It has expanded very well and now is the envy of rugby clubs in the area. I am very proud of what has been achieved. We are ahead of Ipswich in the league which has a much larger population than North Walsham so we are doing very well.'

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The club existed without a permanent home for the first ten years of its life. Matches were held on school fields and players made do with basic changing and washing facilities wherever they could find them, including a cannery warehouse with one shower for 30 men and converted stables at the old Scottow Horseshoes pub.

In 1972, they bought their existing ground in Norwich Road and set to work fundraising to build their club house, which opened five years later.

North Walsham joined the rugby leagues when they were formed in 1987 and climbed to the 4th division of the English League, where they stayed for 18 years. The team is currently topping the 7th division.

Former club captain, chairman and president Malcolm Alexander was encouraged to join the North Walsham club in the 1960s by his employer Mr Barran. He said it wasn't unheard of for Mr Mansfield to go round on Friday nights knocking on the doors of players to see if they were available for a game that weekend. 'It gave parents a fright to have a policeman knocking on their door to see if their son was about,' he added.

The club's operations director David Horne was recruited to the club when he was 14 by his PE teacher Mr Howard. He said no one played rugby in North Walsham before Mr Howard arrived from Wales and there were no rugby goal posts at his school until the teacher asked for them to be installed.

He said: 'There were guys in North Walsham who had never touched a rugby ball before Mr Howard introduced it.

'In the very early days they had to scrabble about for players but once people had a taste of what it was about they came quite willingly.

'Now we want to get out in to schools to promote the game and develop home grown talent. We want to give back a little bit of what we have all enjoyed.'