Earlsfield-based rugby club Battersea Ironsides have been shortlisted for an inaugural competition rewarding grassroots clubs.
Battersea Ironsides have been chosen as one of six finalists for Gallagher’s Rugby Club of the Season award celebrating the core values of inclusivity, innovation, and community impact.
Gallagher ambassador and ex-England international Ugo Monye said the process of narrowing nominees down from 100 had been difficult, but that choosing a winner would be even tougher.
“Grassroots rugby has gone through a tough period in the last few months,” he said.
“The Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season award will give a much-needed boost.”
The other teams shortlisted for the award include Erdington RFC, Haringey Rhinos RFC, Kingsbridge RFC, Longlevens RFC, and Trafford MV RFC.
Each finalist has been paired with local Premiership clubs and had a Zoom call ‘crashed’ by players from the professional game.
For Battersea, this meant a virtual visit from Harlequins’ star Nathan Earle.
Mr Monye said: “It would be fairly simple for Gallagher to have the title sponsorship and to show a lack of social awareness to the importance of grassroots rugby.
“They haven’t done that – Gallagher has set the bar by shining a light on the work grassroots do.”
He added: “Having Nathan Earle on the call with Ironsides didn’t cost a penny, but I know the profound impact it can have.
“It’s nice to know the connection between the grassroots and the elite game still exists.”
Ironsides received its nomination for factors including its inclusivity fund which supports underprivileged young people in the inner-city area.
Battersea Ironsides One Club management committee member and women’s team coach Mike Crofts said: “Through the projects we do, we’re actively looking for ways to open up participation into the game, though we recognise this is very much a long-term effort.”
Mr Crofts spent eight years in the army before joining Ironsides and served in the Royal Tank Regiment – which formed the club in 1943.
He is also the founder and CEO of Ironsides’ nominated charity 3 Pillars which provides rugby-based mentoring to young people in prison.
Representation on and off the pitch
Battersea Ironsides women’s team has grown to a membership of 70 in its four seasons and narrowly missed out on promotion after this year’s season cancellation.
Mr Crofts said: “It’s understood that for years, women’s sport has suffered from underinvestment, so as a club we recognise that we have to get behind the ladies and give them an opportunity to get to the legacy enjoyed by men.”
Battersea Ironsides represent women on the pitch as well as at board level.
In addition to its nomination, the club joined food bank initiatives during lockdown and undertook a fundraising drive that raised several thousand pounds for St George’s Hospital where a number of players and members work as medical staff.
Mr Crofts said: “After what’s happened with Covid, never have community groups like our club and others been more important.”
The winner of the award is set to receive a Gilbert training bundle worth £2,000 and 100 tickets to the Gallagher Premiership final.
Mr Monye concluded: “If we’re serious about trying to grow and expand the game, we need grassroots clubs to have their doors open and fully welcoming of anybody who wants to come down.”
“I remember speaking to some of the guys at Battersea. They said they welcome everyone in, then at the end of a session, you’ll be offered a beer.
“I thought – you’re speaking to my heart right now.”
To vote for Battersea Ironsides visit https://pages.ajg.com/rcots-video-voting/.
Featured photo credit: Henry Browne/Getty Images