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Finsbury Park aim to continue their rapid rise

PUBLISHED: 15:55 11 August 2016

Finsbury Park RFC in action. Pic: Rebecca Dixon Photography

Finsbury Park RFC in action. Pic: Rebecca Dixon Photography

Archant

When players stumble upon your club by accident and keep coming back – rather than turn out for a higher-ranked team – you’re probably doing something right.

Then again, the basic facts of Finsbury Park RFC’s rapid rise since their inception four years ago – with no pitch or clubhouse and a very basic kit – are fairly impressive in themselves.

After beginning their competitive existence in Herts/Middlesex League Merit Table Eight, Finsbury Park have already leapt five divisions and are now settled at a refurbished ground at Downhills near Turnpike Lane.

Just as importantly, the club continue to attract new players – they will be fielding a second XV on a regular basis during the coming season and are hoping to establish junior teams in the near future.

Long-term, the aim for Finsbury Park is to become serious players on the north London rugby scene – as two New Zealanders, Fraser Findlater and Evan Gwilliam, mistakenly assumed they already were.

The club’s press secretary Jon Dixon explained: “These two lads did come down one night thinking we were a different club!

“The next week they did actually go to that other club. But then they came back to us, even though they were probably playing below their level, and they went on to be our player of the season and top try scorer respectively.

“They felt this small club that had only been going 10 minutes was the place they wanted to spend two evenings a week and most of their weekend rather than an established club in north London, with much better infrastructure and training facilities.

“I’ve played at 13 clubs and I got the exact same vibe when I came to Finsbury Park. We’ve had a good influx of players again and we could have two very good squads and a surplus of reserves.

“The aspiration for us is to compete with big clubs like Hampstead, Hackney and Haringey and play against their first teams and see them as our local rivals.”

Stephen Morse, now vice-president of the club, was one of a handful of ex-Barnet RFC players who originally began informal training sessions at Finsbury Park and the new group quickly grew.

Sporting a nondescript black Puma kit, the north Londoners had only played five friendlies when the league invited them to take over a slot vacated by Welwyn Garden City, the bottom side in Merit Table Eight.

Finsbury Park rose to the challenge, recording six out of eight victories – and that was a launchpad for them to win the division the following year, with their record blotted by just one defeat and one draw.

The club were allocated a place in Merit Table Five last season and, after maintaining their run of success with a league and cup double, they have been promoted to the third tier for the upcoming campaign.

Off the field, meanwhile, the club tackled the challenge of bringing Downhills – which they now share with two Gaelic football teams, Eire Og and Holloway Gaels – up to standard, with the help of an RFU grant.

“Our pitch is quite poor – in parts it can be under nearly three inches of standing water,” said Dixon. “Sometimes we’ve had to move to other pitches but that’s helped us to become a club people know about.

“The guy who runs one of the Gaelic clubs told us there was a shed at Downhills, owned by Haringey Council, with an old man squatting there – and suggested we look together at taking on the lease.

“Everything had been ripped out and the doors were those wooden industrial ones that they put on condemned buildings. We pulled a board out and found there were three showers behind it – they’d been sealed off for God knows how many years!

“We put up the roof and painted the building – and not only have we now got a base but between us we’re there with floodlights on four or five times a week, so we’re adding value to that part of the park as well.”

The revamped ground was eventually opened by former England fly-half Rob Andrew and further improvements are planned, including a storage unit for equipment such as post protectors and tackle bags.

The club have appointed a new coach this season – Mark Chapman, who arrived from Saracens Amateurs – and expect to have a fairly multi-national squad again, as they did last year.

As well as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, Finsbury Park also included players from Ireland, Spain, Italy and Romania last season – and they are inclusive in terms of gender as well as nationality.

“I’ve played for clubs where the end of season dinner is a gents-only evening,” added Dixon.

“But we had a player from Australia, Greg Pelka, whose other half had always gone to games over there and she made it clear she’d be here come rain or shine.

“A few of the other girls started going and they’ve got their own community now, they’re called Fins Fans and regularly meet and socialise, even when we’re away on tour.”

Fixtures secretary Fred Bromley said: “One of the things I really love about this club is that it started from this established community in Finsbury Park, but has then attracted other people that are here for a year or two or five, just passing through.

“They bring their partners, there are a few guys with kids and it’s really just growing all around us. That’s probably an increasingly rare thing for London now, because it has such a transient community.

“There’s so much ambition – we want to go so far so fast and it may not happen just now, but it’s all perfectly possible.”

The club hold training sessions on Tuesdays from 7pm and new players are always welcome. For details, email info@finsburyparkrfc.co.uk

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