Bassetlaw Bulldogs Update

Trustee Fran Walker looks at the legacy of FoYPiB funding for Bassetlaw Bulldogs.

Trustee, Fran Walker, looks at the legacy of FOYPiB funding for local rugby league club Bassetlaw Bulldogs and is in awe of what has been achieved. She writes; 

Over a period of just 5 years, a tiny village in Nottinghamshire (East Markham) has seen the emergence and growth of a youth rugby league club from a standing start. With a helping financial hand in the early days from FOYPiB, the club has made impressive gains in member and volunteer numbers. With active memberships growing to nearly 100 young people and 15 volunteers, the growth of the Bassetlaw Bulldogs Rugby League club appears modest at first sight, but this organisation is anything but that. Let me explain. 

Rugby League is a game generally played in the North of England, most typically along the M62 corridor and in Cumbria. Even at a professional level, the spread of teams is very much distilled to those areas. There is a strong youth system across the northern areas of England and competition is vast. However, down in Nottinghamshire, the county only has 3 rugby league teams of any sort; amateur teams Nottingham Outlaws and Sherwood Wolfhunt and the Bulldogs themselves.  

Club founder, Phil Abbott, recently recalled, ‘5 years ago, I set out to achieve a dream to bring sustainable youth rugby league to Nottinghamshire. The sport is my number one passion. Shortly into our existence, I approached FOYPiB with a view to securing some funds to buy some equipment to train a new team, and to pay for the vital qualifications our volunteers needed in order to help. Happily, my appeal – which must have ticked a few boxes – was positively received and FOYPiB kindly donated a significant sum of money to help us meet our initial targets. I make no bones about it; without those funds, we would not have managed to get to where we have as a club.’ 

Where the Bulldogs are unique is that they are trend setters. Led by their ever-energetic, resourceful and hugely-driven chief, Phil, this club is one that creates history time and time again. In the locality, and within the sport of rugby league, these achievements are extremely notable. 

Starting with 1 coach (Phil) and one player (his son Barney), the club has certainly evolved impressively over time. But I am struck not by the rate of growth in particular, but by the professional and novel way this club engages with young people. A quick peek at the club’s website and social media outlets shows that this club is totally committed to providing opportunities for children in our area both on and off the field. The tireless work of Phil and his band of volunteers is awe-inspiring.  

Recently, I caught up with Phil and he was telling me about some of the amazing opportunities he has created. Whilst most people were spending time over the summer on holiday, or spending time with friends and family, Phil was busy plotting and executing some wonderful plans. In the space of a couple of weeks, players from different age groups across the club had taken part in a lap of honour at Wembley Stadium in front of 60,000 fans, or played at Doncaster’s Eco-Power Stadium including using the changing rooms and with their parents/supporters in the crowd, or taken part in a rugby league festival at the ground of Super League club Wakefield Trinity in front of thousands of fans. These are memorable – indeed, unforgettable – memories and experiences for our young people; experiences that without this club, they would not have enjoyed. 

But there’s more! The trend-setters, as I called them earlier, have a very impressive set of firsts that they celebrate achieving. The two most notable are being one of two teams to play in the first ever Rugby Football League Development Fixture (for teams outside of the rugby league heartlands) and being the first ever club from Nottinghamshire to compete in the Girls National Rugby League competition. As part of the latter, they recorded the first ever win of a non-heartland team over a heartland team in this competition during the 2023 debut season. 

The club is very competitive on the pitch, with teams from U7s right through to U15s. They have even recently begun running an adult team for over 35-year olds, cheekily referred to as ‘Masters Rugby League’. With over 50 individual fixtures fulfilled in 2023 across the age groups, this is a superb outcome, and as Phil says, their legacy is definitely attributable in some way to that early funding our grant offered. 

But once again, my interest is turned to those glorious experiences gained by the young people, as I learn about some simply unbelievable life-opportunities these children have had. Do you know; some of the Bulldogs youngsters were mascots for the England Rugby League team in the Rugby League World Cup Semi-Final in London last year? Imagine how they will have grown as young people having such incredible memories!  

What this club provides for its young people is outstanding. It is a totally inclusive club and brilliantly run. Not only are we proud to have had a hand in helping the club to get started, grow and achieve, but we are delighted that more and more young people in Bassetlaw can continue to take part for many years to come. 

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