Watching Old Streetonians RFC train, it’s hard to see where they have gone wrong. The players pop the ball between one another at speed, moving seamlessly between the lines. There’s pace, confidence and skill in abundance, with no little camaraderie.
They appear to have the perfect set-up. Devoted staff, brand new facilities and an ideal location 15 minutes from the city make them the envy of London’s amateur rugby scene. There is just one thing missing.
Old Street 1st XV have now gone over 150 days since they last tasted victory. Their latest triumph, a 20-16 win at fellow strugglers Hitchin, came on 11 October 2014. They lie at the foot of the London 3 North West division, 18 points adrift of second-from-bottom Wasps with just three games to go.
However, speaking to Harry Marson, you would not think he captains a club that is consigned to its second relegation in three seasons. He describes Old Street as a “very easy place to play rugby” and envisages a swift return to the London 3 division.
“We have struggled a little bit,” Marson concedes, “but we now have a core of players who are really committed to the club. If we build on that, we’ll start to rise again.”
As recently as 2012, the finished 10th in London 2, rounding off a promising season with two back-to-back wins. Since then, the club have been hit with what Marson calls “the realities of life”.
“London 2 was a hugely competitive league,” he says. “The team that took us there are getting married and having babies. We’re now at a point where we’re looking to bring through younger players.
“We have a younger side and a new coaching team, but what we lack is continuity. We want to bring through young players, but lack the youth set-up that other clubs have. They bring kids up from 11 and are on a different level.”
Lynn Turton, who helps with the day-to-day running of the club, is similarly optimistic about the club’s future. She describes the club’s “amazing” facilities on Hackney Marsh, which were jointly funded by the Football Association, the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Rugby Football Union at a cost of £2.8m.
“The facilities are such a huge draw,” she says. “It makes a huge difference to our recruitment to have three pitches within 15 minutes of London.”
Marson bounds into the conversation enthusiastically, describing the pitches as “the best in London”.
He says: “We can’t compete with people’s work commitments, but being so close to London helps. That’s our main competition: people’s livelihood’s. We have a barrister, graphic designers, a lot of architects and I’m a science teacher. It all makes playing rugby a serious commitment.
“But we want to build a strong identity on the pitch and create bonds off it. We don’t just want to win; we want to play flamboyant rugby.
“Some clubs have dropped their third team to focus on two really strong teams, but inclusivity is really important to us. Our long-term aim is to get back up the divisions, but also to maintain the community bonds that make our club unique.
“That’s the only way to build a team.”