Sporting institution celebrates with parties and games
Time Out Bahrain staff
Having seen plans for a major beano to mark its big birthday curtailed last year, Bahrain Rugby Football Club (BRFC) is pushing the boat out this month with a week-long party.
Members past and present will be getting together with former players and fans travelling from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, the UK and across the Gulf for a reunion to celebrate the club’s successes, achievements and overall contribution to the development of the game and the local community through the years.
Hundreds of people are expected to attend the events throughout the week, including many of the 1,950 current members, and a host of ex-internationals have also been lined up to lace up their boots in the DHL Memorial Game.
Names haven’t been confirmed yet but we’re told the vast majority of them have tasted the club’s hospitality before and BRFC has previously hosted the likes of All Black hooker Sean Fitzpatrick and, most recently, England’s Jason Robinson.
Rugby in Bahrain dates back to the arrival of the British forces in the 1950s and there were regular fixtures between the servicemen and a British Club team throughout the 60s.
Somewhat ironically though, it took the withdrawal of the forces and a decline in interest in the sport for Bahrain RFC to be formed by a group of passionate stalwarts as a section of the British Club in 1971.
As part of the British Club, Bahrain RFC played matches at the Royal Air Force ground on the south east side of the airport and later on the old ammunition storage grounds, south-east of the main runway.
During the 1976/77 season, the major decision to sever ties with the British Club was taken and Bahrain RFC became an independent club with its own premises just off Saar Road.
One of the most significant events in the club’s history was the hosting of the famous Leicester RFC team in the early 1980s. Soon after, the British Airways Invitational fixture was launched and went on to become the highlight of the rugby season in Bahrain and the whole region.
Bahrain RFC was the dominant force in the early years of the Gulf Leagues in the 1980s and continued to reign as the region’s premier side through most of the next decade, winning 13 titles in that time.
The BA International event continued successfully for over a decade but the advent of professional rugby in 1995 changed the landscape of the sport and meant the availability of international stars was dramatically reduced.
However, the club has continued to organise an international fixture in some form as the unofficial sign-off to the rugby season, with this year’s being combined with the 40th anniversary celebrations and the DHL Memorial Fixture which has been played regularly since 1981 when the team DHL Barbarians was dreamt up by a group of local enthusiasts to take on the BRFC side.
The match became an annual memorial and charity fundraiser in 2009 following the deaths of DHL staffers Jason Bresler, David Giles and Mohammed Shafiq in Afghanistan.
Historically, 1995 was a hugely significant year for Bahrain rugby as the club also moved premises from the site off Saar Road, to the current location on the border of Saar and Janabiya.
That move brought with it the opening of the club’s first grass pitch a purpose-built clubhouse and, since then, the site has developed to include a restaurant, a 25-metre swimming pool, cricket nets, netball courts, a children’s playground, a gym, a third grass training pitch and a state-of-the-art all-weather facility.
At the same time, the number of sporting activities offered has also increased and now includes regular football, Gaelic football, netball, cricket, Aussie Rules and other events.
Interestingly, the growth of the professional game also coincided with a barren spell for Bahrain in terms of success on the field.
After their league win in 1997, the power shifted significantly to the quickly expanding band of UAE sides and Bahrain struggled to compete. The arrival of a crop of young and highly-talented players as well as former Hong Kong national coach Jim Rowark to the island through 2007/2008 though, finally saw the club return to the big time and, after capturing the Arabian Gulf Cup in 2009, the first XV stormed to a record 13th league title in 2010.
Anniversary week diary May 14 Welcome reception and curry supper at the club. This event will also see the unveiling of a special honours board recognising more than 120 international players who have visited the club.
May 15 A free day for guests to catch up with old acquaintances and make use of the club facilities.
May 16 Golden Oldies rugby fixture, followed by a BMMI Schutzenfest and live music from Dubai-based Declan O’Sullivan, aka the Paddyman.
May 17 40th Anniversary End-of-Season-Ball at Crowne Plaza Hotel. Tickets available at BD35 members and BD40 guests from the club.
May 18 Annual DHL Memorial Match between Bahrain RFC and DHL Barbarians, followed by barbecue supper and live entertainment from FBR.
May 19 Farewell party around the pool – Hawaiian shirts, Caribbean cocktails and food stations. Call (17 695 809).