It seems like a lifetime ago when the country was in lock down and the way we did things changed overnight. But thankfully most things returned to the new norm quite quickly. In the world of wheelchair rugby, however, it has taken a little longer. But finally on February the 19th 2023 after months of having to train in a small and new group Hellfire got wheels on, gloves on and relit the fire at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, the home of the Paralympic movement.
A team of five new hopefuls and team captain Steve Brown took to the court for the very first time as a team, with some generous support of an experienced player from each of the three other teams taking part in the tournament to help make up the numbers. The first game against Brighton Buccaneers started off with quite a few nerves, a few glances at Steve for advice but very quickly the smiles formed, the tries scored, the turnovers won and a final score of 9-15, a win for Hellfire!
As the day progressed with the help and support from the other teams taking part as well as sage advice, experience and leadership from former Team GB captain Steve the team started to grow more and more as each minute of the game clock counted down. The next two games were really positive and a lot was learned by our fledgling team members. The heats ended with one win and two losses.
The final game of the day for us was a play off for third and fourth place featuring a highly experienced team with a full bench of substitutes and just six Canterbury Hellfire members cheered on by their family. The loan players from other teams had returned to their original teams but after the first five minutes the whole stadium, all the other teams and all of the supporters we transfixed on the underdog side who not only held their own but we’re starting to believe they could actually win. The cheers from the crowd grew with each try scored by each team until with four minutes of match time left the scores were level. The banging of wheels grew louder as both teams were hitting harder and harder. The calls for the ball from both teams had to be shouted over the noise coming from the crowd. The clock counts down to zero and the score are dead level!
Players from both sides, coaches and supporters were all asking the same question “what happens now?”. Finally, word reached the bench that there would be a playoff where the first team to score two tries in a row would win. There would be no time limit. Whilst the players took a quick water break and tried to control the adrenaline the coaches and family realised that the whole room had stopped what is was doing, staff from the host venue had come in to see what the noise was all about and now everyone was watching. The clocks are reset, the whistle blows and it’s a point for Brighton, then a point for Hellfire, back and forth it goes like an epic Wimbledon final. The noise is truly inspiring, the smiles, enjoyment and confidence from both teams is clear to see. The effort and energy being found as each phase is played now feels limitless; and then the moment comes. A try scored by Canterbury Rugby to take the lead, a fumble from Brighton, a quick smash and grab (literally) and a sprint for the line for Hellfire and a deafening cheer as two wheels cross the line to secure the win and third place in the tournament.
Players: Steve Brown (c), Owen West, Tolga Sasmaz, Bethany Fearn, Sawyer Wright, Archie Beaumont.
Coaches: Ian Lloyd & Jack Lloyd.
Special thanks to Dave Mannings and his team for their help with Logistics and to the travelling families, who are all an essential part of the Hellfire squad.