Sussex helps president celebrate 150 years of the Rugby Football Union

Ditchling, Lewes, Eastbourne, Brighton and Chichester rugby club were among those to play a part as the 150th anniversary of the RFU was marked across Sussex.

RFU president Jeff Blackett meets officials at Lewes RFC at the end of his trek across Sussex

The president of the English RFU, Jeff Blackett, paid a historic visit to the county to commemorate the founding of the game in 1871. Eastbourne’s game at Lewes was one of his main stop-off points.

The former naval officer and judge started his tour with a visit to Chichester RFC where he was given breakfast hosted by club officials and handed out a volunteer award.

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Jeff and his wife Sally were driven by Simon Flint, director of playing for the Sussex RFU, to Brighton Blues Rugby Club accompanied by Sussex president John Feakins, chairman Gary Henderson and Sussex board members. They watched a number of mini training games and adult touch rugby.

Jeff Blackett and the teams at Ditchling RFC

Jeff was welcomed by Brighton president Dick Toms and chairman John Blackburn and Geraldine Brown of Hove RFC. Also present was Ian Chaplin of the Brighton & Hove Sea Serpents RFC.

Awards were made to volunteers and Jeff was given a copy of the history of Brighton Rugby Club by historian John Honeysett.

The Sussex party left for Braypool in a minibus and started a walk up the South Downs towards Ditchling Beacon. Jeff and John Feakins laid a wreath at the Chattri war memorial dedicated to Hindu and Sikh men who died in the Brighton Military hospital in the Royal Pavilion during the First World War.

The party were then taken to Ditchling RFC, where a warm welcome was given by president Justin Wallsend and chairman Malcolm Peddar. Also present was Shoreham chairman Mark Norris and lunch was provided.

The group at the Chattri war memorial

They watched Ditchling take on Shoreham and awards were given to members of Ditchling RFC.

Ditchling RFC chairman Malc Pedder commented: “This was a very special day in the history of our club and we were excited to have had the opportunity to meet the RFU president and support his worthwhile charity – the RFU Injured Players’ Foundation.”

The party was then driven to the foot of the Downs at Hackman’s Farm where the walk continued. Alan Butcher, board member, and John Feakins continued in the minibus to Lewes to await the walkers.

They were greeted by chairman Paddy Henshaw and secretary Paul Nicholl.

Jeff Blackett and his team of walkers

By the time the Sussex party reached the Stanley Turner ground, Lewes minis had completed a walk to commemorate the anniversary.

Bruce Hayter, the new Eastbourne president, was present with members of the club board. Presentations were made to Lewes volunteers and to Sussex officials Peter Sealey and Alan Butcher. The match was won by Eastbourne 29-22.

Each club visited by Jeff received a commemorative shield. During his walk he is raising money for the Injured Players’ Foundation.