No maul Mr Nice Guy
An evening with Ben Spencer-Kibble and Ben Youngs
“Is this the bar?” asks Toni C.
“Doesn’t look like it; there’s a bag of dirty rugby kits there next to the showers,” I replied.
“Hmmm, keep going, looks like there’s another building there,” advises the ever-adventurous Toni C. And we do; we carry on into the complex of changing rooms, toilets and, eventually, the bar and lounge area of Barton-under-Needwood Rugby Union Football Club to be greeted by the beaming smile of the barmaid who was setting up for the night.
“Are you after Kevin? He’s usually around after he’s set up for the lads training on the pitch; he’ll be back in soon”
And soon enough, after Toni C and I had settled down with a glass of cola, in walked Kevin, the club’s referee and coaching co-ordinator, and we all made our acquaintances in anticipation of the arrival of Leicester Tigers scrum half and England international star, Ben Youngs who was to present a pair of very special, custom made rugby boots from Adidas to one of Barton’s players with size seventeen feet!
And as soon as this thought has made itself in my mind, in walks the player that is on our minds to his home club’s bar. Ben Spencer-Kibble looks a little taken aback at the number of friends, family and associates that have amassed to see the presentation.
He’s a young lad with a huge presence in the room that plays for the under eighteens team here at Barton-under-Needwood who are, next season, joining forces with Cannock Colts under eighteens in a Staffordshire colts transition league. He seems a little nervous, so Toni and I try to put him at ease by introducing ourselves and having a laugh at him. Nerves are understandable if you’ve been playing rugby since you were ten years old and are about to meet one of the current England stars setting alight both the domestic leagues and the world stage but couple that with a live interview sat next to one of his heroes, well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish!
After about ten minutes, I hear someone saying, “oh here he is!” rather excitedly. I then spin around to see Ben Youngs enter the bar and a Mexican wave of smiles light up the faces of the gathered Barton-under-Needwood players, staff and their families. In Ben Youngs’ hands is a hefty looking box that he sets down on one of the lounge tables and introduces himself to Ben Spencer-Kibble with a warm handshake. As you’d expect, flashes go wild on people’s smartphones as they capture this moment (it’s not every day that an international sports star drops in to a small village rugby club, is it?!) and he then goes back to the Adidas branded box that he had previously set down. Youngs then produces a set of brand new, white and red, size seventeen rugby boots for Spencer-Kibble which, of course, were gladly accepted and desperately needed. We pause again for photos and autograph signing on various bits of Leicester Tigers and England memorabilia from the clubs fans, of which the number is ever increasing as the lads of the under eighteen squad pile in to the bar, pre training.
Ben Spencer-Kibble and Ben Youngs then join me at a table where the backdrop is the club’s trophy cabinet. Toni C gives me the nod…we are now live on Facebook and recording for on air content.
I introduce the viewers, rather cheesily I might add, to the live video which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Youngs who can help but laugh at my Alan Partridge like opening announcement. I started off by asking him about the main reason of us all being here tonight.
“Yeah, we obviously heard about Ben’s story and the fact that he’s finding it hard to play rugby due to your size seventeen feet and trying to find boots that were comfortable for you and Adidas is a brand that is hugely involved with sport and rugby is important to the brand,” says Ben Youngs as he reaches over and holds one of the boots that he has just presented, “and you can see what they have created for him. Look, the lad has enormous feet but that shouldn’t stop him being able to play rugby, should it?”
Having to play last season in American football boots that were held together by duct tape, Ben Spencer-Kibble was clearly thankful for the gift from Adidas, “those NFL boots are ridiculously heavy and alter your performance and it’s not a proper pair of boots that fit me.” He then went on to explain that this wold be his fifth season for the club and that there is a great community atmosphere and ethos to the team that you can clearly feel just by seeing the interaction between players, staff and their families. He said he was thankful for the work that had gone in to making the boots and for the organising of tonight’s presentation.
Ben Youngs then went on to explain how his involvement came about, “Adidas have done it before where guys have struggled to find kit because of shoe sizes, etc and I heard about the story and here we are now,” he then turns to Spencer-Kibble and says, “I’m just glad that you can play in comfort and it’s a great story, isn’t it? You know, grass roots rugby, local rugby and this shouldn’t stop you playing.
“It doesn’t matter who you watch, you watch the game at the weekend, everyone there started at grass roots rugby. We al started at our local rugby team on a Sunday; I’m now fortunate enough to live it as a profession but we all started here at clubs like this.”
Ben Spencer-Kibble then chats about why he has only appeared playing on one rugby tour, despite attending three, “on the first one I, sort of, fell down a rabbit hole and twisted my ankle. And on the second tour, I cut my knee open on the pitch…which was fun.”
I then, briefly, asked Ben Youngs about his current injury and rehabilitation to which he seemed confident of a return at the end of the season which should delight both Leicester Tigers and England fans.
The interview wrapped up shortly after that which was the cue for more photographs and memorabilia signing with Ben Youngs and everyone studying Adidas’ craftmanship on Ben Spencer-Kibble’s new boots.
I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that Toni C and I exited via the correct door this time to the car park, where we then we disappeared into the night on the A38 back to the home we call Cannock Chase.
Tom Ray reporting for Cannock Chase Radio FM on 89.6 and 94 FM