Adventures, Races, Kit and Life
For their annual escape, Hong Kong Football Club Vandals, the legendary touring side, descended deep into the cultural diversity of Calcutta. The justification for the tour, as always, was the mandatory game of rugby. The opponents were an elite concoction of host club, Calcutta Cricket & Football Club ( CCFC ) and local teams, Jungle Crows and Future Hope. They were young, fast and determined to demonstrate the extent of their skills and therefore, in sharp contrast to ourselves!
The game almost felt like stepping back in time and becoming part of the spiffing, colonial days. What! hat! It was hosted at the prestigious and historic Calcutta Cricket Club. In 1878, The Club cemented its place in modern rugby history. On a particularly tragic day, when The Club’s free bar was forced to close forever, the last of the solid sliver rupees from behind the bar were melted down and forged into “The Calcutta Cup”. Every year for the last 134 years, Scotland and England have battled for this prestigious trophy, decorated with it’s Indian cobras and elephant. A replica of the cup has a proud place in the Club House amoungst hundreds of fantastic black and white team photos of men with huge moustaches and sporting traditional blazers.
The game was played on a beautifully maintained cricket pitch that added to the feeling of the good old days. Naturally, in keeping with tradition, we had relied on the steady consumption of G&Ts the night before, to help fend off the rampant mossies!
By 4pm the temperature still lingered close to 40°C and we were massively grateful for a relaxation of the rules that allowed us to have rolling subs. This was also fortunately accompanied by a relaxation of the associated traditionally Indian, extensive form filling process required to roll them on (and carry them off)…..
Being the first 15s rugby touring side to brave Calcutta in more than 15 years, the Cricket Club made a huge effort and showed unprecedented hospitality and class. The crowds were out in hundreds and the atmosphere was incredible. It was a fast and furious game with a delightful show of champagne rugby. Like many tours before, The Vandals Touring Side appreciated that defensive kicking incurs a significant drinking penalty and was to be positively avoided. To their credit the Calcutta team played fantastically and deserved their victory with a comfortable ten point lead over their somewhat tired opponents.
Having got the hard work out of the way, the highlight of the tour was, without a doubt, visiting and coaching the rugby orphans at some of the sites supported by the Jungle Crows Foundation through their project Khelo Rugby.
Khelo Rugby is a fantastic charity designed to provide adventure, challenge and excitement in children’s lives through the playing and coaching of rugby in Calcutta. Khelo is simply the Hindi word for play and is what every coach ends up shouting to encourage the kids along…”Khelo! Khelo!”
Rugby was introduced by the Jungle Crows Rugby Club in 2010 to 4 slum communities in Calcutta. Today Khelo reaches out to 13 slum communities, schools and NGOs. They aim to support the coaching and playing of rugby amoungst disadvantaged children in the city and bring communities of children together within the common bond of rugby. Learning whilst playing is fun and Khelo have also developed some basic education programmes such as hygiene and road safety to improve the children’s awareness.
Khelo Rugby is run by youngsters who have themselves been brought up within disadvantaged communities. They can relate to and counsel other youngsters. Many of these youngsters played against The Hong Kong Vandals the previous day and their skill and passion for rugby are a real tribute to the success of the charity.
For more information see – https://www.facebook.com/Khelorugby?ref=stream
For The Hong Kong Vandals, it was an absolute privilege and a delight to commit a full day to coaching the kids. The adventure started when we needed to downsize the team vehicle, in order to, navigate the narrow, winding streets leading to the Home. Once we finally arrived the kids were incredibly excited to have the team visit them and despite the heat, this energy was contagious and The Vandals got wholeheartedly involved from start to finish.
The Khelo team organised us into small groups that could run a variety of activities to help teach the kids. There were some challenging rugby drills, such as line-out practice, where the little lads were thrust 10 feet into the air to catch the ball plus other hand-eye coordination exercises. The fallen tree branches were cleared away and we played some fast touch-rugby on one of the open areas, giving the kids a chance to demonstrate their flare. We also played some high-energy basketball, which made us incredibly hot and of course, being in India, we also played a spot of cricket.
The kids were fantastic! Fuelled by a never ending supply of energy they consistently demonstrated their individual skills with some great show boating and teamwork. They were also pleasantly willing to listen and learn.
After several hours of running around in the midday sun the whole group strolled through the pretty little village to one of the local “ponds” where there was an opportunity to swim, cool down and clean up with the Khelo lads.
The climax of the day was when the team provided and helped to serve a huge lunch for all the lads. They formed a surprisingly well organised queue, waited patiently, said their prayers and then were dished up a massive overflowing plate of curry and rice, with the dessert casually thrown on top too. We sat down in their dormitory and ate with the little boys. It was incredible to see a tiny skinny 30kg lad finish off a plate of curry that filled the stomach of a 100kg rugby player. Nothing went to waste and there were enormous smiles all round.
As a team we were amazed at how difficult it is to eat curry with your fingers, having always had the luxury of knives and forks!! The kids thought it was hilarious to see us struggling and even leaving more food for them, rather than admit it was just too hard to eat with untrained hands! It was a bit of an eye opener!
By late afternoon, we were a little pink, the mossies were back and it was time to go and top up on the G&Ts again. An awesome day had by all.
Finally, an enormous “Thank-you”, to Paul and Karen who made the visit such a rewarding experience.